It’s times like these where I’m reminded of a scene from one of my favorite television comedies, Arrested Development. In this scene, the main character, Michael, comes across a brown bag in a freezer left by his magician brother, G.O.B., with a sign taped to the bag that reads: “DEAD DOVE: DO NOT EAT.” Curiously, Michael takes a peek inside the bag, sees the dove, quickly closes the bag and deadpans to himself, “I don’t know what I was expecting,” as all hope of finding anything other than what was explicitly written on the bag instantly evaporated.
This is my dead dove. This is E!’s Total Divas.
I suppose it’s my own fault for agreeing to review this show and then having expectations that it would be even the least bit good. After all, this show was on the E! network, which brings us such thought-provoking “reality” television programs as the constant Kardashian iterations, The Girls Next Door and all their related spin-offs, The Gastineau Girls, Bridalplasty, Dr. 90210, and shows that are inexplicably centered around Denise Richards, Dina Lohan, one of the Jonas Brothers but not the others, and perennial silver-medal-winner Ryan Lochte.
The E! Network method of “reality” programming storytelling is simple: create drama where none originally exists. Here’s how it works: Reality Star A is sitting at lunch with Trusted Friend B talking about a party or related shindig happening later in the evening, and says, “I really hope Mean Person C doesn’t show up uninvited. I really can’t stand him/her.” And sure enough, Mean Person C incredibly shows up at said shindig, because the producers of the show set the whole thing up. What follows is some really bad impromptu theatre with some passive aggressive tapdancing around the issue, somebody calling the other person “fake,” and a resolution that more often than not includes the phrase, “Whatever, I’m over it.” (This differs, for your information, from the MTV method of “reality” programming storytelling which involves getting a bunch of clinically insane people in a confined space, supplying them with unlimited amounts of alcohol, taking a step back and watching the magic happen…I prefer this method).
So shame on me for thinking that WWE was going to go beyond anything other than the cookie-cutter E! network “reality” programming using the same tried-and-true method that admittedly has proven very successful for the network. But WWE has proven in the past that they can create captivating reality television. They had a critical and ratings success with the reality competition Tough Enough on the USA network two years ago, but that was mostly due to the charisma of the host, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, Stone Cold Steve Austin. It wasn’t like the contestants were carrying Tough Enough. Interestingly enough, one of those contestants was Ariane, who makes her return to the WWE/Reality TV circuit on Total Divas. It was my mistake to think that Nikki Bella had enough charisma to carry this show.
I also was excited for the first episode because I enjoy any opportunity WWE presents for me to peek behind the curtain. It takes a village to put together every episode of Raw and Smackdown, and there’s enough real drama involved with putting the show together that could easily fill a reality show. However, the majority of the conversations in the first episode took place in hotel rooms, restaurants, or at home. As of the first episode, it seems like the producers dropped the ball in separating Total Divas from the rest of the E! network reality show pack by downplaying just how much effort goes into being an on-screen talent in WWE, Diva or otherwise.
Even though I knew that the E! network reality TV shows force the drama where none originally exists, the drama on this show seems blatantly forced. Here are some examples:
- Natalya learns 10 days before Wrestlemania that, despite not having a real storyline over the past year and spending the majority of the year working preliminary matches, she will in fact not be wrestling at Wrestlemania. Nattie immediately begins crying.
- Ariane comes into the picture crying because the guy she manages, Brodus Clay, told her that she sucked (I really wish they had shown that on camera, but alas, we only heard it second-hand). Ariane’s boyfriend Vincent (who is not a wrestler or even remotely involved in the show, but somehow wormed his way backstage) launches into a tirade threatening to kick Brodus’s ass. Brodus, meanwhile, is a 350-pound former bodyguard for Snoop Dogg, and would most likely mop the floor with Victor.
- New diva Eva Marie meets her boss for the first time, who immediately tells the brunette with Latina/Italian features that she has to be a blonde. Eva Marie, who is like a honey badger (she just don’t give a…), blatantly disobeys her boss’s direct order and dyes her hair bright red. The boss (shocker!) likes Eva Marie’s rash decision, but gives her a polite reprimand not to disobey her ever again.
- It’s Wrestlemania night, after a week of preparation, and Ariane’s outfit isn’t ready until literally moments before her big match, and she’s yelling at the seamstress.
And what reality show review would be complete without some very dumb quotes from its stars?
- Ariane (referring to her boyfriend Victor): “He’s never seen me do my craft.” Ariane came into WWE through the aforementioned Tough Enough program and was the first contestant eliminated because she said that out of every wrestling match in the history of ever, her favorite was Melina vs. Alicia Fox, prompting Steve Austin to do the greatest double-take I’ve ever seen. Since then, she’s been serving solely in a cheerleader role and maybe has had three total minutes of on-screen, in-ring wrestling time. Ariane referring to what she does as her “craft” is as laughable as Yeezus being referred to as music.
- Nikki Bella (of the Bella Twins, meaning she’s an identical twin, referring to Eva Marie, who as a brunette resembles her slightly, but not as much as her identical twin Brie, who is also hired by WWE): “Why the heck does WWE hire a girl who looks like me?” Did I mention she’s a twin? Yes, a twin. An identical twin. A twin whose twin is also hired by WWE. They’re identical twins. They’re twins.
- Ariane (trying to put an end to an argument with her tag team partner Trinity): “Whatever, I’m over it.” See! I told you!
- Eva Marie (explaining to her boss why she defied orders to dye her hair blonde): “To me, Eva Marie is all about attitude and…(beat, thinking)…feeling really good.” This was considered an acceptable explanation by her boss. If I ever used that explanation for not following my boss’s explicit instructions, I think I’d first be fired and then committed.
- Ariane (to Trinity): “You’re up in my Kool-Aid”
- Trinity (to Ariane, in response): “It’s my Kool-Aid too!” This exchange seems pretty apropos considering WWE employs a guy who looks like this.
- The Seamstress (to Trinity and Ariane, who is losing patience waiting on her ring gear to be sewn): “Two minutes, ladies.”
- Ariane (to the seamstress, in response): “You said that two minutes ago.” What's happening with them sausages, Charlie?
The best part of the episode easily was the way John Cena artfully dodged his way around a commitment question from his girlfriend(?), Nikki Bella. A little bit of wrestling history for those who don’t know. Back before the WWE hired “Divas,” there were women’s wrestlers. They weren’t exactly the youngest or best-looking group of gals, but they were respected for their wrestling ability as well as being able to survive in what was essentially a boy’s club backstage. But wrestlers who were on the road and treated like rock stars had their own fan groupies (or “band-aids” for you Almost Famous fans) that they would sleep with. These girls were courteously referred to as “ring rats.” In the time that WWE started hiring 20-something (or younger!) fitness models with limited-to-no in-ring experience to be “Divas,” the ring rat has given away to wrestlers dating or sleeping with the female talent. Of the seven girls featured on this show, five of them are or will be in a relationship with WWE-contracted talent.
Nikki is dating the biggest star in the company, a man who is recently divorced and has had a rumored history of sleeping with female WWE talent. In real reality, Nikki would know where her bread is buttered and ride Cena’s coattails until he decided if and when the relationship should be taken to the next level (and he may have done that already), but in Total Divas’s “reality,” it’s Nikki who forces the issue (because that’s what girls are supposed to do, apparently), and John weaves a tale of love and commitment to Nikki without actually committing to anything, giving her no indication he’s thinking about marriage with her, but also satisfying her with his answer.
Some of John’s masterful lines include:
- “It’s difficult to talk to you without staring at your…your lips.” (This is his opening line)
- “You know I’ve tried that (marriage) once.”
- “Both marriage and family are very difficult obstacles for me.”
- “You have no idea how much you’ve changed me as a person.”
- “I feel so shitty because there are certain things I can’t give, but you make me enjoy life.”
- “I would never open my home or my life for anyone else.”
- “One day at a time.”
There’s a reason this guy is the best in the company, folks!
This show isn’t really any good, but I will continue to watch and review for you, mainly because somebody has to do it and I’m a glutton for punishment. However, going forward, I will most certainly expect to see a dead dove in the Dead Dove Bag.