Monday, July 6, 2015

Thoughts on Beast in the East

This show felt different from top to bottom
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Note: I'm not going to write a full review for this show for various reasons.

Beast in the East was very much an experimentation on behalf of WWE. People have said that it felt like a house show, except the only matches that would have appeared on such a card would have been the two title matches. Feuds drive the circuit, and I doubt most of the other matches, whether televised or not, didn't fit that mold. The way the wrestlers worked, especially John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Kane, and Wade Barrett in the nominal main event, evoked that sort of house show ethos, but it was different enough to feel different, if that makes any sense.

But different can be good, and in this case, Beast in the East's differences made the show stand out. The show ran at about two-and-a-half hours, which is about how long a pay-per-view usually runs, but it still felt leaner, more compact. The number of matches, a scant five, had something to do with that, but the real reason why it flew by was the actual layout of the show. No one cut a promo at any point during the telecast. Gaps were filled in via production vignettes or replay segments. The show was built around wrestling from the opening minute until it went off the air.

WWE doesn't like billing itself as a wrestling company, at least it doesn't whenever Vince McMahon or even his daughter Stephanie talk about it publicly. The company "tells stories" or "puts smiles on faces," and if those things are what it tries to do with the regular RAW/pay-per-view narrative, then it fails terribly. But the NXT narrative shows a different side to WWE. The brand is Triple H's baby, and he promotes it first as a wrestling show that just so happens to tell stories and put smiles on different faces than what the main show aims to do. When elements within the company want to put on a wrestling narrative, it tends to succeed.

I'm not sure who was in charge of framing, producing, and executing Beast in the East, but it certainly felt more like the supposed Triple H elements in the company rather than the main roster ones. No more was that evident than in the announcing. Michael Cole and Byron Saxton during this show were more informative and engaging than any announce team has been in recent memory. Sure, the references to other promotions were nice and all, but both guys actually did their best to put over the action in the ring. At no point did either wrestler discredit a competitor in the ring or belittle someone for being a dork. They did what announcers should do.

Furthermore, four of the five matches aired were given more time than they may have been given on a regular telecast, save the NXT Championship match. If Finn Bálor and Kevin Owens headlined a NXT live special, they would have been given the same 19:25 they were allotted. But Adrian Neville and Chris Jericho, and especially the four guys in the nominal main event tag match were given way more time to tell a story than they would have in those same circumstances on a regular PPV. And each of the matches at least served their purposes even if they weren't "good" so to speak.

It was definitely a departure for WWE, but it was a good departure, one that I wouldn't mind the company going down more in the future. Maybe crafting entire shows in the same oeuvre as a New Japan show isn't the way to go, but a card going as smoothly and critically successfully as this one did going completely off the McMahon/Kevin Dunn production model is worth exploring further. WWE still operates on the same principles, from the presentation of the actual content down to the camera angles, since 1997. A company can't expect to grow by using the same tactics it's been using for the last 15 years with little change.

NXT shows some of that change, although it's not fully actualized because it feels at times its shot and produced by Full Sail students rather than full-time professionals. It feels like Beast in the East was a test run for the future of Triple H's WWE, and if that's the case, the future looks good. Hopefully, the next time he gets a shot to run the entire show, it's for a show that runs live at a time when folks on the North American mainland are fully functional, y'know?