Monday, June 8, 2015

Instant Feedback: ACTING!

These segments have been bad for a reason
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Wrestling can be anything. Lucha Underground is proving that it can be a Mexican-style telenovela, while Chikara shows it can be a living comic book. Even the most self-serious of wrestling promotions have an underpinning of the absurd underneath the sporty veneer, or else Ring of Honor wouldn't have the "Party Peacock" Dalton Castle running around, and more prominently, New Japan Pro Wrestling's two biggest stars wouldn't be a strip club aficionado and a mutated Michael Jackson tribute act. But while wrestling can be anything, it also can't be something if its limitations keep it from transforming completely.

Wrestling's versatility is the reason why Dolph Ziggler and Lana can have a budding romance in the shadow of the abusive, creepy ex-boyfriend Rusev, but WWE's writing team, headed by staunch traditionalist Vince McMahon, is the reason why the company shouldn't dabble in that kind of tale. Everything about the story has come off forced because Ziggler has the dramatic acting chops of Nicolas Cage on 50 cc of Demerol. Lana may or may not have the acting ability to be in a serious, romantic relationship on screen, but how much of a stage has she been given to show that range? I'm going to level with you guys. I've never seen Pitch Perfect, so I can't say how CJ Perry is as an actress. But she's being put in an undesirable situation by the people framing the show.

Many romantic plots in television and film are "traditional" and leave the women in unnecessarily and sometimes unrealistic portrayals of distress at the behest of men with inordinate amount of leverage. And all that plot flaw comes from writers who create critically acclaimed movies and shows. Imagine being in the WWE writers' room with McMahon as your boss and being asked to create a bastardized version of Sleeping with the Enemy. Does anyone think they'd be able to produce something that didn't induce cringes?

Yet, a segment preceding the ill-fated continuation of Ziggler and Lana in farcical love with something that plays into WWE's wheelhouse completely. The kind of pro wrestling company that WWE is set up to be is one that allows its personalities to riff against each other confrontationally. They get in the ring, put a bunch of bass in their voices, and either recite some kind of shit talk from a script in their own flair or they riff, whether or not it ends up in a rousing display of unintentional sexual tension (hint, the best ones always end up in unintentional sexual tension). While Ziggler and Lana showed its viewership what WWE did not excel at (for the record, Rusev played his role well, but his role is hard to fuck up... also, THIS), Miz, Big Show, and Ryback set the stage for the kind of exposition and plot advancement that works well within the confines of RAW.

MizTV was driven by its titular host, a dynamic orator who lives inside a perfectly formed character. Meanwhile, his foil, Ryback, is a charming dude in his own right, but he's dumb as a stump which is okay in the WWE Universe. Brains and wit are not valued heroic attributes as long as they're not accompanied by god-mode levels of charm as possessed by one Dwayne Johnson. Miz flayed Ryback verbally, but the dopey-ass big guy just "I know you are, but what am I?"'d him into oblivion, which was great because it allowed Miz to make faces and squirm and retreat back into his corrosive vanity, describing how he'd have to go see a specialist to make sure The Moneymaker wasn't irreparably damaged. And then Big Show came out, capped it all off with the angry-veteran bitterness, and boom, the unintentional sexual tension between him and Ryback spiked off the charts into HOSS levels. It wasn't a hard sell because everyone in that segment was put in the position to succeed.

Lana and Ziggler could not be considered bathing in that countenance from the writers. Instead, they were victims of the single most destructive mentality of the last 20 years, one introduced by Vince Russo and adopted by the faceless people backstage who wanted to make wrestling about them instead of the people about whom wrestling has been forever and a day. I'm not anti-writer like Jim Cornette, but when writers write for themselves, to show how much value they have instead of trying to get the wrestlers over, then it goes over like a lead balloon when the writers aren't as good as they think they are. On Lucha Underground, no doubt the writing is sophisticated, but it's also streamlined by people who have a vision, and it generally gets the talent over without exposing their weaknesses.

When has WWE shown in its programming that it has a clear, focused vision? McMahon probably is the guy in front of you at McDonald's, stammering and stuttering changing his order from the Big Mac to the Filet O'Fish back to the Big Mac all the way down to the Chicken Selects before settling on a McDLT that hasn't been on the menu in 30 years, all in the span of three minutes. If he's rewriting scripts as reported by the dirtsheets as close to minutes before showtime, how can anything be expected to come off well that has the slightest bit of attempted sophistication in the writing stage? It can't.

So when WWE tries something out of its wheelhouse, the results rarely hit. The fact that it attempted absurdist comedy again tonight with R-Truth in the big Money in the Bank ladder match hype segment and had it succeed with uproarious results was an upset on the level of United States 4, Soviet Union 3. But the more major story flopped like a dying fish on the deck of a commercial schooner. It's not to say wrestling companies can't do romance, although looking at history, maybe it's safe to say that no wrestling company has consistently attempted and succeeded at the story thread. But anyway, any wrestling company can do any kind of story if it is equipped to do so. IT just so happens that WWE is not able to handle effective portrayals of romance. Yet, the writers and McMahon will keep trying. But no, McMahon probably imagines, it's not he who is out of touch, it's the fans who are indubitably wrong.