REVIEW: WWE WrestleMania XXXIV

WM34I have let a few days pass and recovered the hours of sleep lost on Sunday night/Monday morning. I’ve also been able to revisit certain moments, particularly the Main Event and trust me the bulk of this review will focus on that final match. After a few days of consideration my initial reaction to the show has remained largely unchanged. So, let’s dive right into it.

Duration of the Show

Let’s get this out of the way early. A 7 hour show is absurd. The main card went over 5 hours and with a 2 hour pre-show it was simply too long. As someone watching in the UK this meant staying up past 5AM. Unsurprisingly I dozed off on a few occasions. But as a live experience I’d be surprised if audience fatigue was not a factor as the show took a definite nosedive.

WM34_AndreMatt Hardy wins the Andre the Giant Battle Royal

Kicking off the action were all the male superstars otherwise not appearing on WrestleMania. Dolph Ziggler tried to showoff, skinning the cat over and over again but let’s not forget that he’s no longer a gimmick. The match itself was pretty boring, as Battle Royals can be, and then the conclusion was confusing to say the least. Matt Hardy won but the appearance of Bray Wyatt muddied the waters. Given all the entrants filling the ring I wasn’t 100% that Bray hadn’t been in the match. Wyatt’s emergence from the ‘lake of reincarnation’ clearly only saw him reacquire his lead apron. Odd finish but decent result. Shame it doesn’t matter in the long-term as the oversized trophy has been rendered meaningless in recent years.

The addition of Jim ‘JR’ Ross and Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler for this match was an odd choice with Byron Saxton effectively being the lead commentator. It smacked of a meaningless gesture to two Hall of Famers but it was nice to see and hear them once again.

WM34_Cedric_MustafaCedric Alexander defeated Mustafa Ali to win the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Whilst a perfectly competent match, with some entertaining sequences and high spots, I wasn’t gripped. The cheesy dialogue between the two combatants concerning heart and soul was tedious to say the least.

WM34-Womens-Battle-RoyalNaomi wins the Women’s Battle Royal

This match wasn’t too bad with a small showcase for some NXT competitors, Billie Kay was oddly absent but Peyton Royce stood out. But once again the conclusion of this match was confused with fans initially think that Bayley had won only for Naomi to re-emerge and snatch victory. As predicted it continued the bubbling storyline between Bayley and Sasha Banks which will hopefully be built for a SummerSlam main event spot. As an aside, the look on Paige’s face when she tried to suggest that she might make the Women’s Battle Royal was heartbreaking as you could tell that she didn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. She formally retired from in-ring competition the following night.

Three matches in and the preshow didn’t catch fire but that would all change when the main card began.

WM34_Miz_Finn_SethSeth Rollins defeated The Miz (c) and Finn Balor to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship

As a match to kick off the show who better to deliver than these three top performers. The fast pace and impressive action was the perfect start with Rollins capturing the gold to become a Grand Slam champion. The Miz seems to be moving towards a face turn, sending the Miztourage back to the locker room, and so three baby faces in the same match didn’t really work. But the action was smooth and entertaining, it just wasn’t a match viewers could emotionally invest in because any outcome and victor would’ve been enjoyed and accepted.

WM34_Asuka_CharlotteCharlotte Flair (c) defeated Asuka to retain the SmackDownLive Women’s Championship

Probably the match of the night. Personally I thought Asuka tapped out to the Figure 8 Lock a bit too quickly. She could’ve held on a little longer given she had been undefeated up until that point. Some of the moves were as spectacular as Charlotte’s entrance with the moonsault counter and Spanish fly standing out in particular. The emotional conclusion was also a nice touch and it seemed appropriate that Charlotte Flair, undoubtedly the best female in the company, was the individual to break Asuka’s streak and cementing her legacy. Asuka herself now needs to go on another run of victories but this loss certainly won’t hurt her. What will is the fact that she’s now no longer able to use the armbar submission, presumably neither is Becky Lynch, because of Ronda Rousey’s addition to the roster.

WM34_Jinder_Orton_Roode_RusevJinder Mahal defeated Rusev, Bobby Roode and Randy Orton (c) to win the WWE United States Championship

A Jinder victory was unexpected. His unsuccessful WWE title run would’ve been more suited to the US title but it’s a bit late to try it now. Rusev is over with the audience. The ‘Rusev Day’ chants are everywhere but seeing Jinder pin Rusev was effectively a middle finger to the audience. How dare the WWE Universe support someone the company didn’t intend them too! So Jinder is the champion and I fear more distasteful promos on the blue brand.

WM34_Kurt_Ronda_HHH_StephRonda Rousey and Kurt Angle defeated Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Talk about the shock of the night! I, like most, feared that this would be a car wreck of a match. With the exception of Stephanie gently placing Kurt’s head into the steel steps in a manner akin to the way she probably rests her children down on a pillow, and Kurt struggling to extend his legs to back body drop Triple H over the rope, the match was largely excellent. Although Steph being able to block a former UFC champion’s armbar was straining the believable, it did make the moment when she inevitably locked it in electric. There was also a great tease that she might force Triple H to tap to the submission. Overall the match was simply great fun and proved to be a highlight of the whole show.

WM34_Usos_NewDay_BludgeonThe Bludgeon Brothers defeated The Usos (c) and The New Day to win the SmackDownLive Tag Team Championships

This is possibly where the show began the decline. A short match that needed a stipulation that could’ve elevated it to the heights of the highlight reel mainstay that was the TLC II match at WrestlemaniaX7. Instead it was a short match that successfully sent the SmackDownLive tag team division in a new direction. Expect the Usos or New Day to move to RAW in the upcoming superstar shakeup.

WM34_taker_cenaThe Undertaker defeated John Cena

So after all the build up fans were treated to a sub 3 minute squash match. Firstly, Cena appeared in the crowd on the Kickoff show. Unfortunately, this meant that the action was regularly interrupted to cut to Cena watching on. Cue an overreaction the moment he realised that he was now on camera. When a referee ran down to ringside after the Charlotte/Asuka match to tell Cena that catering had been stocked up backstage, it triggered his sprinting up the ramp that became a meme creators dream. When Cena came down to the ring and the lights went out, the whole of the Superdome leapt from their seats. Then Elias came down. “Were you expecting someone else?”

That moment was sublime. Unfortunately, Elias’ continued elevation in the thoughts of the WWE Universe was undone by a typical Cena burial. As Cena made his way back up the ramp once again the lights went out again. A spotlight revealed Undertaker’s hat and coat in the ring where it had been left the year before. With a flash of lightning the items disappeared. Then Undertaker emerged. All of this was brilliantly delivered. But then the match began.

Whilst Undertaker looked in great shape, moving smoother than he’d managed in recent outings. The match was completely one sided. All it accomplished is the possibility that The Undertaker could return at any point. After an emotional departure from the ring at WrestleMania XXXIII he deserves to be allowed to retire with dignity. Instead I fear we may continue to get unsatisfactory contests on the biggest show of the year for the foreseeable future. Will we get shorter and shorter matches until ‘Taker’s body finally declares that enough is enough? I hope not. But on this occasion, given the lengthy buildup and teasing, the final match was largely unsatisfying.

WM34_OwensZayn_DanielBryanShaneDaniel Bryan and Shane McMahon defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Viewers watching on the WWE Network can identify the precise moment that the crowd in the Superdome was lost. Seeing Daniel Bryan return to the ring after his retirement was supposed to be a highlight of the show. The ‘Yes’ chants were delivered with rabid passion that was extinguished by the sneak attack from KO and Sami followed by the powerbomb onto the ring apron. The subsequent stretcher spot was designed to prey on people’s worries about Bryan’s physical condition and ultimately see a triumphant hot tag to win the match. In the meantime Shane McMahon had to defy his own poor physical condition after Diverticulitis to get him some laughable punches and his coast to coast drop kick. Even then the momentum in the arena had been lost and the show could not recapture it. Taking Bryan out early poured cold water on the audience’s excitement levels and WrestleMania failed to recover.

WM34_Alexa_NiaNia Jaxx defeated Alexa Bliss (c) to win the RAW Women’s Championship

This was a peculiar story. Whilst positive that the bullied overcame the bully it did help that the former was an immovable object. The way Nia took out Mickie James was impressive, leaving Alexa alone to attempt to retain her title was part of the story. There were nice moments but it couldn’t match the technical heights achieved by Charlotte and Asuka. The match fell a little flat and this trend would only continue.

WM34_AJStyles_NakamuraAJ Styles (c) defeated Shinsuke Nakamura to retain the WWE Championship

Despite the expectations that this match would be an absolute classic these two failed to gel together. I admit that this contest was the first occasion that I drifted off during but awoke before the end. On rewatching it almost felt that Nakamura in particular was holding back. I don’t think this was deliberate but reflective of the fact that both competitors were baby faces. Nakamura’s heel turn at the end of the match sets up some further matches between the two where hopefully the dynamic of a classic heel v face contest will make up for this initial outing that was a little disappointing.

WM34_Bar_BraunBraun Strowman and Nicholas of the WWE Universe defeated The Bar to win the RAW Tag Team Championships

Now this was crazy. There was plenty of speculation about who could possibly be Braun Strowman’s partner for this match with several options. Instead of a returning or debuting superstar Braun wandered round and picked someone from the crowd. As it turned out, it was the son of the referee that was in the ring.

I think that it is a fair enough idea and does create the feeling that anything could happen if you attend a live WWE event. The issue I have is that this was for a major championship. Having two individuals of the talents of Cesaro and Sheamus squashed by a single competitor is bad enough. Yes Braun is a monster among men. But single-handed he has managed to destroy the entire RAW tag team division, including the champions. With Authors of Pain debuting from NXT on RAW the following day, they could’ve immediately been positioned as a dominating team by overcoming Braun. Instead the Tag Titles have been ridiculed. Being won by a 10 year old child is one thing but for them to then be simply handed back because of a scheduling conflict with the fourth grade, although amusing, weakens their value. Win them in the ring and lose them in the ring as Macho Man once said. On the night the moment worked but going forward it was never going to.

WM34_Lesnar_ReignsBrock Lesnar (c) defeated Roman Reigns to retain the Universal Championship

Buckle up. Here we go. The Main Event.

Firstly, the crowd were determined to defecate all over this match. They were determined to tell WWE, and Vince in particular, that they rejected both of these guys. Beachballs were flying. “This is awful” chants rang out. The crowd were not engaged in the match whatsoever. The final outcome surprised everyone because we all expected Roman Reigns to be victorious and Brock to return to UFC. I hold my hands up that I completely got it wrong and perhaps we were being played all along. Whilst I am not a huge fan of the prospect of Reigns with the belt, it was preferable to a part-timer who takes the biggest championship in the company off the show for the majority of the time. But the match itself highlighted why Brock is no longer a performer who people actually want to see in a squared circle.

The lack of variety in Brock’s move-set killed the match for me and Roman’s was no better. It was German suplex after German suplex. Then F5 after F5. When Brock tried something different, namely an overhead belly-to-belly suplex onto an announce table, it was so poorly executed that Roman nearly knocked himself out. Reigns in turn had spears and superman punches but very little else. There was no variety. However the biggest issue is the kick outs from finishers, which frankly is killing the business. Anyone who has followed the story of Brock’s title reign expected Roman to kick out of an F5, the move which has downed Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman, the guy who has destroyed the entire RAW tag team division single handed. Only one of those moves was needed to defeat those two behemoths. But Roman is not a normal superstar.

Things got ludicrous after the third kick out. Then Roman gets put through the table and it’s still not enough. When a superstar hits their finisher that should be it. The best sequences in wrestling should be those where the combatants are trying to avoid each other’s finishing manoeuvre. Yes there’s a place for kicking out of a finisher to accentuate drama. But when it is done five times it is insulting the intelligence of the audience and exposing the business as choreographed. I understand trying to portray Roman as a tough guy but a total of SIX F5 finishers being needed to defeat him was absurdity of the highest order. No wonder fans in attendance rejected the match.

Adding to the surprises, Roman got colour. This was seemingly hard-way from a stiff Brock elbow to the head. But there was something odd about it. Perhaps Roman had taken an aspirin before the match, as used to be practice in the old days. Despite this, Reigns still could not overcome the odds and got pinned. Would it have been better for the match to have been called off at this point? The Main Event of WrestleMania stopped due to blood loss would have delivered scorching heel heat on Brock and set up the now scheduled rematch in Saudi Arabia. Instead the conclusion was probably the flattest end to a Wrestlemania of all time.

Overall, the 7 hour spectacle was entertaining but torturous at times, not least because of the running time. The main card started on a high, managed to maintain the momentum and then the show plummeted off a cliff. Yes the result of the Main Event was a surprise to everyone but the quality of the match and the multiple finishers left a sour taste. As a result, the gut reactions as the show ended were of disappointment and fatigue. Days later that still remains the opinion of Wrestlemania 34.

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Why the build for Wrestlemania XXXIV has been so poor

WM34Wrestlemania is WWE’s biggest show of the year. The 34th edition of the ‘Grandest Stage of them all’ has one of the most stacked cards in history. There is no shortage of talent on display. However, the majority of these matches are multi-person contests to get anyone with a performer contract an appearance on the event. Tag matches, triple threats, a triple threat tag team, see a pattern? Whilst some noteworthy collisions have been created, the buildup has been poor at best and for many matches simply nonsensical. The anticipated outcomes are equally predictable, further dampening down excitement levels of this particular viewer.

WM34_Lesnar_ReignsBrock Lesnar (c) v Roman Regins for the WWE Universal Championship

Let’s start at the top with what is likely to be the Main Event. This has had some positive moments in the buildup, particularly when Paul Heyman has been on the microphone. The previous contest three years ago was a very good physical bout which got usurped by Seth Rollins. Hopefully they will put on another solid effort but we all know that Roman is going to triumph. Dana White has confirmed that Brock is returning to UFC. Frankly this is a good move as Brock’s year long run with the top title on RAW has weakened the belt’s value and ensured that week after week the top athlete in the company has not been on the flagship show. Fans may not want Roman as ‘the guy’ but Vince McMahon does and that’s the end of that.

The reaction of the crowd will be interesting. Whilst it is undoubtedly a good move to give the belt to a full-time performer, capable of consistently putting on solid matches, fans may not want it to be Roman Reigns. For me it is his overuse of the Superman punch that riles me about Reigns. Hitting five of them on RAW this past week proves my point. It’s overused and just looks a bit rubbish. That said I am looking forward to a Reigns title run against some deserving challengers like Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and others.

WM34_AJStyles_NakamuraAJ Styles (c) v Shinsuke Nakamura for WWE Championship

Now this is one match that I am actually excited about. It hasn’t needed much to build anticipation as many predict that it will be a classic. Previous history in Japan, including their WrestleKingdom 10 match which received a 4 and 3/4 star rating from Dave Meltzer, has been alluded to but not the focus. It is simply a match where two of the best wrestlers in the world will collide to work out who deserves to be the champ. Here’s hoping for a five star contest. If delivered the winner won’t actually matter too much.

WM34_Kurt_Ronda_HHH_StephRonda Rousey and Kurt Angle v Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Since her debut at the Royal Rumble all roads have built to this, Rowdy Ronda Rousey’s first match in a WWE ring. Rousey’s signing to the company will have drawn additional attention to the product. Unfortunately, this has proved to be a double edged sword. Rousey’s inexperience in the Sports Entertainment environment has been exposed with poor delivery of her scripted promos. In terms of the match, Rousey against Stephanie is no contest at all. Whilst one has no previous experience in a WWE ring, the other’s is pretty limited. In fact Stephanie’s last match was at Summerslam in 2014. It is therefore unsurprising that more experienced hands Triple H and Kurt Angle have been added to the match. Unfortunately, Angle is not in great condition. His inability to stand up straight in the ring is one obvious example. When he covered for Roman Reigns at TLC Angle was protected, actually having a break in the middle of the match before getting a triumphant return. Triple H will be a safe hand guiding the match but few expect Rousey to lose in her first WWE match then we can all move on.

WM34_Asuka_CharlotteCharlotte (c) v Asuka for the SmackdownLive Women’s Championship

Now we get onto the more nonsensical stuff. Fair enough Asuka won the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble and could challenge either Women’s champion. We all anticipate a good match but the way these two have been pushed together highlights how poorly the Women’s division on SmackdownLive has been booked in recent months. Despite performers like Becky Lynch and Natalya, Asuka has been brought in to provide Charlotte with competition for the biggest show of the year. Asuka’s streak against Charlotte’s title makes plenty of sense but ridicules the so-called brand split. Having two competitors on different shows has limited the opportunity for confrontations, not that that matters anymore. Corey Graves manages to make both shows. Also if Asuka wins, and we all expect her to, then will the title go with her to RAW?

WM34_Alexa_NiaAlexa Bliss (c) v Nia Jaxx for the RAW Women’s Championship

Now this has been embarrassing. Alexa has proved herself to be a tremendous champion. A heel champ that fans actually respect and like to a certain extent. The manufactured friendship breakdown has been done simply to give Alexa an opponent and that’s fine. What is completely unacceptable has been the ‘fat shaming’ of Nia. Yes Alexa is a heel but it is totally unnecessary. For all of WWE’s positive steps forward with the Women’s division this strategy is embarrassing. Not least because it comes from a talent who admits to have struggled with an eating disorder in the past. It also makes a mockery of the company’s anti-bullying messages.

Rumours are circulating regarding Carmella’s Money in the Bank cash-in opportunity. I have a feeling that Alexa might fluke a win, Nia will destroy her in frustration only for Carmella to cash in and take the title. This would see Carmella move to RAW and Asuka, assuming she wins, moving to SmackdownLive.

Now look at the next few bouts. Multi-man matches rule this year and remind me of WrestleMania 2000 which was hugely overbooked. The remainder of the card is a mishmash of multi-man contests that sadly reek of getting performers a ‘Mania pay cheque. At least one tag match has the benefit of a returning hero!

WM34_OwensZayn_DanielBryanShaneDaniel Bryan and Shane McMahon v Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

The confirmation that Daniel Bryan was cleared to return to the ring has been a huge lift for SmackdownLive. For a start it actually provides closure on a storyline which has been meandering for months and months. Owens and Zayn have been an entertaining force on the blue brand but their confrontations with Shane have been crying out for a resolution. Bryan has turned from being on their side to an adversary to create this match. Perhaps it will be revealed that he remains on their side after all? It would be surprising to see Bryan lose on his return to in ring action but turning on Shane would see him move from General Manager back to being a wrestler. It would also setup a Shane v Bryan contest at some point and ensure that Zayn and Owens remain contracted to WWE.

 

WM34_Miz_Finn_SethThe Miz (c) v Finn Balor v Seth Rollins for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Three top stars in the company clash for the IC title. Whilst this is sure to be an excellent match, part of me thinks that not only have the combatants been thrust together with nothing else on offer but that they should be colliding for the main prize. The Miz is a fantastic Intercontinental champion and his character suits carrying gold. Post-Wrestlemania I would like to see all three individuals push on and challenge for the Universal title. Finn was robbed of a decent run with the belt due to injury, Seth’s best work came when he was the WWE champ and The Miz’s excellent work this past year also deserves reward. For now, the combination of one heel and two faces will probably divide the audience with many also cheering for The Miz, making for an interesting atmosphere. At least the match itself will be high on quality.

WM34_Jinder_Orton_Roode_RusevRandy Orton (c) v Jinder Mahal v Bobby Roode v Rusev for the WWE United States Championship

Speaking of competitors thrust together because they have nothing better to do. Randy Orton has been going through the motions for a couple of years now. A veteran who has accomplished so much he has little more to strive to achieve. Jinder’s poorly judged reign with the top title on SmackdownLive would’ve been better suited to a run with the US championship. To do so now would be pointless. As for Bobby Roode, his is a character that needs to be a heel. He hasn’t connected with the general audience as well as he managed in NXT. The ‘Glorious One’ gimmick is crying out for becoming an arrogant heel and the US title would help with that. However, if you want someone who is properly over with the audience then look at Rusev. His addition to the match is at least acknowledgement of his growing popularity and a Rusev victory would provide a popular Wrestlemania moment. But even then another run with the US strap is hardly progress.

WM34_Usos_NewDay_BludgeonThe Usos (c) v The New Day v The Bludgeon Brothers for the SmackdownLive Tag Team Championship

Whilst The Usos will finally get a spot on the Wrestlemania main card it will be another multi-man collision. Given the setup at Fastlane and the brutality of The Usos and New Day’s epic Hell in a Cell match, this match needs a stipulation. With that rivalry prolonged a win for The Bludgeon Brothers will hopefully provide the tag team division on SmackdownLive a refresh. That said, The Usos have been outstanding champions and are more than worthy of their spot on the main card rather than kickoff show fodder.

WM34_Bar_BraunThe Bar (c) v Braun Strowman and TBC for the RAW Tag Team Championship

The strength or failure of this match will be the identity of Braun’s partner. ‘The Monster Among Men’s decimation of the entire tag team division on RAW belittled all of those teams. Braun has been booked like the all conquering monster but has slipped down to the tag team division, again just to fit him on the card. His partner has not been revealed yet so WWE must have someone up their sleeve. Rumours are of an anticipated return from Samoa Joe, either at ‘Mania or the RAW following. Personally, I like the idea of Ellsworth being his partner. It continues the storyline that Braun doesn’t really need a partner and completes the circle of Ellsworth’s career in WWE. Whoever it is, they’ll have a tough task trying to match the pop that met The Hardyz last year.

For those who haven’t managed to make the main card, the kickoff show does provide an opportunity to get an appearance.

WM34_AndreThe Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

All the remaining male superstars will have the opportunity to lace up their boots and get in the ring at Wrestlemania. Unfortunately, it will be in the utter pointless Battle Royal. Actually winning the match is entirely meaningless. See Mojo Rawley last year. It is simply a device used to appease the athletes who have worked tirelessly all year only to have positions on the biggest show usurped by part-time performers. Hopefully it’ll be over quick.

WM34-Womens-Battle-RoyalThe Women’s Wrestlemania Battle Roya/l

The controversy over the initial naming after the Fabulous Moolah has overshadowed this match. Again it is an opportunity for the women on SmackdownLive, aside Charlotte, to get a Wrestlemania appearance. Hopefully this match won’t end in the same way as the first Women’s battle royal at Wrestlemania, won by a man, or the controversial ending to the Women’s Money in the Bank match. The likelihood is a continuation of the bubbling Bayley and Sasha Banks rivalry with one of those two favourites to lift the appallingly cheap looking plastic trophy. Whilst it would’ve been a stronger statement had this match been on the main card, supporting the self proclaimed Women’s revolution, this match may form part of the kickoff show screened on the USA Network. Thus it might get more viewers than a lot of the other matches so perhaps it is a wise move.

WM34_Cedric_MustafaCedric Alexander v Mustafa Ali for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Hopefully this match will conclude the kickoff show. Concluding the tournament to crown a new champion for 205Live this should be one of the best contests in terms of in ring action. I have no preconceptions or expectations for this match so I’m looking forward to being impressed.

And then we come to this match…

WM34_taker_cenaJohn Cena v The Undertaker

Prepare for a rant.

At time of writing this match has not been confirmed but we are all expecting it. John Cena has failed on multiple occasions to create his path to a Wrestlemania match. The head of the Cenation, has since turned into a whiney irritant. It also sets a dangerous precedent. How many more superstars will fail and simply call out ‘Taker to get on the Wrestlemania card? This is not a match that I have any desire to see. Perhaps 10 or maybe even 5 years ago but not now. Rumour is that ‘Taker was unhappy with his performance last year and wants to correct it. How he expects to perform even better after another year out is perhaps an indication of his confidence in his surgeon rather than his own abilities. Undertaker’s match against Roman Reigns last year was a painful watch. But the story was told of a gunslinger’s final battle. He left the ring and the stage with dignity. It was very emotional. For that all to be undone just so John Cena can have a match is embarrassing. Anyway, shouldn’t Cena be planning a wedding? That, not in the least bit predictable and totally genuine, proposal was a year ago after all.

Fans are predicting a return of the American Badass gimmick, with Kid Rock entering the Hall of Fame. That is hardly something that people have been clamouring for. How many of the current fans even remember the American Badass version of Undertaker? A little promo video would’ve helped. Just let the man retire. The fact that we go into Wrestlemania weekend not knowing if this match will happen is ridiculous. Assuming ‘Taker does turn up, he has to defeat Cena so what does it accomplish? Maybe the match won’t happen this year but we’ll get the start of a build for Wrestlemania XXXV? Of course that is what this match will need, another year of toe-curling buildup!

Whilst I plan on staying up to watch Wrestlemania XXXIV this weekend I am not looking forward to it. Very few of the matches are ones I am keen to see. Perhaps I’m just a glutton for punishment or anticipating some calamities but for all the talent on show the buildup has been utterly abysmal. It will take some stellar matches to engage me for what will inevitably be a torturous 6 hours of WWE programming.

WWE Raw 25 and Royal Rumble 2018

It has been a big week for the WWE. Beginning with the heavily promoted RAW 25 spectacle and ending with the Royal Rumble, WWE’s third biggest event of the year, there is plenty to comment upon. Interspersed between these two points were the typical offerings from SmackdownLive and NXT plus the major announcement of a returning XFL in 2020. It is however a week which perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with the product offered by World Wrestling Entertainment that is seeing casual and diehard fans turning away.

C20BF330-B4B7-492E-9641-08B6D3E1F834RAW 25

The 25th Anniversary of Monday Night Raw is a huge deal for the WWE. The self proclaimed ‘longest running weekly episodic television broadcast’ reached the landmark on January 11th but the go home show before the Royal Rumble was a good opportunity to combine promotion of the Pay Per View and a celebration of RAW. In terms of numbers, RAW 25 was a success achieving a 3.01 rating and an approximate average of 4.53million viewers over the 3 hours, the best figures for the show since the post-Wrestlemania 31 show in 2015. However, there was very little to encourage viewers to return the following week and highlighted to some why they had stopped watching in the first place.

The opening segment was perhaps the highlight but even that was flawed. The pop for a simple glass shattering was the biggest of the night but it was a shame to let Stone Cold, perhaps one of the greatest ever on a microphone to pass through without saying a word to those in attendance. In contrast another iconic legend in the form of The Undertaker was given the mic. Although composed with the vocals, absolutely nothing was said. In fact the majority of viewers would be hard pressed to explain what the Deadman was talking about. Will he be performing at Wrestlemania or will his beautifully poetic retirement last year remain untarnished?

678DBA56-36EA-4EF0-B8CA-D28075EADC7FOther advertised stars were less fortunate. They either appeared as a part of brief backstage vignettes or simply came out on stage to wave at the crowd. Closing the show however was an attempt to brush the gold dust from some legends onto members of the current roster. The DX plus Razor Ramon reunion saw the passing of the ‘Too Sweet’ baton to the Balor Club. Whilst well intentioned it required The Revival to take the role of sacrificial lambs. Even then the duo delivered a masterclass in how to take finishing manoeuvres.

The in-ring product was also typically average with the exception being the crowning of a new Intercontinental champion. Whilst absolutely the correct thing to do as it brought out the very best from The Miz it summed up the disastrous nature of The Shield’s reunion. It is no surprise that six days later Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose substitute Jason Jordan would also lose their tag team championships. Attempts to promote the Royal Rumble pay per view were also clumsy with Braun Strowman’s dominance telegraphing that the Universal Title would be retained by Brock Lesnar. This highlights the problem with WWE programming currently; predictability.

CD903D9A-82C2-4D50-8D57-937E0AF823CCRoyal Rumble

We have only just begun on the road to Wrestlemania and yet we know where all of this is going. Everyone knows that we are going to get another Roman Reigns v Brock Lesnar title match. The only two men to defeat The Undertaker on the biggest show of the year clashed in 2015 only for Seth Rollins to steal the gold. There is unfinished business and after a year with the title Lesnar is long overdue a defeat. His yearlong reign with part time schedule has weakened the title and hampered the flagship show on Monday night. So it was no surprise that Lesnar defied the odds and retained his title at the Royal Rumble. Had they attempted to give Roman Reigns another victory in the rumble match Philadelphia might have seen a riot. Instead expect a number one contenders Elimination Chamber match and a Roman Reigns victory.

On the blue brand an AJ Styles v Shinsuke Nakamura dream match was predicted. It is a pairing that stole the show at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in New Japan two years ago and fans around the world wanted to see it again. Perhaps the only surprise is that what the fans wanted will actually happen. It was as close to an unexpected result as viewers received. Victor in the historic Women’s Royal Rumble match was the undefeated Asuka which was once again entirely predictable. The only potential stumbling block was the incoming Ronda Rousey. There was no need to worry. One year on from her final UFC defeat Rousey only needed to show up and point at the Wrestlemania sign to book a place on the biggest show of the year. If the goal was to insult the 30 women who had just competed in the Royal Rumble then mission accomplished.

B21C3AA8-3973-493E-9BEC-555D0E842F93The arrogance of Ronda Rousey was offensive but failed to match the grotesquely poor taste concussion angle used in the RAW tag team championship match. The recently dismissed Enzo Amore suffered a genuine concussion during a match on pay per view, ending the contest and rightfully so. For medical professionals to allow a performer showing even a storyline head injury is reprehensible. Is this what we can expect from the new XFL in 2020? Athletes continuing playing with head injuries? I sure hope not!

0130A6FC-2051-48A8-B3B9-61792CF560C9An XFL Distraction?

This week also saw the predicted announcement that the brainchild of Vince McMahon, the XFL, would return in 2020. For those interested in learning the story of the league’s only other season in 2001 I highly recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 on the subject. With this on McMahon’s mind once again there is the possibility that the WWE product will suffer. Perhaps this has already begun with the predictable booking at the Royal Rumble and the deeply flawed RAW25 special episode.

Whilst we all know that sports entertainment is predetermined, the entertainment element comes from the viewers not knowing those outcomes. Currently, things are very predictable and that is severely hampering WWE. The saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ seems appropriate. In contrast NJPW is a new world and is entertaining me far more at the moment.

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…

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.