The Good, the Bad and the Ugly #6: WWE Overcooking Their Golden Gooses
This week we’re going to take a look at the two biggest angles anyone seems to be talking about … since there really isn’t much else to talk about.
I do, Paul Heyman. I do.: Despite being in a feud that feels like it should have paid off by now, Paul Heyman is still one of the most consistent performers on the microphone. I could probably find more redundancy in a series of CM Punk’s promos than in the ones Heyman’s had since coming back. His range has been impeccable over the past year, striking every chord from mocking to cartoonish and anything else along the spectrum. His performance Monday night was no different. It may have been just an unnecessary turn in a story that’s already driven every which way while still not reaching its destination, but it was damn amusing seeing him lavish Ryback with loaded praise before finally popping the question, “Will you be a Paul Heyman guy?” It may not have been a surprise and it may not have accomplished much (because I don’t see Ryback as any more of a long-term asset than couldn’t-quite-get-out-of-the-gate Curtis Axel), but on its own merits or as a skit detached from WWE macrocosm (not that it actually is, but for my purposes let’s judge it that way), it was fun.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?: If you’ve been keeping up with TJR Wrestling (and if you’re reading this of course you have), you might have noticed a common trend amongst my fellow writers: frustration. Impatience. Even a little indignation. Everyone’s standing around with their empty palms and asking, “Where’s the payoff?” Had CM Punk been written in to beat Brock Lesnar back at SummerSlam, I could have very easily seen him hitting the GTS on Heyman thereafter, thus satisfying his feud with Lesnar and giving Heyman his comeuppance. However, since they didn’t want to worsen Lesnar’s record any further, they carried the story for another pay-per-view, and you know what? I was okay with that – up until they introduced an unnecessary player in Ryback. As much as I liked Heyman’s promo from RAW, he’s still treading the same water with Punk, only now he’s brought in a bigger shark in this never-ending obstacle course to seeing Paul Heyman get kneed in the face. That’s all we really want, right? For Paul Heyman to Go to Sleep? I know that’s what I want and I freakin’ love the guy. That’s because WWE did such a good job with his initial betrayal and his manipulation that he became one of the most over heels on the roster, despite not even being an in-ring performer. But the end goal is still for CM Punk to come out ahead, which is only natural since he’s the hero and the wrestler, meaning he’s the one of the two who’ll proceed from this feud into another.
Then there’s Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton. Like most my friends, I was hyped for their match at Night of Champions, but what we got was a television main event on pay-per-view that threw a wrench into Bryan’s title pursuits that creative didn’t even remember to keep turning. A couple days ago I commented on Thomas Briggs’ Thursday Headlines after he’d expressed a common confusion about the narrative sense of last week’s eleven-on-one handicap main event. Below is the comment I left regarding the match:
Based on the whole, "Let's see if Daniel Bryan will have your backs as well as you all have had his" line, I thought Trips wanted to spark dissension in their ranks by having Bryan fail to protect his friends as well as they'd protected him. When he announced the match, I imagined there'd be moments where someone would get eliminated and they'd look at Bryan like, "What the frick, man?" because he'd been in position to prevent it, but not really because of some subtle trickery by the heels that Bryan's partners couldn't have seen but we as the audience could've. But we didn't get any of that. Bryan wasn't implicated in any of his teammate's eliminations [any more] than the other guys on the apron were. And not only did he lead them to victory, he did so in glorious fashion, delivering to The Shield (specifically Rollins initially) their comeuppance in the same four-on-one formation The Shield had used to terrorize the roster. Triple H never threw the necessary wrench into the match to cast doubt over Bryan's sincerity, something you'd expect them to develop further after the post-NoC show considering that had been the whole idea behind the finish to Orton-Bryan.
The pacing for this feud just feels off. A typical structure consists of the heel stealing a victory in his first defense, only for the face to win in their rematch. WWE took another approach and heck, I was still invested after Night of Champions. It was when they didn’t even remember to water that seed of tension they’d planted at Night of Champion, that question of whether Daniel Bryan is as honorable as we thought, that I started to worry the program was going nowhere but another throwaway match. Not to mention that I imagine for some, it’s watered down the image of Daniel Bryan winning the WWE Championship when two times in as many months it was for naught. The first time was a tension-builder, the second tastes more like a grainy, bland buffer between my tongue and a savory filling.
Perhaps this commonality between the Bryan and Punk storylines, this reluctance on WWE’s part to let us see the payoff, demonstrates a problem that we might actually be able to empathize with: they’re afraid to move on. And actually, maybe they should be. Since 2011, they’ve done a terrific job of elevating CM Punk from a bitter upper mid-carder into one of the most over characters on the roster. Grand. Since John Cena picked Daniel Bryan as his challenger for SummerSlam, they’ve given him a stronger push than they’ve given anyone in a long time, giving him a clean win over Cena, who Punk hasn’t even beaten clean yet. Amazing. But in the face department, that’s all they really have, especially with them punishing Dolph Ziggler and indulging their strange obsession with going absolutely nowhere with Alberto Del Rio. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan helped to carry WWE through the summer. Right now they’re going through their annual ratings slump thanks to Monday Night Football. Perhaps the hope was to stretch out their two biggest summer programs to keep the audiences tuning in, but instead more have tuned out since last year’s New Year’s Eve show, which leads me to the last section.
Ratings. Ratings, ratings, ratings. By now you’ve probably already read the C-man himself, John Canton’s report on the ratings plummet this Monday night, as well as his discussion about the importance of ratings to begin with. Personally, as someone who rarely watches wrestling live (or any sort of television, for that matter), I can see how ratings aren’t as reliable as they once were, although they’re still the most reliable source we have for determining viewership. Hopefully things pick up once we get closer to the winter when WWE wraps up their biggest angles and maybe pulls Triple H out of the limelight a little. There are too many characters and storylines reacting to Triple H and “The Authority”, and not enough organically developing alongside them. They’re creating plenty of conflicts and tension, sure, but at the cost of more camera time than any wrestler is getting and without fleshing out any individual characteristics that aren’t serving only the immediate storyline. Even Cody Rhodes’ conflict isn’t emanating from something unique to his character, but rather from a punishment from The Authority that they could impose on anyone else. Until WWE feels up to taking confident steps forward again, we’ll just have to grit our teeth and bear it.
Heyman and faux marriage proposals sure help.
Nicholas LeVack is a junior English creative writing major and media studies minor whose interests include writing, wrestling, video games and occasional outdoorsy things. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at email@example.com.