Monday, December 29, 2014

Instant Feedback: Daniel Bryan Makes It Better

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Monday Night RAW's absolute peak as a show didn't come during the Attitude Era. Sure, those halcyon days had all the moments that old school fans and the establishment love to prop up because of ratings or money drawn or whatever, but as an overall show, basically, it was a huge moment that acted as a buoy in a sea of shit. If one were to turn the channel to Nitro, things wouldn't be too much better. The cruiserweights who anchored the in-ring action on the program were deemphasized gradually over the three year period of the main war between the two promotions to the point where fucking Oklahoma was a mainstay in the division by 1999. Maybe people have different tastes than I do, and that's fine. Maybe people have rose-colored glasses when it comes to what they loved as kids, and that's fine too.

But the calendar year of 2013 was when RAW reached its absolute zenith as a week-to-week show, and Daniel Bryan had everything to do with it. To be completely fair, he wasn't shouldering the load alone. However, much in the same way that Sami Zayn having a boffo cast around him in NXT this past year didn't diminish that the show was all about him, Bryan being buttressed by Randy Orton and The Shield and Cesaro and Sheamus (before Money in the Bank) and Alberto del Rio didn't take away from the fact that the show was his narrative all year. The show took on his character, his personality. Even bad narrative shows didn't feel so bad because every episode had a pay-per-view caliber match on it. Shows with great narrative direction felt like all-timers. The three hour-plus runtime melted away like nothing because somewhere on that card, a fucking ace match was happening, and odds are, that match was going to have Daniel Bryan competing in it.

For the most part, RAW after WrestleMania, or moreover, Extreme Rules, missed something. The Shield and Evolution carried the flag, but once Bryan's career was in limbo, the show lost its soul. One cannot just replace a vibrant center of its nucleus with scattered remnants of his closest support. Think about it; RAW was never even allowed to breathe as a show with The Shield as a unified entity. It was broken up as soon as Bryan was stripped of the title. But no matter how dynamic Dean Ambrose was at the start of his singles push, no matter how cool Roman Reigns seemed, no matter how adhesive a glue Rusev was for the midcard, the show somehow weighed less than the sum of its parts.

But then something magical happened. When Bryan tweeted that he was at a crossroads and that he had an announcement for RAW, a lot of people, myself included, feared the worst. And yet even with that Sword of Damocles hanging over the show, everyone reverted back to 2013 form, even with the blatant flaws in storytelling and writing that permeated throughout. Dolph Ziggler and Rusev wrestled on hell of an opening match, even if the finish was unpopular (I quite liked it in this usage, but whatever). Reigns looked like someone worth investing time and effort into for the first time in a non-trios setting, even if the DQ finish he suffered was better suited for a less fleshed-out match. WWE wrote a story that glorified and vindicated a jealous husband at the resolution? Awful, yet not in the face of seeing the Usos celebrate organically at the end or the match they wrestled against Miz and Damien Sandow to get there. The Ascension's bat-shit crazy TitanTron video, Cesaro and Wade Barrett throwing bombs at each other, Luke Harper taking Jack Swagger's head off, Edge and Christian bantering like it was still 2000, hell, even the nonsensical main event segment that went on way too long but still had Rollins deliver the best line he's ever uttered ("I'm still gonna kill him."), it all made for at least a fun watch despite the blatant and overarching flaws in the narrative structure.

Maybe it was all coincidence that it happened on the same show which Bryan announced that his career wasn't over and that he was the first man to throw his hat into the Royal Rumble. Or maybe RAW finally getting its heart back injected some life into the show. Whatever the reason, RAW gave me tangible things about which to write, which is more than I could say for it in the last month. When the most special performer in the biggest company in the world is Daniel Bryan, then wrestling is in a good place.