REVIEW: WrestleMania XXXIII

Kevin Owens defeats Chris Jericho (C)

WM33_JerichoOwensAs anticipated this match fully delivered. Two former best friends able to deliver counter after counter and an awesome match overall. When the end finally came it came with a muted response as all the moments you thought would bring about the fall produced kick outs. Crowds then don’t anticipate the successful pinfall, denting their reaction. That aside it was a great match. It also made me consider that Chris Jericho really has been around for so long but still continues to have superb matches on the top show. Now time for him to enjoy his Fozzy break.

Bayley (C) defeats Nia Jaxx, Sasha Banks and Charlotte

IMG_0435Predictably Nia Jaxx did her dominating thing before being eliminated first. I like Nia but everything she does looks less skilled. I don’t want to say clumsy but less refined for sure. Charlotte on the other hand is smooth and executed everything perfectly. Even the exposed turnbuckle was utilised to perfection. Sasha was however largely memorable for having a lift to the ring, a wise move given the enormity of the ramp, but I don’t really recall anything else she did with Charlotte being the standout. The finish was solid with the marketed underdog Bayley getting her WrestleMania moment, eyes full of tears, that was a nice moment.

The Hardy Boyz defeat Anderson & Gallows (C), Sheamus & Cesaro and Enzo & Cass

IMG_0440Where to start with this one. As many probably knew the Hardys had dropped their RoH tag titles the night before, said their goodbyes and were heading back to WWE. However few expected them to show up at WrestleMania. Personally I was convinced they were going to be on RAW. So for them to show up and win tag title gold again was an incredible moment. From the deafening ovation that greeted their theme tune hitting I don’t think the crowd came down from the ceiling at any point. The match was subsequently a bit of a blur as viewers struggled to believe what they were seeing. It’s a shame for the six other individuals involved to be usurped in such a manner but they must’ve enjoyed the electricity in that moment which only a surprise entrant of that stature can deliver.

John Cena & Nikki Bella defeat The Miz and Maryse

WM33_tagSooooo predictable. Even Nikki struggled to look surprised. The reality era strikes again and Total Bellas dictates booking. If you’re into that show then you probably got a kick out of it. I’m not so I didn’t. But congratulations to the future John & Nikki Cena anyway. Also Maryse did very little in the ring, has the former champ really lost all her skills?

Seth Rollins defeats Triple H

IMG_0436In terms of story telling this was a great match. Lacking the bloody brutality the fight probably deserved it was instead all structured around a supposed knee injury. However Rollins was able to perform manoeuvres which defied a knee problem but sold it expertly. Anyway, the finish was perfectly executed with a number of smooth interchanges. Stephanie going through the table was notably quite shocking, I didn’t expect that at all, and it took her out of the picture neatly too. Then Rollins delivering a pedigree to defeat the Game provided a perfect conclusion.

Randy Orton defeats Bray Wyatt (C)

WM33_BrayOrtonI cannot for the life of me understand this booking. A victory for Bray Wyatt would’ve cemented his spot in the main event picture for the foreseeable future. We even had an impressive wielding of Bray Wyatt’s power with some impressive projections onto the ring. But no Randy Orton wins out of nowhere. What does that even accomplish? Just to emphasise that a Royal Rumble win practically guarantees you a title? No wonder the crowd reaction was pretty much total silence.

Brock Lesnar defeats Goldberg (C)

WM33_GoldbergBrockThen we were back to the utterly predictable. We all called this way back in January/February when the Kevin Owens/Goldberg match was made. The match with Lesnar at ‘Mania had already been made. It was so obvious that Goldberg would win the title only to drop it to Brock. Part of me hoped that they wouldn’t go through with it but they did. That being said I enjoyed the physicality of the encounter and was clearly better than the Survivor Series debacle. Of course it’s WrestleMania so for the first time in history, as far as I’m aware, someone kicked out of the jackhammer. Finishing moves somehow lose their devastating impact at the big show of the year. Perhaps it’s an adrenaline thing? When that happened and Goldberg went for another spear it became all the more apparent that he only had two moves in his arsenal. However why change a winning formula? Similarly Brock had the german suplex, quite a few of them and the F5 which worked for him. Anyway, title belt handed over, job done.

Naomi defeats Alexa Bliss (C), Natalya, Becky Lynch, Carmella and Mickie James

IMG_0439Continuing with the predictable, hometown girl Naomi won back the title she’d had to relinquish due to injury a few weeks ago. A single fall also stopped the match going on too long. I think 4 hours in, plus the 2 hour kickoff show on top of that, and intense Florida heat the audience was getting pretty fatigued. Only one match left though…

Roman Reigns defeats The Undertaker

WM33_UndertakerReignsThe clues were all there. It went on last. JR came out from the cold to provide commentary. Those observant will have noticed Taker’s wife in the crowd too. The ‘No Holds Barred’ stipulation opened things up even further. And yet Reigns kept hitting the awful superman punch. Five times I think it was in the end and it’s just absurd. It’s a rubbish move done far too often. It also took multiple spears to keep the Undertaker down for the pinfall. The crowd reaction was muted rather than being vociferously angry which I had anticipated it would be. The reality was there for all to see. The Undertaker looked old and spent. In the end the result was inevitable. The torch was passed on.

When the end came it was emotional. It was nothing short of devastating really. Quite rightly ‘Taker had his moment. For possibly the first time ever he seemed to break character as the enormity of saying goodbye washed over him, looking visibly choked up. Perhaps he should’ve gone out with a flawless undefeated streak at the biggest show at the year. But wrestling tradition is that you retire on a loss, you do the favour. The legacy of the Undertaker will live on for a long, long time. Personally I’m looking forward to an epic interview series on the WWE Network where his epic career is dissected and we finally get to hear from him properly about some of his greatest moments and matches.

RAW

imagePredictability returned on Monday night RAW with Kurt Angie becoming General Manager, as expected, and Finn Bálor returned from injury, as expected. The highlight however was the opening segment with the raucous crowd chanting ‘Undertaker’ for an extended period. Then Roman Reigns came out. Credit to him for simply standing there whilst the Universe vented their rage. “F*ck you Roman!” was a particular highlight. The “Roman sucks” chants also returned as the fans shared their opinions with Vince McMahon. Not that that will change things. When Reigns did speak, he nailed it. However the hangover from events at WrestleMania the night before seemed to drain the audience’s energy. The Undertaker’s retirement had had an instant impact.

SmackDown Live

imageNot to be outdone the blue brand also held their own post-Mania show in Orlando. The show started strong and continued throughout. SmackDownLive has consistently been delivering good television. Each segment is meaningful with no need to pad out a third hour. The highlights were undoubtedly the debuts. Tye Dillinger’s was great but Shinsuke Nakamura brought genuine spine tingling chills. There’s just something about that violin music! Styles v Nakamura is a thrilling prospect but will probably get messed up by the impending superstar shakeup. We will have to wait and see…

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Why WrestleMania XXXIII is set to disappoint

WM33WrestleMania XXXIII is approaching this Sunday and the matches on the card have been set. Unfortunately the maneuvering of talent to set up these clashes has been largely predictable and none of the match-ups are inspiring sections of the WWE Universe. Just look at Bayley’s promo from this week’s RAW. When asked who was excited for Wrestlemania, the WWE Universe gave what can be best described as a muted response. Similarly on SmackdownLive it took a few seconds for the yes chant to get going and even then it was hardly rapturous. It is an event being promoted as ‘The Ultimate Thrill Ride”. But yet none of the matches are thrilling on paper. By analysing the card I shall explain why each contest is failing spectacularly to generate my personal interest in the ‘show of shows’ this year.

Goldberg (c) v Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship

Where to start with this one. So back in November Goldberg returned to the ring to take on Brock Lesnar one more time. Fantasy warfare became reality. Unfortunately all the hype was misplaced as Goldberg squashed Brock in 1 minute 26 seconds. Although rumored to be a decision made by necessity due to an injury in the build up, it made Brock look terrible. This was accentuated in the Royal Rumble when Goldberg eliminated Lesnar with ease. So after losing two recent encounters, plus the Wrestlemania XX bout, it made little sense for Brock to issue another challenge. Even then he’d still be unable to overturn the current 2-0 scoreline in singles matches. Acknowledging this flaw the only strategy was to put the top RAW title up for grabs, taking it from an unfortunate Kevin Owens, in a desperate attempt to make fans care about this match. The only logical outcome is that Lesnar will win as you cannot see Goldberg having a continued title run after ‘Mania. Goldberg even posted a cryptic message on his instagram that suggested this match will be his last. How the contest will work in the context of the recent squash jobs is anyone’s guess. On RAW this week Goldberg again crushed Lesnar with a spear. But yet we all expect Lesnar to defy logic and win. A victory for either man is likely to be met with total ambivalence from the capacity crowd. Speaking of crowd reaction…

The Undertaker v Roman Reigns

If Roman Reigns was to win this match then the whole of Orlando might very well riot. Now whilst few question Reigns’ abilities many are irritated by the way he is presented to the audience. Personally the overuse of the Superman punch is what really winds me up. He is so often portrayed as the man who can overcome all obstacles, even in failure. Most recently it was his defeat of the colossal Braun Strowman on Pay Per View that emphasized this point. Strowman himself was very respectful in his backtracking out of the ring when faced with the Undertaker. Reigns did the opposite and if he was to win at ‘Mania he will get booed out of the stadium. Think Hogan turning heel levels of animosity. Although two victories have followed since the streak was broken, Undertaker’s continuing Wrestlemania run must be drawing to an end as his advancing years are obvious. With fewer and fewer appearances the selection of Roman Reigns as an opponent feels like a missed opportunity. Sadly the alternatives are few and far between. The dream match with Sting for instance has gone, we are not likely to see that now due to injury. In that context at least Undertaker is still on the card. Similarly at least Reigns isn’t entering the event as the Royal Rumble winner…

Bray Wyatt (c) v Randy Orton for the WWE Championship

The title of Royal Rumble winner goes to Randy Orton. It was a strange selection back in January but one the WWE Universe were mercifully content with when given the prospect of another Roman Reigns victory. At the Rumble event John Cena won a historic 16th world championship. The lineup of Orton v Cena yet again made everyone wince. So rather predictably Cena dropped the strap in the Elimination Chamber, making his fortnight reign as champ utterly pointless. It was equally apparent that Bray Wyatt was going to pick up the win in the Chamber given his long running storyline with Orton to set up a clash at the top show. The inevitable was prolonged further with Orton’s Rumble triumph being made redundant when he had to face AJ Styles to confirm who would battle Wyatt. When Orton aligned himself with Wyatt and Harper I didn’t buy it. Putting his hood up didn’t speak to me of Randy fully embracing the ways of Wyatt. Perhaps he should’ve tried growing a beard? So when the turn came, although very well done, it didn’t come as a surprise. Whilst the match will no doubt be solid, the hope is that a Bray Wyatt win will cement his spot at the top of the SmackdownLive brand. An Orton win won’t really achieve much. Both top titles have been snatched from those who have held it for the longest over the past 12 months to create these Wrestlemania matches. Of the two AJ Styles probably has the most to feel perturbed about…

Shane McMahon v AJ Styles

In defeat at the Royal Rumble AJ Styles and the victor John Cena but on a superb match all delivered within the ropes. Given that Cena would drop the belt a mere two weeks later Styles could’ve easily done that job. Having held the title since September Styles deserved better than a loss for the token gesture of giving Cena a record 16th win. Now he goes into Wrestlemania, having delivered a great match with Chris Jericho the year before, with a performer who is not even close to being a part timer in the ring. Make no mistake about it Shane O’Mac is no wrestler and certainly nowhere near the calibre of AJ Styles at the top of his game. I am really surprised that given the brutal attack that triggered the match and Shane’s announce table elbow, that a No DQ stipulation was not added. This was even pointed out on the SmackdownLive opening segment. Ultimately Shane McMahon is a stunt artist. An excellent one at that but a stunt artist nonetheless. Having been ‘the Champ who runs the camp’ for several months this is a real blow to Styles. Having a wrestling match with a stunt artist is a total waste of his talents on the grandest stage of all. But this is not just an occurrence on the blue brand with the red brand also guilty of punishing their most recent title holder…

Chris Jericho (c) v Kevin Owens for the US Championship

One of the highlights of RAW in recent months has been the Jeri-KO segments. Kevin Owens has taken the mantle of heel champion on brilliantly and delivered every single week. Jericho too has been thriving with his slightly pompous and arrogant persona. The List of Jericho was also a hilarious addition. Whilst I do want to see this match, one of very few I can say that of, it should’ve been for the Universal title. Whilst they’ve tried to do the ‘you robbed me of mine, so I’m going to take yours’ angle, it is unquestionably a step down from the main events since Owens’ late August anointing by HHH. Speaking of the COO…

HHH v Seth RollinsIMG_0436

Having been building since that August 29th screwjob this match was thrown into doubt given Rollins’ new knee injury. Losing the contest would’ve been a shame given Hunter’s spectacular promo performances thus far to antagonise the former architect of the Shield. We’ve also finally got ‘face’ Seth Rollins. Fans have been desperate to cheer him since he returned from injury and now they can. We now have an ‘Unsanctioned match’ which could be entertaining to watch but is perhaps a decision to protect the quality of the contest. Turning it into a fight removes the wrestling element and hopefully protects Rollins’ knee during the encounter. Given his inability to use a crutch properly on RAW over the last few weeks his knee should hold up fine. Maybe it will turn out like HHH v Shawn Michaels from Summerslam 2002 but we’ll have to wait and see.

Neville (c) v Austin Aires for the Cruiserweight Championship

WM33_NevilleAriesThis could be a show stealer. Austin Aires gets a chance to showcase his talents at the biggest show of the year and with a solid dance partner. However given that this is going to be on the kickoff show it probably won’t be allotted much time. Instead we’ll have highlights of the Hall of Fame, repetitive video packages and general inane ramblings from Renee Young. At least Shawn Michaels is on the panel with Jerry Lawler and Booker T.

Dean Ambrose (c) v Baron Corbin for the Intercontinental Championship

IMG_0437The futile attempts to get Baron Corbin over continue. However this match might at least give ‘Mania a story. Except if it’s anything like Zack Ryder’s win last year it will be short lived. If WWE officials genuinely believe that Corbin is a future headliner then beating Dean Ambrose at Wrestlemania could be a big step in that direction. Ambrose too was unceremoniously dropped from competing for the top title to the IC title and is currently just treading water. He’s in need of a gripping rivalry but Baron Corbin is not it for me. So whatever happens in this match I don’t really care.

John Cena & Nicki Bella v The Miz & Maryse

WM33_tagTalking of things I don’t care about. I have absolutely no desire to find out who the most dominant power couple of SmackdownLive is. However the Miz/Maryse Total Bellas parodies have been brutal in their genius. Unfortunately that shadow of Total Divas/Bellas has manufactured this matchup but puts the WWE’s biggest name on the card and has brought out the best in the Miz, his promo work. Cena’s responses too have been solid and genuine. But if this match was the plan all along then Cena’s 16th title reign has been made all the more pointless. Oh, and there’s a special guest ring announcer who I’ve never heard of.

Bayley (c) v Charlotte v Sasha Banks v Nia Jaxx for the RAW Women’s Championship

IMG_0435Although Bayley currently holds the gold the majority of 2016 was all about Charlotte and Sasha. In that period the belt exchanged hands multiple times. This was even pointed out by Nia Jaxx on RAW this week. Oh yes, Nia is on the roster so she needs to be involved too. The added elimination element extends the duration of the match but whatever the outcome it feels like the RAW women’s division is in need of a new direction. Nia won’t get the belt for reasons I won’t be crude enough to repeat. However if Asuka was signed from NXT it would spice things up and create new combinations for matches. After all these four women are literally the only four on the RAW roster.

Anderson & Gallows v Enzo & Cass v Shaemus & Cesaro triangle ladder match for the RAW Tag Team Championships

WM33_TripleThreatTagGiven the use of a ladder, of all the available objects in the backstage era, during RAW this week it became obvious that this would be a ladder match. It was logical given the limited number of extreme stipulations on the show. Now ladder matches are always entertaining stunt shows. Wrestlemania has had some classics. But can this match get close to the triangle ladder match at Wrestlemania 2000 for example? Probably not.

Alexa Bliss defends the SmackdownLive Women’s Championship against every woman available

IMG_0439As you can probably tell by this point we’ve reached the point where whoever is contracted to the company gets on the show. This one however is an oddity. We still don’t know if it will be a match to be won by pinfall or submission, or an over the top rope affair. So little attention has been given to the match that they can’t even announce that. What we can tell from the peculiar wording is that a surprise entrant may make an appearance. We’ve already had Naomi return on SmackdownLive this week but perhaps Eva Marie will return to win her first championship? That would be a great way to get the capacity crowd onside(!)

Fourth Annual Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

WM33_AndreAnd talking about getting all contracted superstars on the card the ultimate excuse is the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. Expect Braun Strowman to cement his spot as the undefeatable monster, assuming he isn’t up against Roman Reigns of course. It does also provides an opportunity for surprise entrants, such as a rumoured Shelton Benjamin, which could prove crowd pleasing.

Conclusion

Although the list of matches for Sunday night is a lengthy one, few are eliciting anything even closely resembling excitement. Many of the contests I have little interested in seeing. Consistent performers have been sacrificed for either part-timers or to facilitate a storyline ending showdown. AJ Styles and Kevin Owens can feel pretty hard done by but knowing their professionalism they’ll still produce great matches. The main selling point of the Undertaker/Reigns contest is the hope that Roman can’t possibly win. Surely he can’t. They wouldn’t dare. Or would they? Matches like Jericho/Owens and Neville/Aries will be technically solid. Similarly Rollins/HHH and the triangle ladder match will be entertaining fare. But none of them are really grabbing me. As for the Goldberg/Lesnar main event, it was a let down at Survivor Series. You lost me then. So to get me interested in another match is just not happening. Try again next year.

Looking beyond Wrestlemania the post ‘Mania RAW is already being promoted with a special on the WWE Network. Unfortunately we seem to be able to predict what will happen on that show. Kurt Angle will become RAW General Manager. Expect a surprise return from Finn Balor, who also can feel hard done by for not appearing in a scheduled match at the big show. Perhaps Finn will be in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. But the likelihood is he’s being held back for RAW to begin a rivalry with Seth Rollins, who put him on the shelf. Goldberg will step away and Lesnar will hold the title with Roman Reigns likely to challenge him for the gold. I hope I’m wrong and surprised but over the next few days we will see if WWE can deliver and crucially how the diehard fans of the universe will react. So far however apathy has set in at a crucial time which could harm PPV orders and Network subscriptions.

REVIEW: Class: Series One

cast_2The debut series of Class has now concluded its run on BBC One. The DVD and BluRay have also been available for a couple of weeks. It also still remains available on the BBC iPlayer for several more months. But is it any good?

Firstly I have to preface my comments with a note. I am not the demographic for this show. I am not the YA (Young Adult) section of the viewership who listens to Radio 1 and watches the new BBC3 regularly. However, I was attracted to this show because of an advertised appearance from Peter Capaldi’s Doctor in the opening episode. When The Doctor does arrive he takes the best lines regarding IKEA and Media Studies. But his inclusion in the first episode proved to be a double-edged sword.

For Tonight We Might Die

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

This show supposedly explores what happens on Earth when the Time Lord is not around. So for him to turn up and save the day right at the start weakened the programme because it set an expectation. At any point in the remainder of the series, when things get tough and at their most perilous, The Doctor could legitimately just turn up and solve it all because we’ve seen him do that already. This therefore waters down the drama. Peter Capaldi’s appearance is therefore, an attempt to obtain legitimacy and acceptance. What it actually does is expose the inadequacies of the group. His assertion that they are well prepared for what is going to be thrown at them is simply false and gets underlined throughout the series. However, the opening episode had bigger issues than Peter Capaldi’s cameo.

A British version of an American show?

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

The show centres around the “redeveloped” Coal Hill Academy. Whilst I initially considered this was a political comment on the Conservative Government’s interest in academics, it is actually an artistic direction to make the environment more American. Wide corridors with lockers on either side akin to a pop music video or any other show imported from the US. This strategy is made even more obvious with the action of the last act taking place at a Prom. Whilst the American invention of ‘the Prom’ has indeed made its way over the Atlantic Ocean, I didn’t expect for it to rear its head in a British TV show. Or at least not in the very first episode. But suddenly the reasoning became apparent.

Familiar themes

Towards the end of the episode, a list of comparisons is made, name checking ‘The Vampire Diaries’ for example. However it was the description of Coal Hill as the “Hellmouth” which triggered the epiphany. Class was trying to replicate the success of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’. That particular American show was a cult classic for a generation growing up in the late 1900’s and early 2000’s. It also influenced the relaunched 2005 version of Doctor Who under Russell T Davies. So if you are going to aspire to match a show which has gone before then credit for aiming your sights at one of the best. Buffy aired from 1997-2003, nearly 20 years ago now. So whilst I have seen this sort of thing before there will be plenty of people who have not. Hopefully, this show will be the Buffy for a new audience, a new generation.

My expectations were of something new and fresh and exciting but I was left a little disappointed that there was a repackaging of ideas seen elsewhere. This also extended to some of the visuals. For example the “count the shadows” had similarities of the Vashta Nerada and the physical form of the Shadow Kin had more than an element of Pyroville from ‘The Fires of Pompeii’. As the opening of a brand new series, the episode was also heavily hampered by the need to explain the back story. An extended period was dedicated to explaining everything – where Miss Quill had come from, why they were in Shoreditch and why Quill couldn’t use her gun. There was no careful unravelling of the detail-heavy information it was just presented through an extended flashback. It is a difficult task to introduce all the characters and back story on a new show but it can be done and done well. For example in a previous Doctor Who spinoff.

The Torchwood spectre

The choice to release Class onto the iPlayer on the day that Torchwood celebrated its 10th Anniversary left a sour taste. It couldn’t possibly have been a coincidence. Torchwood’s debut episode carefully unravelled the truth behind the secret organisation without revealing everything all at once. There were glimpses into the personalities of the characters, which the viewer followed through Gwen Cooper, with flashbacks instead saved for Series 2. Class even borrows a concept from Torchwood; a rift in space and time. Where Torchwood succeeded was that the show felt new, fresh and different. The second episode for example, featured an alien gas which craved orgasmic energy. I’d certainly not seen anything like that before. With Class however, I feel like I’ve not only seen it before but seen it done better.

The Characters

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

The combination of characters is generic but ticked all the boxes. There’s the athletic jock who, unsurprisingly, has a heart of gold. The odd one that turns out to not be of this planet. The smart one to provide the brains. The emotional heart of the group. This selection of individuals, who in reality would never become friends, covers all bases and appeals to everyone. Each viewer in the intended audience can empathise and connect with at least one of the group. Further statements are made regarding diversity. Ethnicity, sexuality and disability are all covered. Whilst I’d like to think that there is no need to make those statements these days sadly there is because not all shows are as diverse. Having a gay lead is a positive in some respects but equally disappointing because there is still a need to make that statement. This is simply a sad reflection of our society and television in general. But it is also a missed opportunity. Perhaps it would’ve been a stronger statement had Ram’s character, the macho, popular guy, been gay instead, particularly given the lack of footballers publicly acknowledging their sexuality.

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

The most recognisable actor in the regular cast is Katherine Kelly who has plenty of moments for scenery chewing but her sarcastic character left a strong impression. A little over the top at times, Miss Quill does at least grab your attention even if her back story is a little bemusing. Her gun which also fires at the person holding it seemed rather confusing. It also raises another issue. Guns, even alien ones, have absolutely no place in schools and so should not be presented there. The first teaser image of Quill holding a gun in front of a blackboard is not the sort of thing that should be presented to an audience. Particularly in an Americanised environment where guns are a dangerous issue. Guns breed violence, something Class is not short of as it is.

The Coach with the Dragon Tattoo

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

Torchwood was intended to be an adult show but yet Class seemed more graphically violent. The leg slicing in the first episode was very well achieved but particularly gory. Despite this, an attempt was made to attract younger viewers by including Capaldi in a programme easily accessible to younger audiences with no transmission regulations. The blood splatter too was unnecessary but a way of demonstrating that this show is not for kids. This would be repeated in the second episode which took the gore to another level. Human beings getting skinned alive by a dragon. Blood everywhere. It isn’t horrific, hence the DVD being given a 15 rating, but it is there and it is pretty gross. I also can’t recall what the point of it was in narrative terms. Or why the dragon became trapped on the coach’s skin. Or how, despite that, it could leave his body to feed. It seemed to just be there as a deterrent for younger viewers. Although the second episode will more likely be remembered for blood trickling down drains and skinned bodies being dragged across the floor, it is actually Ram who takes centre stage. Ram had to come to terms with the memory of seeing his girlfriend killed in front of him and, unlike most teenagers, the effects of a new alien leg. This sets the tone for what the success of the series really is; it’s characters.

Characters Dictate Structure

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

Although the setting of Class is hampered by familiarity, it is the characters who are engaging and the real strength of the show. Nightvisiting continues the work of the previous episode with a focus this time on Tanya and her deceased father. Again there is a flawed premise with an alien tentacle able to open presumably locked windows from the outside. However it continues the decision to manoeuvre the characters so that they take the focus of the episodes. Although dark in tone, the dead visiting those left behind, themes of family and grief are not just explored through Tanya but also with the developing relationship between Charlie and Matteusz. Their intimacy is skilfully handled and cements the show in the modern world and hopefully encourages the rest of the media to frankly get on with it and catch up.

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

A further backstory is also shared from April who then gets her moment under the spotlight for episode 4. That particular episode is perhaps most memorable for a post-sex scene between two of the Shadow Kin which is bizarre to say the least. The rest of the episode is a prolonged meander towards the next episode ‘Brave-ish Heart’ which verges on utter nonsense. It consists of scene after scene of extensive info dumping, more and more dialogue about genocide, and anyone who buys into April’s triumph over the King of the Shadow Kin is clearly more absorbed into the narrative than I was. For the kind and sweet girl to defy those instincts and magically acquire the ability to wield a pair of swords much less defeat an alien warrior king is far-fetched to say the least.

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

The series is very precisely structured. Episode One, introduce everyone and everything. Two focuses on Ram. Three focuses on Tanya. Four focuses on April. Episode Five includes an examination of Charlie’s character, whilst there is plenty of other stuff going on at the same time. Charlie is perhaps the weakest of the group. Haunted by his position as Prince and keeper of souls, which also happens to be a dangerous weapon, leaves him largely spineless and unprepared. The formulaic strategy continued therefore with the main characters brought together in one classroom to analyse their relationships with each other. Of course being teenagers the truth hurts. Titled ‘Detained’, but frankly should’ve been called ‘Detention’, he really does step up with the final act of confession finally purging Charlie of his burden.

(C) BBC
(C) BBC

Logically the penultimate installment of the series centred on Miss Quill. In between the impressive spacehopping there are quieter moments which draw real empathy and warmth for Quill, a tough task given she is frequently labelled a terrorist, a term that should not be tossed around lightly in our modern climate. Katherine Kelly is stellar in this episode however. She does plenty of over the top stuff but she can be equally steely as well as comedic when required. However once again two alien creatures are brought down to the level of the animalistic instincts of human beings for reasons that are beyond me. Anyway this leads us into the series finale.

The Finale

(C) BBC
(C) BBC
(C) BBC
(C) BBC

Predictably the series’ only real villain the Shadow Kin returned for the finale. The continuing trend of explaining what is going on whilst Corakinus holds a sword over someone’s throat and Charlie points a weapon at him made me ponder how much screen time is actually dedicated to these scenes over the series. I might time it all one day. Also predictably, after an entire series of discussing it, the Cabinet of Souls is finally used by Charlie but not without further prolonged discussion about the ethics of the weapon. The fact that Series 1 only consisted of eight episodes clearly hampered the show. With little time for other stories to breathe the series effectively just told one story introduced in ‘For Tonight We Might Die’ and concluded in ‘The Lost’. The intervening episodes therefore became character pieces with no opportunity for unique stories to breathe within them. Compare the two images of Charlie holding the gun. The first is actually from the opening episode of the series whilst the second is from the finale. Over the course of eight episodes we have effectively returned to the same stand off where we started. The only exception is that The Doctor doesn’t turn up so Charlie has to use the Cabinet of Souls.

Whilst the journey makes for an enjoyable watch the elements introduced in ‘For Tonight We Might Die’, notably the Shadow Kin and the Cabinet of Souls, were obviously going to come together in ‘The Lost’. Despite the hampering of an Americanised environment and lack of a USP (Unique Selling Point), plus the unhelpful Capaldi cameo other elements such as the mysterious Governors did work exceptionally well and showed the programme’s potential. Similarly the show approached it’s intended young adult audience maturely with themes of acceptance, love and loss all sensitively and impressively well-handled. In those terms it should be seen as a shining example for other programmes to follow. Now all the introductory stuff is out of the way with Series 1, we know all the characters well enough now, the show has the potential to fly. To say that Series 1 ended on a cliffhanger is an understatement largely because it actually left viewers with two cliffhangers. But will there be any more?

Series 2?

logoWhilst Class was another positive production for BBC Wales’ drama studios in Cardiff it had an element of testing the water when it came to broadcast. It was the first major show to debut on the new BBC Three which was only available through the BBC iPlayer. Although receiving some promotion the programme was dependent on people at home seeking out the show at a time that suited them. As a result other more popular programmes dominated the iPlayer charts with the show failing to break into the Top 50 on demand shows meaning less than 185,000 people accessed the episodes. When the show did finally get a traditional broadcast slot on an actual channel it was buried by BBC One on a Monday night at 10.45pm. Worst still episodes were shown in pairs back to back. That meant that the second episode would finish in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Talk about not giving the show a fair chance at attracting to an audience! On BBC America Class will be screened after episodes of the next series of Doctor Who which although potentially odd to follow two series simultaneously does mean it will at least receive some prominence.

Unsurprisingly ratings on BBC One were poor. Worryingly the show actually posted viewing figures below the average for that timeslot. Of course it must be considered that the episodes had already been available for months prior on the iPlayer, stunting viewing figures further. Perhaps most telling is the fact that the most watched episode was the first but the show couldn’t retain or build on that audience. Consistently the second episode in the double bill lost half of the audience. Given that it began at 11.30pm this is probably not surprising. Much like the main show it seems that the BBC set it up for failure but at least it could be found at a consistent time every week. Perhaps it will be the broadcast of Class on BBC America which will seal the show’s future. Although flawed the series has undoubted potential and it’s true success or failure can only be measured within it’s intended YA audience.

REVIEW: WWE Summerslam

imageSummerslam is WWE’s second biggest show of the year and the first proper Pay Per View (PPV) since the brand split. Both Raw and Smackdown were able to build and present their matches for the ‘biggest party of the summer’. The only exception to this was the main event which featured Brock Lesnar of Raw and Randy Orton of Smackdown.

The matchup had been promoted for many weeks, built as a match 15 years in the making. Unlike the main event of UFC 202 the previous night, this contest failed to live up to the hype. With the exception of an RKO on the announce table, Lesnar physically dominated and abused a 12 time world champion. Now this is not unheard of, a similar fate was endured by 15 time world champion John Cena a few years ago. However with Cena seemingly taking time away from WWE, the destruction of Orton belittled Smackdown’s only other marquee star. With the Miz holding the Intercontinental title and Dolph Ziggler falling short once again, the blue brand surely needs to push AJ Styles to the top-level and challenging for the WWE title to give their top prize credibility.

imageAnyway, back to Lesnar v Orton. The conclusion of the match was shocking and unexpected, even to long-term fans. There was no escaping the obvious. Lesnar caught Orton with an elbow to the head which split him open hard. If that was indeed the intended finish then it was a bold move. Since the move to the TV-PG rating WWE’s output has been significantly watered down with blood loss an obvious absentee. So for the main event on the second biggest show of the year to be stopped in this manner was unexpected to say the least. It was quite grizzly too as Orton clutched his head and when eventually Lesnar was pulled off the third generation superstar he was prone in a pool of his own blood. To complete the finale a F5 was delivered to Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon, which will inevitably lead to a storyline suspension. Brock Lesnar’s limited dates contract means that he’ll have some time off, possibly get in another UFC bout and return around Royal Rumble for Wrestlemania season. As a result, this main event achieved nothing whatsoever other than a mildly entertaining watch. Like the majority of Summerslam it was therefore a disappointment.

imageWith the exception of the AJ Styles and John Cena match, which was spectacular, the rest of the card could be described as average at best. Sasha Banks failed to defend her women’s title as a back injury necessitated her dropping the strap back to Charlotte. During the match Banks took a nasty looking bump off the turnbuckle which could easily have broken her neck. It’s no wonder she’s injured her back based on that evidence. None of the other championship matches were much to write home about. One of them didn’t even happen as Rusev and Roman Reigns brawled without actually having a match, robbing those who had bought the event on PPV of seeing another title up for grabs. A new addition to the Championship scene also debuted at Summerslam as the Universal Championship belt was unveiled.

imageThis new title is not just ridiculous sounding, a champion of the entire universe, but now also looks terrible. It is so odd that the current Intercontinental title belt is an old version but at least it has a unique look to it. Now the WWE World, WWE Universal and WWE Women’s championships are almost identical with the only major differentiation being the colouring of the strap. I don’t have a problem with the consistent design but the red leather ruins it for me. What is more important however, and has rightly been pointed out by Mick Foley online, is that two competitors at the top of their game put on a good match for it.

imageAlthough good the match was a little disappointing, there’s no getting around that. The first time Finn Balor and Seth Rollins had met in the ring was hoped to have had instant chemistry but although exciting and entertaining it just lacked a little something. As it has turned out Finn Balor suffered a shoulder injury early on and incredibly popped the dislocated joint back in within seconds. However, this did not seem to hamper his performance. The capacity crowd also seemed more concerned with voicing their displeasure to the appearance of the new belt than following the action in the ring which killed the atmosphere. The moment that Balor won the title should’ve been met with a deafeningly positive reaction. Sadly that reaction was absent. I had concluded that the PPV debut of the Demon couldn’t possibly end in failure. Perhaps the crowd had also reached this verdict. It set things up nicely for a series of Rollins/Balor classics as Seth fails to overcome the Demon, elevating the myth of this dark side of Finn Balor. Depressingly we have now been denied this feud as news broke that Finn would be spending months on the sidelines following surgery.

imageOn Raw just 24 hours after winning the title, Finn Balor relinquished it, causing the intended plan for the next few weeks to be ripped up and a hastily arranged series of matches worked out to crown a new champion. I am a big fan of Seth Rollins. Like most of the WWE Universe I am keen to cheer him despite his persistent heel character. But his buckle/throw powerbomb has not only caused the neck injury that retired Sting but has also embarrassed the WWE by injuring one of the company’s most exciting new talents. The curb stomp was replaced by the Pedigree as that was deemed too violent a move and surely now the buckle bomb has to be culled too.

Following three nights in a row at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn there needs to be a time for reflection. Both rosters need to scramble together and analyse who is left without suspension. As discussed injuries have also struck with even Samoa Joe breaking his jaw at NXT Takeover Brooklyn II. The Dudley Boyz have retired too. But such is the fast paced turn around of the business the show must go on. Bayley made her debut on Raw. Nicki Bella is back and thought to be joining Smackdown. The blue brand will also now start building for their Backlash PPV which starts with Smackdown Live tonight…

Update: Smackdown Live

Opening the show it was announced that the blue brand would have new tag team and women’s titles to be crowned at the Backlash PPV. Continuing the pattern identified by WWE the new belts match the current ones on the Raw brand but with a change to the colours, incorporating the blue of Smackdown. Personally I prefer the blue, particularly on the silver penny tag title design.

 

The episode saw Nicki Bella get beaten up by Carmella, more Heath Slater related irritating comedy and set up an intriguing encounter between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. There was also the implication that a Shane McMahon v Brock Lesnar stunt match could be on the cards. I also noticed that David Otunga said during commentary, on two separate and unrelated occasions, that “desperate times call for desperate measures”. Otunga is like a confused and bewildered pensioner. Spouting total nonsense. Yet Jerry Lawler is reduced to pre-show duty.

As I hoped AJ Styles was rewarded for his Summerslam performance with a title match. He also proved his worth by defeating Dolph Ziggler in the show’s main event. Styles will now challenge Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Championship at Backlash. Perhaps by then that title belt might have got a blue updated strap.

WWE Brand Split

imageWatching World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) can often lead to a sense of deja-vu. In many respects another brand extension is a good idea. The idea was first introduced in 2002 when the roster was bolstered by acquisitions from WCW and ECW. It successfully served as a way of better utilising the significant talent pool available but, as is frequently the case with the WWE, the execution has been less than perfect.

The influx of talent from NXT has certainly strengthened WWE with fresh and exciting  match ups with individuals such as Kevin Owens, Rusev, Neville, Charlotte and Becky Lynch mixing effortlessly onto the network shows and Pay-per-Views (PPVs). Even more NXT Stars have been brought through post-Wrestlemania with Apollo Crews and Enzo and Cass, for example. In that respect the timing was positive but in the context of the wider picture it could have been better.

imageThe main event of Battleground showcased a triple threat match with the three former members of the Shield battling for the WWE Championship. This was a match worthy of Summerslam but was instead delivered a month early. Circumstances dictated a messy buildup to the contest with Roman Reigns’ 30 day suspension and Seth Rollins’ position as a heel. The audience wanted to cheer for Rollins on his return but he immediately discarded his supporters. Equally the WWE universe has been desperate to boo Roman Reigns for, well, ever since it became obvious he was going to win the title at Wrestlemania. His suspension at least gave them a reason to boo. He violated the wellness policy and yet returned to a main event PPV slot.

imageThe importance of the match at Battleground was also diluted with it being clear that the winner would take the title to the show they had been drafted to. This telegraphed the fact that one of the programmes would be inventing a new title for their top guy. As a result of the WWE World Title becoming the sole property of Smackdown Live last night’s episode of Monday Night RAW introduced the concept of the WWE Universal Championship. In a typical example of oneupsmanship the best in WWE and the best in the world can now be declared the best in the entire universe. Kudos for attempting to create something original but it just sounds ridiculous.

On the plus side, the two combatants competing for the WWE Universal Championship at Summerslam will be Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor. The latters immediate elevation to such a prestigious spot demonstrates the new direction, inticing fans that the proclaimed new era is not just a neat tagline.

Speaking of Summerslam the writers now face the challenge of promoting the Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton match with both participants on different shows each week.

imageRAW did make a bold statement with acquiring the WWE Women’s Champion and in possibly the match of the night Sasha Banks took the gold. The new era had its first new champion. However, despite a new roster two superstar spots were inhabited by nobodies for squash matches to introduce Nia Jax and Braun Strowman. A classic case of one step forward, two back. It will be interesting to see how Smackdown Live responds given a solid episode from RAW, Brock Lesnar making an appearance next week and the cruiserweight also coming to Monday nights.

Looking forward there are still unanswered questions. Regarding PPVs, will there be RAW or Smackdown Live only monthly events as has been the case previously. What about inactive alumni, where might they turn up? Will Smackdown Live create a tag team title division? Has Heath Slater finally been fired? There will also no doubt come a time when the two major titles are unified once again and no doubt Michael Cole will declare the victor as the first ever undisputed champion, forgetting the two previous occasions that such a match has been presented. For now however, it is an exciting time for WWE watchers.

REVIEW: Game of Thrones : Season 6 Finale

imageIn a season which had a pedestrian build-up, to say the least, slowly putting in place the pieces it needed to deliver an impressive finale and it didn’t disappoint. After setting it all up, the final two episodes roared to life with explosive scenes that redefined the phrase “must see television”. All the plot threads have had significant screen time dedicated to establishing events but the payoffs were more than worth the wait. If you’ve not caught up then do not hamper your enjoyment by reading further, there will be spoilers!

imageLast week saw the epic ‘Battle of the Bastards’ for Winterfell and certainly lived up to expectations. Fortunately good triumphed over evil as the Starks recaptured their home and Ramsey Bolton finally got his just desserts. More than that the episode saw a truly spectacular battle. It’s epic scale alone set new standards for what can be achieved with a supposed TV budget. There was a gritty, and at times suffocating, realism which heightened the brutality and the chaos of such a battle. From the very start there were moments where the viewer is left concerned that things were not going to go the way of the Starks, beginning with Rickon’s death. This was at the hands of an arrow from Ramsey Bolton, at his most manipulative and despicable that continued as he instructed his archers to shower down arrows on his own men, building a grotesque wall of corpses with soldiers from both sides. With the Wildling Warriors and Jon Snow surrounded all seems lost. imageBut then as the audience’s collective heart sinks, Sansa and Littlefinger come to the rescue with the Knights of the Vale. The overhead shot of the cavalry sweeping away the Bolton army was beautifully created, sending Ramsey into retreat behind the walls of Winterfell to little avail. Jon Snow gets his shots in as he pummels at Lord Bolton’s sickening face but it would be for Sansa to have the final triumph and the last shot of the show. Ramsey’s cruelty ultimately proves his undoing and Sansa walks away with a subtle smile knowing she has got her revenge.

‘The Winds of Winter’ picked up the mantle from ‘Battle of the Bastards’, an episode many have considered to have been one of the best the show has produced, and somehow delivered even more punch. From the very outset there is a beautiful melancholy tone, beginning before a musical note is even heard as a lone bell, watch out for it later, chimes impending doom. The incidental music then assists the drama so skilfully and has to be acknowledged.

imageAll the scenes in King’s Landing for effectively the last two seasons have been building to this moment, the Trial of Cersei Lannister before the Seven Gods. The rise of the Faith Militant had of course proved to be a catastrophic miscalculation by Cersei, having to endure the humiliating walk of shame at the end of Season 5. But you always knew she was going to have her revenge and boy did she, also wiping out the Tyrell’s at the same time. Loras admits his guilt and dedicates his life to the Seven Gods, meaning the graphic mutilation of his pretty forehead. His life didn’t have long left however as, in a plot stolen from Guy Fawkes, wildfire tore through the Great Sept of Baelor in another spectacularly delivered effect. Yet in a typically unexpected twist Cersei’s greatest victory resulted in her cruelest loss as King Tommen drops to his death in a shot similar to the humourous demise of Denholm Reynholm in ‘The IT Crowd’. You feel that with all her children gone, like Lady Olenna Tyrell, there will be no limits to her madness.

imageThe extended running time of ‘The Winds of Winter’ was fully utilised as a number of threads were tied together, such as Sam and Gilly arriving at Oldtown and Shireen’s brutal demise last year finally catching up with Melisandre. Arya Stark’s personal journey finally begins to be accelerating as she ticked another individual off her kill list in this episode. The time spent learning the ways of the House of Black and White finally come to fruition as she wreaks her revenge on Walder Frey on behalf of her mother, brother and all the viewers shaken by the events of the Red Wedding.

For the really hardcore followers Bran’s journey into the past would reveal the true identity of Jon Snow’s parents, Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The gut wrenching realisation that after all this time Ned Stark was not in fact his father but had kept up a lie to protect his sister’s son was another example of how incredible Game of Thrones is as a television series. As well as delivering the explosive sequences and epic battles already discussed it also provides deeply intelligent plotting which elevates it to the ranks of a television masterpiece.

imageJon Snow’s own journey during this season, which of course started with him being dead and in need of resurrection, also ends in triumph as he is declared ‘The King in the North’. Once again however it is young Bella Ramsey who steals the scene as Lyanna Mormont, shaming the other Lords of the North, turning the tide and triggering the acknowledgment of his place as ‘King in the North’. A particular thread still left outstanding is that of Sansa Stark and Littlefinger, the lecherous and goateed individual revealing his intentions for the Iron Throne in this episode. However you feel that Sansa will not ever forgive him for handing her over to the Boltons and his comeuppance may come in Season 7, when he will surely pay a heavy price.

imageAnother exciting prospect for Season 7 is of course the fact that finally, FINALLY, Daenerys is making her move for the Iron Throne and heading for Westeros. The building of her army has taken an eternity but now she stands with Dothraki and Unsullied warriors, the ships of Yara and Theon Greyjoy, an alliance with the Martels and Tyrells, the council of Tyrion and Varys plus three freaking dragons! As will probably be the case there might be an extended period of build up before a battle between the Lannister and Targaryen armies that will surely raise even higher standards for epic television storytelling than we have already enjoyed in Season 6. Beyond that I predict we will also be treated to a thrilling climax between fire and ice because lest we forget in all this excitement, “Winter is Here”.

REVIEW: New Top Gear

imageIn perhaps the most anticipated relaunch of a television programme since Doctor Who returned in 2005 another global BBC brand returned to our screens last night. The strategy was clear from the outset, replicate the format of the previous show but with new presenters. Unfortunately the team of seven was largely absent with Sabine Schmitz only making a cameo and the limelight being taken by Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc. Evans is clearly excited to be given the opportunity to present the show but burdened with the pressure and responsibility of the relaunch couldn’t find the balance between addressing the studio audience and the viewers at home, resulting in some very shouty delivery. Matt Le Blanc is the star although he should clearly have opened with a “how you doing?” The American was far more natural and even though known as an actor he appeared more than comfortable in the role of presenter. During his films, which as usual were gloriously shot, for this first episode Le Blanc is knowledgeable and engaging, managing to grasp the dry sense of humour familiar to a British audience.

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All the boxes were ticked to try and present the show as the same which had been so successful before. “All we know is he’s called the Stig”, a Top Gear road trip with unreliable vehicles and a series of challenges for the presenters. The only real change, besides the audience on the balcony, was to the ‘star in the reasonably priced car’ which now featured a rally cross section to the lap. The Ramsey and Eissenberg segment also suffered from pandering to the studio audience, alienating the viewers at home.

Whilst many I’m sure have been composing their derogatory reviews since Clarkson, Hammond and May departed, this new Top Gear has tried to stay faithful to the previous regime. Unsurprisingly it is not the same because the pieces of the jigsaw are now different and for people to criticise it because of that is unfair. Amazon will be providing the familiar format and the big test for the Top Gear brand will be it’s ability to attract and retain an audience. If the first episode is anything to go by Matt Le Blanc is certainly worth watching.