So, I did the unthinkable. I actually sat down and watched an entire episode of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Monday Night Raw program on the USA Network (or in my case, FOX8). I know, I know. So since I actually sat down and watched the bloody thing, I figured I might as well write about the experience. Before I do though, some things worth considering about this write-up:
- This isn’t going to be a show review. I may have subjected myself to a 3 hour WWE TV show, but I’m not gonna be giving a segment-by-segment rundown of everything that happened. There’s plenty of other people who do that better than me, and I can’t say I honestly paid close enough attention to do that. I didn’t write any notes and I don’t really feel like going granular today.
- I haven’t watched WWE consistently in a long time. This is important, because I’m going to be writing a lot of grand thoughts about “the WWE product”. I haven’t watched week-to-week in forever and have been relying on half paying attention to reviews and video packages to know what’s going on. Hell, I haven’t watched a “premium live event” as they like to call it since WrestleMania. The only WWE thing I’d watched with any level of consistency recently was SmackDown, and that stopped when my mum started playing Fortnite. As a result, my thoughts on how this show compares to others aren’t gonna be based on actually following the product.
Same Ingredients, Different Chef
The first part of the show I’m going to talk about, and the part people were most hopeful for was the booking and general format of the show. This was probably the least remarkable part of this episode of Raw. Things didn’t feel to radically different from what I could tell. This makes sense since, according to Fightful, the show had already been written prior to the announcement of Paul Levesque heading creative.
The show was a very middle of the road show. It felt like a WWE show written by the WWE Creative Team, just with less of the faff that comes with Vince re-writing the entire thing into his own mangled vision. Change a few of the wrestlers, and this show could fit as a middling show in the time before roughly 2012, when the bloated writing team was a thing, but Vince tearing up scripts the night of a show wasn’t a consistent weekly occurrence… That and the writers seemed to have at least been given the iggy, so devoted less time to Vince’s brand of comedy. Overall, nothing offensively bad, but nothing really worth sinking time into. Although the overall direction hasn’t changed that much, there are things worth talking about.
If Looks Could Kill
One thing that was mostly unchanged was the look and feel of the show. With Kevin Dunn still around for now, the rapid camera cuts have lived to see another day (ugh). Another flaw still unfixed is the horrific visual style of the show. What do I mean by that? I’ve been struggling to put into words. I’ll try my best now to put things together.
One part of this is the way the shows are shot. I can’t quite put together the exact problem, but I think it is a combination of things. Post-Thunderdome shows have just seemed framed and lit unusually (at least that’s when I noticed it). I also feel that the newer cameras they’ve been using more and more since the FOX deal (including on NXT), especially when combined with that make things feel more artificial. While it was still there, I didn’t notice how artificially the show was shot on Raw. I’m not sure if this me getting used to it, it looking better because the show was in Madison Square Garden or they just fixed it somehow.
Beyond artificial shooting, another thing I’ve hated is the crappy graphical style they’ve adopted since around just before the pandemic. The obvious thing in that regard is the awful AR stuff. On top of that, I can’t stand the on-screen graphics. Match graphics, WWE commercials and the like for the last few years have just been very vomit inducing to me, and its only gotten worse in the 2020s.
All of this combines together to create something that bothers me on a sensory level. On one hand, WWE production under Kevin Dunn sucks generally, because of the camera cuts. The thing is, I’m almost certain it is something with the newer production and the cameras I mentioned, because I didn’t feel like this even just a few years ago.
To be clear, this isn’t a call for Paul to turn everything into uber-edgy bullshit visually, because that stuff (particularly in late-stage Levesque NXT) was just as grating on the senses.
Its The Little Things
Although the formula didn’t change in the writers room, or in the visual department, the show did feel somewhat different. Some wrestlers felt like they were given more leeway. Some examples of this to me were Theory who sounded less cartoonishly wooden (although still not particularly good, because its Theory) and Rey Mysterio getting to talk from the heart, even mentioning Konnan in his promo. The commentators were able to be a bit more loose, with less Vince-isms being forced in. Obviously, they still used many brand buzzwords, but they felt more naturally used than normal.
Beyond talking, segments felt more action-packed and quick, giving more time to the in-ring. Although the segments weren’t anything I’d rave about, I did like a few of them. Despite thinking Judgment Day is goofy from everything I’ve heard, them beating up Rey was fun. Speaking of which, I loved that the backstage area actually felt living and breathing for once.
The few times I’d caught Raw the last year or two, the pacing was god-awful. It was a 3 hour show that felt like a 4-hour show with fuck-all going on. This show on the other hand felt quick, in spite of being 3 hours. I don’t know if it was simply the fact that things were moving more between matches, or just the not having watched Raw in full in forever, but something felt better. In the end, this is WWE so I’m not gonna presume based on one week of Raw that pacing is good now. This episode though did breeze by.
Take It To The Ring
The in-ring side of things was not that noteworthy. It was your typical WWE show in that the there wasn’t many matches. The matches included were some fine TV matches and a heated main event that isn’t making a MOTY list, but delivered. The matches still felt like they existed to exist, but one positive was definitely the matches being given more time to breath. Combine that with matches that matter and you’ve got something!
Was It Worth It?
In the end, the main question that needs to be answered is was it worth it? Is Raw different enough in the first week post-Vince McMahon to watch it. Well, the show was nothing notable. It was a very paint by numbers show that felt like a breath of fresh air compared to years of slogging and shit WWE shows. The show was more consumable than any WWE show in recent history, but isn’t a show that feels fully alive yet, especially compared to other more lively promotions.
In the end though, I never went in expecting the show to be radically great on night 1. Paul Levesque is very much a man who takes what is already there and continues it, slowly chipping away at parts until the show morphs into his vision. Dusty Rhodes booked NXT from 2012 until his death in 2015. Arguably NXT’s best period of TV came during that run. Although Paul and his head writer took over, the spirit of Dusty’s TV writing style remained initially. As time went on, things transitioned more into Paul’s vision, with less of Dusty’s fingerprints remaining intact. Gone was Dusty’s last great booking odyssey, in its place was Paul’s super indy.
What will the future hold, only time will tell. Raw isn’t going to morph into whatever the Paul Levesque vision for the main roster is in a single week. Regardless of the positives and negatives that potential vision may have, for now we have a show that at least can provide background noise without completely annoying me.