Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Jericho Dare Part II – WWE Monday Night RAW – August 17, 2009




As in the case of The Jericho Dare, Part I - Smackdown (see article below), I ask for your understanding, should you find the following description of RAW wanting. There were just too many parts of the program that were … uh … let’s call it challenging. Fair enough?

As stated, the episode of WWE Smackdown that I watched last week featured some surprisingly good wrestling. True, it was buried under a mountain of distractions (a very few okay, some banal, others ridiculous and a couple of them crossing the line into the offensive). Still, I came out appreciating that while many of the talented wrestlers were constrained by the preferred WWE style, that style has broadened somewhat since I last tuned in. A very pleasant revelation, that.

So, now it’s on to WWE Monday Night RAW, the TV show that is lauded as the company's flagship. It’s the one that gets the most attention and the highest ratings. It also receives the greatest amount of criticism for going off the rails with exasperating regularity.

Here in Canada, we are “treated” to a 15-minute preview of the night’s show, thanks to “Countdown to RAW.” Countdown begins at the top of the hour, which means everything that follows is a quarter-of-an-hour later than what our southern neighbors are viewing. For my purposes, it's a good thing. Greg Sansone is a typical generic WWE-style host, although he’s actually an anchorman for The Score, the national channel in Canada carrying all WWE programming. He does a good job bringing us up-to-date with the usual hype. The current storylines and angles are highlighted, awash as they are in clips from the recent past. Wowie, looks like we’re in for a humdinger of a show, dadgum it!

One thing that fails to raise my hopes comes with the announcement that this week’s “Guest GM” is Freddie Prinze, Jr. Nothing personal against Prinze the Younger … I’m not at all familiar with his work, but the few times I’ve seen him he seemed affable enough. Besides, I liked his old man back in the ‘70s.

But what’s the deal with a celebrity running the program every week? Okay, we know the real reason is cross-promotion. Other than that, does the gimmick enhance the matches at all? No other sport that I’m aware of allows an outside individual to call the shots. The angle itself is not a major crime in this make believe world, but such stuff makes it much more difficult to suspend disbelief and go with the proceedings. I actively dislike this manner of contrivance.

Anyway, RAW kicks off with a skit featuring Santino Marella and Freddie Prinze, Jr. Like Colt Cabana of ROH, Marella’s a natural comedian with plenty of charisma. That said, the material he’s given is horribly unfunny. Interesting to note that Santino’s thick Italian accent drops completely as he mimics other characters, one of whom is, I believe, from the program “24.” (Is it Keifer Sutherland’s role?) Fortunately, the whole thing was short, over and done before it became truly annoying.

Now, WWE champion Randy Orton joins Prinze in the ring to make it clear he has no intention of working that night, even if Sergeant Slaughter, the previous week’s Guest GM, set up this week’s main event. Tonight, Orton is scheduled to team up with his hated enemy (and the challenger for his title come SummerSlam on Sunday), John Cena. Not only that, they’ll have to face the tag team champs, Big Show and Chris Jericho. Seems to be a lot of talent crossover between RAW and Smackdown. As one might expect, RO doesn’t go for it. As far as he’s concerned, there’s nothing to discuss.

I dig Randy’s heel work. Unlike most everybody else, he doesn’t bluster and yell. At least, not to this point. Instead, he speaks in quiet and measured tones, which makes his heel personality vastly more interesting and intimidating than the screamers. Huzzah! Then, through his actions, Prinze informs us that he’s got big brass ones, for he lays down the law … the match has been made and Orton WILL appear in the main event. A little bit of back-and-forth and then bang … Orton nails him with his finisher, the RKO. Prinze is down and out on the mat, his subconscious wondering who the hell thought this would be an okay idea. It actually looked pretty good on the replay.

Randy slowly leaves the ring, and again I like how he works. Supremely arrogant yet soft-spoken is a rare novelty in today’s sports entertainment, and for that reason it’s all-the-more impressive. The viewer tends to listen to the message because it’s at a conversational level, a simple act that makes it even more menacing. So, it’s bye-bye and off to the hospital for Prinze, who didn’t even get a chance to hype his latest project (then again, I may have fast-forwarded through it). Interesting decision to pre-sell Freddie’s attendance and then kiss him goodbye within the first 10 minutes. Of course, this can only mean he’ll be back before it’s all over.

And now for something completely different: a match! Kofi Kingston, a highly energetic holder of the U.S. title takes on a nasty-ass Carlito. Haven’t seen Kingston before, but I’m pleased that Carlito seems to be over his apple-spitting phase. Done routinely, it’s predictable, boring and means nothing.

The bout is pretty stiff with a few nice spots, although Kingston’s over-amplified facial expressions don’t help. With the occasional exception, someone trying to convey an emotion by going way over the top relegates it to caricature. It only serves to remind us of what we are unable to achieve ... the suspension of disbelief. I have a feeling it won’t be the last time tonight.

Oh, joy. Just like on Smackdown, we start receiving notices that Degeneration X is coming back. The punch-lines from a series of idiotic skits Shawn Michaels and Triple H had performed over the years as DX are thrown at us lickety split. Like so many of the matches from this company, there’s no build-up … just the pay-off. Lacking genuine humor, it makes me dread the reappearance of two men that are over 40 yet pretending to be teenagers with snotty attitudes. I know each has a large following, but does anyone over the age of 12 find this turn amusing? I may be in the minority on this, but to me it's moronic in the extreme.

WWE wants you to e-mail your vote now! Can Randy Orton & John Cena defeat the team of Big Show & Chris Jericho in tonight’s main event? Hurry! (Nice method of bumping up the hits on the company website, Shane. Actually, it’s pretty clever).

The Miz (anybody happen to know what a Miz iz?) comes out and gives the crowd plenty of snark. Like C.M. Punk over on Smackdown, he’s a recent convert to the heel side of the fence. He’s taking on Evan Bourne in what proves to be mostly a spot-fest. There’s very little psychology to speak of, but the athleticism is certainly admirable. Well, except for a clothesline on Bourne near the finish that sends shivers up my spine. Call me a na├»ve mark if you want, but over the years I’ve seen too many wrestlers legitimately injured from things just like this. My immediate impression is that Evan has inadvertently landed hard on his neck and/or back of his head. Still, he manages to kick out of a pin attempt. Not so sure about the hardship created by the clothesline now. Bourne continues and soon loses, not showing much of an effect from the bad bump. So I’ll reduce my suspicion to 50/50.

Another DX reminder, courtesy of Jerry Lawler in the arena and a camera crew waiting in the parkade for their arrival. I’m beginning to shake in a combination of nervousness and dread of what’s to come.

And following the break … yep, here they are. Shawn Michaels and Triple H have arrived in all of their crotch-chopping glory. Exiting from a monstrously long limo with DX spray-painted on its side (thoughtfully parked right where the cameras can get an unencumbered shot), they walk with a sense of purpose towards the building. But before they can enter, they must first run a gauntlet of stupid people. (Or, more fairly, people doing stupid things).

First, it’s two girls, one with long blonde hair, acting in the role of crazed fan. Jumping around like she’s got a nest of wasps in her shorts, she continually screeches about DX until Trips empties a rubber trash can on her head, followed by the can itself. The other girl, who looks supremely embarrassed during her friend’s conniption fit, merely stands and watches the entire production. Who the hell writes this stuff and why haven’t they been sedated? Maybe they already are…

Then Santino, once again adopting the Keifer Sutherland role in “24” (if that’s what it is), drops in and acts the fool once again. Even though he himself remains appealing, this pretense is wearing awfully thin for me. One thing the “E” fails to grasp is that when something works, you don’t need to drive it into the ground by repeating it over and over in rapid succession. The surprise factor isn’t there after the first time, and with each replay the alleged humor diminishes. It also wouldn’t hurt to hire writers possessing a sense of humor that resembles an adult’s.

Shawn Michaels hits Marella with a Super-kick to the chin, laying him out. And here, I’ll admit it. I found the final few throwaway lines between the two friends to be genuinely witty, causing me to laugh at both the absurdity and the delivery. Once in awhile, the law of averages tells us they’ll get it right, and they certainly did so at the very end. Kind of an unexpected reward for sticking around.

As we all must be anticipating, DX hits the ring to the insane delight of the crowd. I guess this answers my earlier question … as long as people eat this foolishness up, Vince McMahon will continue dispensing it. The “boys” go into their long-running ego trip and self-congratulatory routine. (No offense to anyone, but my God … is it ever gay! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!) They merrily cavort about the ring until The Legacy (Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Jr.) run in to destroy the old-timers right where they prance. As intended, the result is an instant feud, and waddya know … it’s just in time for SummerSlam! Couldn’t see THAT coming.

Our next match is a women’s contest between Diva titleholder Mickie James (who’s put on a hint of flab around the mid-section since I last saw her) and Gail Kim. Remembering both of them as polished professionals, I’m expecting a well worked bout, far above the usual WWE women’s standards. Both are babyfaces, so with neither one needing to play the heel, there should be some decent exchanges.

But something’s wrong here. I don’t know if they’re having a hard time communicating during the bout or what, but it’s dangerously sloppy at times. Kim especially seems particularly loose and semi-lethargic, and I’m getting the feeling that Mickie is becoming exasperated. Still, it continues and I suppose it could be worse. The end, though, confirms my suspicions.

The conclusion is nothing less than a big-time screw-up. Rightly or wrongly, here’s the way I saw it: James accidentally clips Kim in the face with a spinning kick of some sort. It legitimately seems to knock her woozy. Mickie follows that up with a stiff clothesline, a roll-up and the pin. She’s looking kinda pissed off, while Gail lies perfectly still on the mat. She’s not selling a bogus injury and is barely beginning to stir.

So, the ref raises Mickie’s hand in victory, and together they take a quick walk around the ring. James then wanders over to Kim, who is attempting to regain her composure. Mickie’s talking to her, possibly apologizing but more likely reminding Gail that they are both babies and need to confirm as much to the crowd and the TV viewers. That means Kim should be raising James’ hand while both show signs of mutual respect.

But that’s not how it goes down. As Gail Kim regains her feet, she’s shooting daggers in Mickie James’ direction. The top diva grabs her hand and raises it in an attempt to sell their unity. After a couple of seconds, Gail jerks her hand away (or perhaps Mickie throws it down in contempt), with James no longer hiding her facial displeasure. Somebody better get between these two in the back! Or better yet, NOW’S the time for the ever-intrusive cameras to show us what’s going on behind-the-scenes. I dunno what really happened, but it was definitely not scripted.

Michael Cole excitedly informs us that Freddie Prinze, Jr. has now returned to the arena. (Toldja!) We’re then back in the ring with Josh Matthews as he conducts an interview with John Cena. Of course, the discussion centers around John’s challenge to gain Randy Orton’s WWE belt on Sunday. I like Cena’s responses to the questions. He gives credit to his opponent, which flies in the face of modern wrestling practice.

It doesn’t take a college degree to recognize that a man giving credit to an adversary creates the impression that the speaker is a realist. The match between the two will be even-up and compelling, and it’ll be a tough night for both of them. To take the opposite approach by claiming that his foe is beneath him tells the fans that maybe the bout won’t be competitive, and THAT message reduces the I-must-see-this-match factor.

Now Chris Jericho and Big Show arrive and verbally intimidate Cena. Not sure why these guys are interjected when the focus needs to be squarely on Cena versus Orton.

Next match: MVP vs. Jack Swagger. It’s all punch ‘n’ kick for two minutes or so. The ref disqualifies Swagger, whereupon MVP jumps him from behind and they roll around on the mat until it’s time to leave. Nothing particularly good or bad here.

The matches are coming fast and furious now. Chavo Guerrero is slated to face the Irish midget, Hornswoggle for the umpteenth time. (Found that last part on the net). It’s a nothing match, a comedy chase under the ring and into the back. It's too senseless to recount, so I won’t. I’ll simply say that Chavo is a highly talented wrestler who is utterly wasted in a bad burlesque parody. Ugh.

Just-recovered Freddie Prinze, Jr. is still the General Manager for the night, dadgum it! And he decrees that the main event is now going to be a lumberjack match. More so, the ‘jacks are all individuals that have a particular dislike for Randy Orton. Take that!

After a break, we get the final result of the e-mail question concerning whether or not Orton and Cena can defeat Jericho and Big Show in the main event. Oh, right! THIS is why the tag team champs came out to intimidate Cena beforehand. At least it makes sense now. Anyway, 76 percent of the respondents said yes, the duo could defeat the baddies, and 24 percent said no. Not sure what it proves except that people watching RAW are capable of sending e-mail messages when instructed.

After another ubiquitous commercial break, we join the match just as it’s starting. However … at least here in western Canada … there’s no audio. Can we possibly follow the action without yammering heads telling us what we’re seeing?

After several silent minutes, we are suddenly plunged into darkness, then jerked back to the beginning of the bout. Again, there are no announcers, at least not until Cole and Lawler find their microphone’s “on” button. With no explanation forthcoming, maybe the technical misstep was limited to certain areas. In any event, the bout is reasonably well paced, with the crowd loving it every time Orton is sent outside the ring, only to face the wrath of the unfriendly lumberjacks.

Pretty fair exchanges with some decent storytelling taking place. With everything breaking down at the end, Orton decides that now is the best time to sneak up on Cena and hit him with an Attitude Adjustment, thus concluding their temporary partnership for the night. Randy makes his exit up the aisle, and then stops to appraise the damage done from the top of the ramp.

Now it’s the lumberjack’s turn to jump inside the ring, only to be quickly tossed outside by Jericho and Show. However, this gives Cena time to recover, and in the most surprising move of the night, snaps Show’s head off the top rope. The large man tumbles to the floor, so an angered Cena picks up Jericho, airplane spins and slams him hard to the mat, getting the pin. Gotta say, I never would have expected anything resembling an actual finish to the match, and I give props to Chris Jericho for doing the job.

All-in-all, the program wasn’t as horrifically bad as I was anticipating. But then again, it was far from good, or even average. Way too much crap throughout, with nothing to inspire me to tune in to RAW again anytime soon.

But you know what? The next night, and without any pre-planning, I found myself watching one of my Pro Wrestling NOAH discs, all-the-while breathing a sigh of relief. The lesson through all of this was: wrestling can be a fickle mistress. Loud, irritating and extremely immature at times, it's often full of promise while delivering very little. But then again, when performed with consideration and intelligence, it can also be highly rewarding.

RAW Grades:

The Wrestling: D
The Skits and General B.S: F
Combined Grade: D-

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review of WWE Smackdown ... August 14, 2009 ... AKA The Jericho Dare




A brief explanation: as time permits, I tend to hang out over at the Wrestling Classics Message Board (www.wrestlingclassics.com). One of the regular members, Wild Rover, issued a challenge to yours truly: watch WWE RAW (and Smackdown), then post your thoughts on what you’ve seen. Specifically, Chris Jericho.

It’s Mr. Rover’s contention that Jericho’s current work as a heel is absolutely sublime at this stage in his career. An “intelligent heel,” so to speak. Which, by the way, is the title of a chapter in my book, A Fool for Old School … Wrestling, That is. (I know, I know … nothing but a sneaky insertion of a plug for the book).

We kicked the idea back and forth, with numerous other folks joining in and helping out. Ultimately, the “Jericho Dare” came down to this: I agreed to watch both Smackdown and the following Monday’s RAW. However, I reserved the right to fast-forward as much as I felt necessary (except for anything involving Chris Jericho’s participation). This was a mandatory provision on my part, so as to keep the bile from rising. After a cyber-handshake, the deal was consummated.

So, here’s a full review of Smackdown, which aired two nights ago. Please keep in mind that I did skip past some parts of the show rather hastily, but I managed to see at least parts of everything that took place. Point being, if a few details are missed, out-of-order or otherwise imprecise, I trust you'll cut me some slack. As always, I was hoping to be as accurate as possible by taking hastily written notes, figuring I’d not want to watch the proceedings more than once. Anyway, from my scribblings:

This week’s show is hosted by Jim Ross and Todd Grisham (I presume they’re the regular announcers). After a brief and breathless recitation of the major issues to be addressed at the SummerSlam PPV (coming up in two Sundays), we’re treated to a slick promo for the ultra-violent feud between recently-turned-heel C.M. Punk (who holds the WWE world title!) and the beloved-by-screaming-girls-everywhere, Jeff Hardy. Apparently, Mr. Punk had impolitely beaten the holy crap out of his nemesis the week before, concluding his exuberant display by wrapping a chair with great force around his foe’s head. Then, he rudely ran Hardy, with the chair stubbornly dangling around the victim’s head and neck, into the ring post. Hey, OW!

C.M. Punk starts the proceedings from the ring, and delivers a fairly effective heel rant. After a couple of minutes of this, General Manager Teddy Long interrupts him by strutting down the aisle. (It’s good to see Long still working and in pretty good shape). He interrupts Punk’s speech by confirming that the SummerSlam match between the two would be a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match. Cuz nothing determines who the better wrestler is than loading the ring up with lots ‘n’ lots of weapons.

Long also informs C.M. Punk that he’ll be facing John Morrison (Jeff Hardy’s pal and tag partner, I’m led to believe) in the main event this very night! As Punk rants and displays the usual heel displeasure upon receiving such news, somebody’s entrance music blares out, and C.M. is once again interrupted. (I have the feeling that THIS is why he now has such a nasty temper. He can never complete a thought without somebody interfering!)

Who’s this at the top of the ramp? Why, it’s a Black man! No, wait! It turns out to be Jeff Hardy himself. He only appeared as he did at first, thanks to the combination of multi-colored face paint and the equally multi-colored gel-encased spotlights that illuminated him in the dark.

Jeff approaches the ring as the crowd spunks hard for him. In my estimation, he’s doing a lousy job of selling his neck injury. Yes, I know he was pushing the idea that he was badly hurt from the chair/ring-post skirmish; yet, he would now prove to Punk that he could summon up the strength and come to the ring for a chat. A very unconvincing performance, in my estimation.

Clips of Kane, who apparently abducted the Great Khali’s manager, Runjin (or Ranjin) Singh the week before. I guess nobody except perhaps Khali gives a damn, probably because what follows is cheesy as hell. Kane is verbally terrorizing the man, but at least the victim’s been allowed to keep his nice threads. Goes to show us Kane ain’t all THAT bad.

GM Teddy Long is back in his office. Coincidentally, he receives a phone call right when the camera is there to catch it. (It’s the same deal with Kane and his abduction of Singh. I mean, could no one be bothered to hunt for the missing man at some point over the past seven days? Hell, just follow the cameramen! They have amazing instincts and somehow know just where to set up in case something meaningful occurs).

Anyway, the call that Teddy got was from the head honcho hisself, Vincent K. McMahon. (Before the show started, I wondered if he’d be able to avoid making some sort of an appearance on Smackdown. After all, several years ago, I vividly recall that he was all over RAW). McMahon, still perfectly comfortable in his omnipotent heel role, insists that Jeff Hardy, who has already been acknowledged as “definitely too injured to fight tonight,” would indeed appear in a match. And not your average one-on-one encounter, either. Nope, Mr. McMahon is waaaay too evil for that. Long must serve up Jeff Hardy in a HANDICAP bout this very evening! Hardy will face … the Hart Dynasty! What a fiend!

Clips of Fit Finlay and Rey Misterio, Jr. on a collision course with Mike Knox a week or two before. Far too convoluted … when are the writers going to realize that compelling storylines come from basic emotions, not convoluted soap opera dramatics? The failed TV writers dispensing this stuff don’t have a clue what makes pro wrestling work AS wrestling. Instead, they’re churning out short playlets designed specifically for TV audiences, as opposed to crafting a pseudo-sporting event. The fact is, even granting that this is the way the modern version of grappling is done, their output is embarrassing, insulting and puerile.

This leads us into a match between Fit Finlay and Dolph Ziggler. Never heard of the latter, at least under that name. But the exchanges are sharp and crisp, and for the first time I stop jumping forward and begin watching with interest.

It is indeed a good, solid match that unfortunately has a crappy finish. When Mike Knox arrives to stand at ringside, who among us doesn’t know that he’d become involved? Which is what happens, of course. I give them credit for pulling it off as well as they did … Findlay remains a consummate pro, and Knox looks capable and comfortable in his role. Well done though it was, I hate the failure to use a clean finish as the standard. (I know, I ask for the impossible sometimes).

Now we’re back to the ongoing plot featuring Kane and his captive, Ranjin Singh. More verbal abuse and physical intimidation from the formerly mute-and-masked man. This storyline is ridiculous, unnecessary and distasteful.

Three divas act (?) the part expertly. I have no idea what they’re talking about, but it’s oozing with bitchy attitude. Irritating, at the very least. There’s nobody to root for, as they all come across as whiny and bland simultaneously. Okay, I suppose that takes some skill.

Ah, good. Another actual match is about to take place. It’s the promised bout between C.M. Punk and John Morrison. (BTW, the level of heat Punk receives grows with each piece of footage they show or appearance he makes. Which is what SHOULD occur with a good-to-great heel). Happy to see it.

So, with the background of the animosity between the two explained, I’d call this another highly watchable match. To my surprise, it comes complete with some damn fine psychology. The exchanges go back and forth smoothly and credibly. My only complaint (and it’s a minor one) is that there are a few too many false finishes. Tiny gripe, really, and no big deal. So, that now makes two matches I’m glad I saw. Huh … live and learn.

But, it’s now time for a reality check. It seems that every time I find something to like about Smackdown, the pointless junk factor is inserted to mute my enthusiasm. To wit:

Melina and Layla are now having a match. Mostly punching and kicking, with a few half-decent (and very obviously choreographed) hints of wrestling. No question that these two women are genuine athletes. The finish comes when, for no apparent reason, Melina screeches at a level that causes banshees to recoil in horror. Ross or Grisham mention in passing that it’s a primal scream, an indication that the finish is at hand. Why? It’s a gimmick for sure, but again … why? Is this supposed to enhance Melina somehow? Yuck. Even more irritating than the stupid Kane and Diva stuff that preceded it.

Now, it’s Cryme Tyme’s moment in the sun. They are two Black men (Shad Gaspard and JTG) who look like good athletes decked out in slick urban fashions. Well, they’re either going to be nasty-ass heels who have a problem with White people or they’ll play the street-wise-but-still-babyface gangstas. Stereotyping in the simplest of terms has long been an accepted practice in pro wrestling, likely from the very beginning. The attire and presentation makes it easy for the crowd to identify what an individual or a team represents without a word spoken. In this case, the clothing and wise-guy attitude is all we need to know in order to pigeonhole them.

Anyway, they’re good guys, cuz they slap hands with the fans, smile a lot and act friendly. They then perform a well-rehearsed and highly stylized verbal routine that I found entertaining … once. What with the constant “yo yo” refrain, I keep expecting one of them to yank an old Duncan Imperial out of his pocket and start walking the dog from turnbuckle to turnbuckle, all-the-while not missing a beat of his rap.

After the break, we find that Cryme Tyme is still in the ring, patiently waiting for something to happen. Ah, here we go. A bald Big Show (haven’t seen him like this up ‘til now) is approaching with a surly expression etched on his face. Accompanying him is his partner and fellow tag team champion ... the guy that is the main reason I’m watching Smackdown this week. I’ll get you for this if it’s the last thing I do, Chris Jericho!

Jericho is not wrestling tonight, wearing a nice suit and all, but he’s brought along his mouth. So, co-announcing the match between Big Show and JTG justifies why he’s there. Well, that and probably so he could interfere at some point. When’s the last time a heel came down to “watch a match” without getting involved?

The bout is a bonafide squash that only lasts a few minutes. Big Show is too much for one man to handle, and JTG is disposed of quickly. Chris Jericho, throwing out comments meant to undercut Cryme Tyme, makes it clear that he and Show will be putting their belts on the line against them. Of course, they’ll have no difficulty retaining, Jericho says cockily. Given the destruction of JTG in the one-on-one confrontation, I suppose that means that the underdogs will pull off the upset win to claim the tag title. Isn’t that how it’s usually done in WWE? *shrug*

About Jericho: he did just fine on the mic, talking coherently, primarily selling the championship match to come at SummerSlam, with little bits of sly humor thrown in. Wild Rover is right … Chris Jericho IS an intelligent heel. (Say, did I happen to mention that this was a chapter in my book?) The predictable wild confrontation at the end involving all four participants achieved its purpose leading up to the PPV encounter.

And then … damn it! Another installment in the never-ending serial about Kane and his prisoner. Except this time, Khali has become aware that his manager/brother is in great peril and requires his assistance, if he's not too busy. (What the hell’s the big dope been doing up to now? Why isn’t the FBI involved? Or at least Donald Trump!)

So, Khali wanders into the smallish supply room in the bowels of the building where at long last he finds Runjin Singh. His manager is hanging upside down, courtesy of a chain attached to the ceiling (I think). But, it’s all a big set-up, doncha know. Kane had been hiding in the shadows, only to lunge at Khali as he turns his back to free Singh. Whack! Kane smacks Khali on the back (or perhaps the back of the head) with a metal pipe. The ambushed man loses his balance and looks effectively loopy as he goes down to his knees. With Kane whacking and smacking him over and over again, I decide to move forward. Sorry, but I really don’t like this stuff at all. If you have to go to these lengths to sell a match, then you need to make changes in your creative direction.

Oh, great. Now, one of the most horribly unfunny skits I’ve seen in many-a-year splays out across the screen. See, Triple H needs his old buddy, Shawn Michaels, to return to action and … re-form DX. The performances by all concerned would have failed to make it out of junior high school. And I’m completely convinced that the obnoxious little girl in the piece was modeled after Stephanie McMahon as a child. I’m betting the McFamily viewed this crap as cute and priceless.

Anyway, the skit played as if it was being staged at a burlesque theater in the 1930s. Unfortunately, it lacks the wit and maturity of the original knockabouts. Near as I can tell, the whole thing makes two points.

1: Michaels and Triple H have no problem humiliating themselves before an audience. In that, they were wildly successful.

2: DX is coming back. Tell me … does the idea of two men in their 40s acting like smug, practical-joking teenagers appeal to anyone? I guess so, because WWE knows how to give its followers what they want. Even utter shash.

But finally, my patience is rewarded. The handicap match with the injured Jeff Hardy taking on The Hart Dynasty is ready to go. I was delighted to see Harry Smith (David Hart Smith here, in case someone couldn’t make the connection to his father, his mother and his family background). I was also just as glad to see T.J. Wilson (Tyson Kidd here) as well. During a brief summer visit back in the late ‘80s, I first saw the two young boys, working out and wrestling in Stu Hart’s backyard ring.

The two Stampede graduates are accompanied by Nattie Neidhart. A real sweetheart, she is, even though my introduction to her resulted in receiving a pie in the mush at a Calgary restaurant. Like I said, the girl's a real sweetheart.

I’ve more-or-less followed their development from a distance and know how good they are. Too bad that they look to be severely limited by the WWE style, which discourages the use of clever wrestling holds and strategy in favor of the ultra-boring punch/kick formula. (In the entire show, I don’t recall seeing one collar-and-elbow tie-up or anything like that. One guy kicks the other in the stomach, then follows it up with something equally as banal, like an Irish Whip (excuse me … “The Ride”).

Jeff Hardy did very, very well athletically, although he was clearly out-manned. He got in some impressive offense along the way, eventually succumbing to the sheer onslaught of The Hart Dynasty. Harry is working the strong-man gimmick and TJ is the technician. Both performed admirably despite the constraints placed on them.

Just as before, I had a problem with Jeff Hardy’s selling of his neck injury. It seemed to me that he was touching his neck and grimacing occasionally. But now, in this match, it’s forgotten almost immediately. He’d do one of his spectacular aerial stunts that wouldn’t be possible with the damage he supposedly suffered; after which, he’d remember to touch and grimace for a second or two.

If I’m calling the shots, I’d want Hardy to make like he can barely stand up without suffering greatly. The deeply etched evidence of his pain would never leave his face. Which means he wouldn’t be able to withstand the Hart assault at all. Assuming he comes across convincingly, the crowd leaves with concern for Jeff’s well-being after yet another thrashing. The fans should fear for how he could possibly compete at SummerSlam in his quest to take the title from C.M. Punk.

THAT’S the question the fans should be pondering … ya gotta give people incentive to become emotionally involved. Instead, Jeff Hardy looks like he’s dealing with a minor inconvenience off and on, which depletes the heat factor exponentially.

But I have to say that the match itself is as good as it had any right to be. As soon as the bout is over, C.M. Punk hits the ring to inflict further damage on the just-defeated Jeff Hardy. His intent is clear: put him out of the PPV once and for all. Man, the fans are REALLY hating on the Punker!

After the typical minute or two of pounding without anybody arriving to break it up, Hardy is rescued by his brother, Matt. After researching the story a bit, it seems the two had a falling out over Jeff’s alleged reliance on drugs. Which is reasonable justification for Matt to BURN DOWN JEFF'S HOUSE and KILL HIS DOG! (I know that this event really did take place in Jeff Hardy’s life, although the Matt-as-miserable-bastard part is pure WWE fantasy).

The show fades out with the duo cautiously shaking hands and talking to each other in the ring. Hmmm … if I were keen to project, I’d say they’ll definitely rekindle their brotherly ties. If Jeff takes the belt off Punk, then soon thereafter Matt turns on him again, cuz he wants his shot at the title. Should Punk retain, then it might be awhile before one or the other turns. But you have to believe that it’ll come to pass. Because, as we all know, people go through radical and severe personality changes all the time.

In grading this one episode, I felt it only right to divide the show up into sections.

The Wrestling: B
The Skits and General B.S. : F
Combined Grade: C-

Next up: Monday Night RAW.

God help me.