Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kill Commentary on RAW

JBL's barely good for getting his hat taken from him, let alone adding to the show
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WWE's announce table, at least its main announce team on RAW, has taken a lot of lumps over the last couple of years for good reason. If one were to listen to the old guard, the fact that Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler, and JBL do not call the action in the ring is anathema. While I can empathize with that point of view, I don't necessarily agree with it. Wrestling is a visual art, and outside of letting people know what the moves are called from time to time (especially signature spots), I don't need to have the Vin Scully play-by-play breakdown on what's going on in the ring. However, I do need to have constructive commentary that helps inform and move stories along. I need to know why things are happening from the unbiased/good guy perspective. I would love to have some kind of rebuttal from the black hats too. Over and above everything else, I need my announcers to help fill in the blanks on what has happened before, and what might be happening in the ring at the moment. The worst thing in the world for any wrestling show is a commentary track that adds not information or emotional gravity, but cacophony.

The current three-man team has had several examples pointed out over the last couple of years where it has failed and failed miserably at getting stories over in the ring. Whether it be cracking jokes, making obscure references that don't fit in the moment, or perpetuating ugly racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted points of view from an unchallenged heel or even worse, one of the babyfaces in the group, the group has been an unmitigated failure. While my breaking point at the ugly sexist language has been breached a long time ago, the last straw in terms of the group's ability to inform the audience of happenings on the show was shattered.

During the match between Nattie Neidhart and Paige, Neidhart locked in her signature Sharpshooter onto the Divas Champion, who crawled to the ropes for a break. During the moment when Neidhart and the referee were conversing over the break, Paige knocked her down and began to lock in her PTO finish (the Scorpion Crosslock). The hold is similar in setup to the Sharpshooter, but Paige has done it so many times that teasing the leg grapevine would indicate the PTO and not the Sharpshooter. This move was introduced into Paige's moveset during NXT ArRIVAL, and she'd been using it quite frequently on the main roster since she got called up. JBL has seen her lock the move in on RAW, and he was the general manager of NXT when the move was debuted. So of course, he called it correctly, right? Haha, nope, he went into a tirade about how embarrassing Neidhart tapping to her own move would be. What made the matter worse, feeble attempts to correct him from Cole and Lawler were met with even louder bluster. Fucking up is one thing, but doubling down and being the dominant voice insisting your fuckup was part of the script in the first place doesn't belong in the show at all. And if JBL meant to go that route or was directed to do so from his headset, then it shows a fundamental disconnect between what WWE thinks commentary's role is and what that role really is.

Any voice added to a wrestling show needs to enhance the proceedings. The truth about commentary is that it is ultimately superfluous. One can watch a show based on promos and matches alone and get the gist of what's going on. If commentary is to be added to the show, it has to add something, not take away from it. Far too many times have companies employed gross, boring, ineffectual, or just plain annoying announcers to explain actions in the ring, and WWE's main broadcast team has been the mascot for poor voice-enhancement for the last two-to-three years at the very least. Every single problem it has caused can be traced to direction rather than execution.

The dirtiest little secret in wrestling is that the NXT announce table is actually below-average on the whole. When William Regal is in the chair, then everything appears to be alright because he's by far the best announcer in WWE and a strong contender for best English-language announcer in America right now. But when he's absent, no one picks up the mantel and is able to be as engaging and informative as he is, not Tom Phillips, not Alex Riley or Jason Alberts, and especially not Renee Young, at least right now. However, more often than not, even when Regal is not there, the NXT booth is at least tolerable. Its direction is not to pop Vince McMahon like JBL's role is rumored to be. Instead, their directive is to get what's going on in the ring over. That reason and that reason alone is what makes that group stronger than the sum of its parts.

WWE now has two options in front of it. The company either needs to change direction completely with the broadcast booth, fire JBL (or at least remove him from commentary), and get the people who coach the announcers in NXT to be the same ones in the headphones for RAW, or it needs to ditch the announcers altogether. The latter option is not going to happen, but really, when was the last time the people behind the desk actually added to the show? Was it when CM Punk was recovering from his injury and taking a sojourn as an announcer? Was it before even then way back when Paul Heyman was teamed up with Jim Ross? RAW has functioned pretty well without anyone calling the action. Maybe the lack of decent commentators is part of why WWE hasn't produced a glut of stars or had ensemble casts who got reactions regardless of talent levels since Ross' heyday. Radio silence from the broadcast booth wouldn't be the optimal solution, but right now, it would beat the holy hell out of hearing Lawler make another antiquated crack about women or JBL shout over everyone else in order to prove that might (of voice) equals right.

I can only tune out the commentators so much, and for fans who listen to what they have to say intently, they're getting so much misinformation and are led to believe that the voices of WWE don't give a flying shit about what goes on in the company. If WWE wants to get this $9.99 price point for The Network over so hard, why is it entrusting people who don't care about anything that's aired ON it to shill for it? If WWE wants Adam Rose to get over, then why are the people in charge dismayed that he's failing miserably when JBL is crowing about how stupid his entourage is while he's on his way to the fucking ring? Maybe the reason why NXT has such a healthy and supportive crowd is because those fans don't have to deal with grumpy assholes shitting on everything they love, even when they watch what they saw live from home.

Maybe if WWE fans at home had tranquil silence from everyone who wasn't a fan, a wrestler, or a NPC within the story, then maybe they would get the chance to love those characters too without getting a heaping load of bullshit to go on top of the narrative they hear with their own ears.