Friday, May 29, 2015

Know your Role(s): Lucha Underground and the Importance of Using an Ensemble Cast

Aww yes
Screen Grab via El Rey Network YouTube
I know this has been said before but I’ll just say it again after watching last week's Lucha Underground, headlined by the Trios Championship Ladder Match main event. It is important for a wrestling promotion to know and use every character’s strengths and weaknesses, especially where the model of televised wrestling has largely followed the template of Monday Night RAW for almost two decades now. Every person/faction should have their own role in the show – because not everybody is or should be a big time Hulk Hogan-esque main eventer.

There are many reasons for this – variety being a major one. One of the reasons overlooked is that, and I know this is a cliché, but true wrestling fans don’t watch a show based mainly on the main event or one or two charismatic personalities. They want the full spectrum or rainbow so to speak. They want your El Mariachi Locos, the guy Dario Cueto found at the nearby Mexican food joint. They want the Johnny Mundos of the world, the Alberto el Patrons. There is space for big tough mercenaries like Big Ryck and lovable losers like Son of Havoc, the lovable loser turned Trios co-Champion.

Now I don’t want to sound like beating a dead horse, but WWE doesn’t seem to want to do this at all. Either you are this macho tough white guy (yes, WWE is racist, sorry) from the streets who feels nothing, is well-nigh invulnerable and is ready to main event, who has got it ALL, and is ready to do press conferences and appear on David Letterman or you are Stardust. Sorry again but Cody Rhodes, a brilliant character and wrestler, is just nondescript jobber meat at this point.

The whole point of having multiple spots on a live televised episodic show with a continuous narrative was to give everybody a role and let them expand on said role week after week. The idea was to give the characters a background motivation, and different strengths and weaknesses so that you get pumped up to see them interact with other characters. Take a small example from last week’s Lucha Underground episode. Martin/Marty “The Moth” Martinez is going up against Prince Puma. From the looks of it, the guy looks jobber material for the Champ. However, they let “The Moth” establish his heel character, first during the intro by Melissa Santos, when he leers at her in the most perverted way possible, and second when he clotheslines Puma while pretending to be overwhelmed like a fan by his presence and posing for a photo with him. We know something about who this guy is even though he wears nondescript tights, has no entrance music, and no backstory beyond “the guy is a fan, interrupted a match, and now has a chance to compete here because the temple is open to everyone.” Now I can’t wait to see him pull his sick smile and fanboyish stunts against the no-nonsense “baddest bitch” who runs the place, Ivelisse or say against Sexy Star or "Mr Break Your Arm," Pentagón Jr.

To contrast, we have been seeing Dolph Ziggler on our TV for the past eight or nine years but I can’t honestly remember any such character exposition. Does anybody care about his feud with Sheamus? Does anybody care to see him interact with any other character on the show? Does anybody care, period? Speaking of Sheamus, so I know that the dude is a tough guy and now has come back after an injury, but I can’t honestly be bothered to care about him as a character. I don’t have anything against a plain and simple tough guy hoss act, but, I don’t know anything about him. I really can’t be bothered with Sheamus. Who gives a crap about Sheamus? You get the idea.

Much has been written on how the WWE is always looking for the next big wrestling personality who has the look and can draw. This mentality has ruined the midcard. I believe that WWE needs to get out of this midcard/main event/"jobber to the stars" kind of rut. Lucha Underground (and NXT for that matter) gives every character a chance to stand out in a match on any given week. That match might kick things off, it might be smack dab in the middle or it might be the last one of the night. What draws the fans in is the fact that they will see some character development which will have, and here is the nub of it, consequences. WWE on the other hand has become McDonald's, shitty mass produced crap, but praise the lord, there is loads of it and it’s all forgotten the second you have returned from the toilet.

WWE needs to stop being a place where everybody wants to become the next John Cena or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin or The Rock, an all encompassing super god. They need to stop molding people into what their idealized version of a main event “superstar” should be, and instead let people settle into their roles and explore the development of their character every week on TV. Someone gets only 2 minutes every week? No matter, let those 2 minutes mean something. A lot can be done with that amount of time, provided it hits hard and is precisely done. A wrestling show has space for different people with different abilities that gives them a chance to shine and be an important part of the show. It need not be your typical corporate workplace where everyone is moulded to become a one note replaceable drone.

And seriously, lose the show opening 20 minute monologues, WWE.