The State of the WWE: Pretty Good or Purified Garbage?
September 19, 2013 9:44 PM   Subscribe

So I stumbled upon recent episodes of Raw and Smackdown, and wrestling seems like something I can get into again after, oh, 20 years? How far back should I go to better understand who these people are and what the heck's going on? (And does every show start with a Daniel Bryan in-ring speech being interrupted?)

I loved wrestling as a kid but lost interest around the same time as most fans in the early 90s. Of course, this led to the debaucherous ratings grab that was the "Attitude Era," and frankly, tuning in at random often made my stomach turn.

Lately I'd heard derisive references to the "PG Era," and was extremely incredulous that it'd gone back to being more family-friendly. Over the weekend I stumbled upon a repeat where a diminutive bearded fella yells at a suit-wearing Triple H, and it all seemed like good clean dumb fun again.

I've since read up briefly on guys like Bryan, and others who I'd heard of before like Orton and Punk (and it seems like wrestlers sure do face/heel turns a lot more than they used to).

So I guess my main questions are: What's the fandom's general perception of the WWE's current direction? And are things still kind of transitory?

I discovered I can watch repeats on Hulu Plus, so where would be a good starting point to get the context of things? I randomly checked out the July 1 ep of Raw, but that just made me want to watch the previous week's ("see last ish! - ed"), and I'm sure I'd just get stuck in that cycle.

And are there any PPV event highlights of the last year or so I should check out online? The free broadcasts don't seem to show much footage, and Netflix doesn't seem to have any recent DVDs.

Lastly, who should I most be looking forward to watching in the ring and/or on the mic? Did the WWE indeed manage not to screw up the beloved CM Punk?
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Well, with indie darling Daniel Bryan on top form, it's definitely an interesting time to get back into WWE, that's for sure, because if nothing else Bryan is a charming, nuanced character, and an awesome in-ring wrestler.

As for WWE as a whole, well, it's a very odd situation really, with the fan base split about 50/50 between the adult "smark" fans who love the smaller, more agile, more "authentic" guys like Bryan and CM Punk, and the kids who go mad for John Cena and Sheamus, the traditional big guy babyfaces who get booked like Hulk Hogan in his prime, as essentially unbeatable supermen. The shows also represent that, with some angles obviously booked for the one fan base and some for the other. Fortunately, the top billed wrestlers aside, the lower card has a super strong assortment of wildly entertaining "old school" wrestlers (think big characters and great technical skill), like Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Dolph Ziggler, and Antonio Cesaro.

One thing to bear in mind is that the "PG Era" might as well be called the "Cena Era", and your enjoyment of contemporary WWE will be based a lot on your tolerance of John Cena, since he overshadows everything else, headlining events even when he's not champ, with many potentially brilliant wrestlers built up as monsters only to be fed to Cena and kicked back down the card again (most recently with Ryback, think Goldberg but with more character). Every time Cena wrestlers, there's an inevitable and relentless exchange of "Let's go Cena!" / "Cena sucks!" chants, with the upshot that even for the Cena haters, every Cena match is all about Cena. Now, whether Summerslam represents a new era, I'm not sure, but Bryan pinning Cena was absolutely monumental in that regard, because it's the first time Cena has been pinned clean in a long long time. Fortunately, although Smackdown is considered a strange and insignificant pocket universe compared to Raw, traditionally it is largely a Cena free zone, so there is some escape at least.

The weird thing is, you'd think this tension between the smarky fans and the kids would have to subside or implode at some point, but it's been like this for a long time now, easily the last eight years, and is likely to remain the status quo for some time yet. What WWE have always been good at is capitalising on fan reactions, so in recent years they've started pandering to the anti-Cena crowd by pushing Punk and Bryan, but still in such a way as to keep Cena protected, and while they can do that, the shows will continue to be split accordingly.

Personally, the problem that I have with Cena, Sheamus, and so on, is not that they're superman babyfaces, but that they basically want to have their cake and eat it, combining the 1980s Hogan style booking with a watered down version of the wisecracking "cool" of the attitude era. Back in the 1990s, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock were uncouth and indiscriminately violent, but they were known as "tweeners", between face and heel, as they were good guys with heel like traits, contextualised as problematic antiheros. Whereas now, the supposedly kid-friendly babyface archetypes still adopt heel attitudes but are universally applauded for it. What I'm saying, is that, violence and swearing aside, the "PG Era" is not really as morally wholesome as it appears.

> Did the WWE indeed manage not to screw up the beloved CM Punk?

Sadly, they did screw it up in the end, basically because HHH wanted a part of the action and ended up inserting himself into that scene, bringing his barely mobile pal Kevin Nash along for the ride. So seeing Bryan face off against HHH is something of a double edged sword - on the one hand it proves that he's firmly in with the WWE establishment, but on the other hand it means that all his organically generated fan heat is likely to be syphoned off by HHH yet again.

Hope that's some help... If you haven't been reading them already, I highly recommend Brandon Stroud's Best and Worst of Raw and David Shoemaker's Masked Man columns on Grantland for more on the current WWE.
posted by iivix at 3:04 AM on September 20, 2013 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Generally-speaking, the Raws after PPV events have been pretty good this year. If you were to just watch those--so, 9 so far--you'd be pretty much up on storylines and probably get a fair amount of pretty-good wrestling, to boot.

The current angle of Bryan vs. This Business is sort of a rehash, but I do think that a lot of the performers are doing their best work in a long time--I never, ever want to see HHH or Stephanie McMahon on my TV, for example, but they're killing it right now.

It's an interesting time because with Cena and Sheamus both taking an extended break, they actually seem compelled to write intriguing storylines. You've got Bryan, you've got Cody Rhodes, you've got Punk and Heyman and (suddenly) Ryback. It's a pretty good time, at least until Survivor Series when they inevitably decide to change directions and ruin it.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:06 AM on September 20, 2013

I'm just getting back into it myself and am finding the whole HHH as COO storyline intriguing (side note: what does the McMahon family have against the Rhodes clan?) and without the big babyfaces in there (Cena / Sheamus), you're getting more twists and turns that are providing some decent angles and it's working to get over some of the smaller, technical guys.

And, I'll admit, I cried when the Big Show cried. No shame.
posted by skittlekicks at 5:13 AM on September 20, 2013

side note: what does the McMahon family have against the Rhodes clan?

More money and a hereditary/sexually transmitted inability to be a gracious winner, mostly.
posted by Etrigan at 5:38 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

rofessional wrestling is a soap opera for men. Thus, the easiest way to get caught up is just to start watching (the same way you'd get up to speed on a daytime soap). It doesn't take but a couple of "episodes" to get into the groove of what's going on immediately.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:15 AM on September 20, 2013

I felt the current Bryan vs McMahons angle started out badly: it lacked commitment and internal logic for the first couple of weeks, with really stupid stuff like making out the entire face roster to be spineless gits.

To be fair, WWE seems to be attempting to correct that course, finally giving Bryan some support from his friends, and with the added dimension of the Rhodes troubles. Last week's PPV, where Bryan's fans got their moment unsullied till the following night (and come on, we all knew that was coming!), is where I think the angle should have started, but I'll try and forget the previous fortnight and carry on following the story from here.

The Masked Man on Grantland has a good column on where things are going at the moment, focused on the Bryan angle - which, since it's more or less a company-wide storyline, is everything you need to know.
posted by macdara at 10:40 AM on September 20, 2013

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