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    Tuesday, December 15, 2020

    The RAW RhetoRick (12/14/20): Please Let This Be A Normal Field Trip

    I'm not going to swerve you by giving you Ricky Publico's standard late-night talk show intros and then reveal my identity at the end. He's unable to review this week's RAW because his world-class internet provider failed to come through for him today, so it's your boy Stan Sy coming off the bench for this week's go-home episode.

    To be fair to the Red Brand, we actually got a show that felt like a go-home episode, which was all that we could ask for after last week's craptastic outing. RAW did its best to highlight its main feuds heading into TLC this Monday (Manila time) and gave us enough story beats and cliffhangers to want to see how this all shakes out at the last PPV of the year. Speaking of TLC, I'll be going through the RAW storylines that'll lead to a match this weekend and I'll leave my fearless forecast at the end of each segment.

    Let's start with the Wyatt/Orton rivalry. Throughout the broadcast, RAW's announce team hyped up Bray Wyatt taking his friends from the Firefly Fun House into the WWE ThunderDome for a field trip. Hearing those words immediately gave me flashbacks to Ms. Frizzle and her lowkey forms of child abuse as a demented educator—Imagine not even getting signed consent forms!—and poor Arnold (not the Football Head) hoping he doesn't find himself in a sticky situation once more. Yeah, Bray is Ms. Frizzle and Ramblin' Rabbit has to be Arnold.

    Bray Wyatt's promos and segments have been my favorite parts of whatever show he's on since his repackaging because of how consistently they've been written. I've always had the sense that Vince McMahon or whoever's running Creative can take storylines and gimmicks in any direction they want, but the one thing that's been largely untouchable over the last year or so has been Bray Wyatt's character. Up to this week's episode, he's always existed in his happy little vacuum, fucking with whomever he wants for the lulz, and only really sucking his current opponents into his orbit. Sure, he'd appear at the Thunderdome occassionally, but you wouldn't see him or Abby the Witch or Ramblin' Rabbit chasing after R-Truth and the 24/7 Championship.

    So having Bray Wyatt show up in the ring with Mercy The Buzzard, Huskus The Pig, and Ramblin’ Rabbit in the ThunderDome audience wasn't the weird part. After all, this has happened before. 

    What was weird was seeing Bray go through the backstage area... like a regular human being. He was searching for Randy Orton and interacting with characters like Riddle and R-Truth and it felt so disjointed, considering how self-contained his stories had been up to that point. Having Riddle and Truth play off Ramblin' Rabbit—who sounded like he was a vocal synthesizer short—and Huskus respectively was the "jump the shark" moment for me because it took away from their darkness as characters in the Firefly Fun House universe. Instead of having some dark subtext surrounding these "characters," they were used as comedic props for Riddle and R-Truth's nonsense. And it was incredibly frustrating to watch!

    That being said, the writers made up for it by having Orton lure Wyatt in with the lone rocking chair inside that one dark room, only for Randy to assault Bray and try to burn him alive. (What the flying fuck, right?) Sure, Randy Orton's a dark, twisted motherfucker so that's on-brand. What took that segment home was the reveal that The Fiend was comfortably inside that burning box the whole time and that—burning box and all—he was still able to immobilize Orton with the Mandible Claw. 

    Overall, it was a fun story that lasted multiple segments. There's just one problem here. We still don't know who the de facto babyface is supposed to be between these two psychos. Come on, WWE. Throw us a bone here. Who the fuck are we supposed to be rooting for? TLC is this Monday!

    Fearless forecast: The Fiend traps Randy Orton in the latter's own circle of hell. Or The Fiend just wins.

    Moving on to the WWE Championship picture, RAW's closing shot was of Drew McIntyre looking all beaten and defeated on the mat, while an arrogant AJ Styles standing atop the ladder with the WWE Championship in hand. If you've been watching wrestling long enough, you know that means Drew McIntyre is primed for a comeback victory at TLC. Not even the commentators repeating over and over that AJ Styles has been undefeated since the Draft can convince me otherwise.

    What's worth pointing out here is that the Red Brand did two things to push the ancillary storylines forward.

    First, they gave Miz and Morrison a win against Keith Lee in a handicap match, which reinforces their status as a legitimate threat to the babyfaces and gives them a bit of their fangs back heading into the PPV. Over the last few weeks, they've been glorified henchmen for AJ Styles, so it was nice to see them assert themselves here. This could be very important in case a certain A-lister decides to cash in a title shot at the end of a really violent TLC match.

    Second, they had Sheamus come out on his own to confront AJ, Miz, and Morrison in the opening promo, which led to the AJ/Sheamus match later on. While the Fella did look stupid for going out there 3-on-1 and eventually taking the L against AJ, I can see what they were going for. They're presenting Sheamus as someone who was letting his anger take precedence over prudent judgment, while also making him sympathetic since he was on the receiving end of a postmatch beatdown from AJ Styles and a steel chair. If the goal is to eventually have Sheamus turn on Drew McIntyre, then this was a decent way to divert our attention from the fact that everybody and Keith Lee was calling it out weeks in advance.

    Fearless forecast: Drew retains over AJ, but The Miz comes out, cashes in, and takes the WWE Championship from McIntyre.

    On the women's side of things, I'm actually beginning to enjoy Lana's arc here. I've previously said on The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast that Lana's character had become unredeemable because of how she'd cuckolded Rusev last year up until her ill-fated on-screen marriage with Bobby Lashley. While nine straight weeks of getting put through the announce table didn't make me feel sorry for Lana, watching her stand up for herself against bullies like Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler—and actually defeating them in the ring—makes me want to root for her.

    It's really helping that her matches and segments are just the right length for us to not be oversaturated with her. Given that she's also not as experienced in the ring as most of her peers, it allows Lana to stick to what she's best at—hitting her cues at the right moments—while hiding her weaknesses. Even her partnership with Asuka is making her an underdog worth rooting for because you see a champion who knows she's leagues and leagues better than this person, but the latter is actively choosing to be a friend to her—language barrier notwithstanding. 

    I initially thought this was off-brand for Asuka, who is as vicious as they come. But 2020 has also shown us a softer side to the Asuka character from the moment she hugged Becky Lynch (who had announced that she was pregnant) up to the end of Kairi Sane's WWE run, where we saw Asuka hurt when Kairi had been ruthlessly attacked by the Golden Role Models, motivating her to give Sasha Banks and Bayley their ultimate comeuppance.

    To their credit, Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler are actually playing their roles well and I love seeing them as the "big bad boss" characters in the women's division, even though neither of them are the Women's Champion. There's something intriguing about a tag team that's so dominant that it'll take an entire division banding together—kind of like what's happening now that Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke are back in action—to take them down. It's got shades of LayCool from a decade ago, except Nia and Shayna are way more imposing and intimidating. Also, unlike LayCool, who I would think of hitting on first if I encountered them at a bar, I would soil myself if I found myself in a seedy club run by Nia and Shayna. I'd be a dead man.

    Fearless forecast: I was originally going to predict Asuka and Lana as the winners against Nia and Shayna, but now that we don't know who Asuka's tag team partner is going to be, let's just predict a title retention by default.

    On to the Hurt Business, at this point, it's a foregone conclusion that Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander are on their way to taking the RAW Tag Team Championships. It's really the only logical progression for their story, since they're going to look like absolute chumps if they lose a tag title match against The New Day for a third time.

    With that said, I don't understand where they're taking Cedric Alexander's character with this newfound bravado. I get that the dude must be feeling himself since he shows up every week with a brand new custom suit and he's been on a hot streak. But I don't see the point of alienating MVP, Lashley, and Shelton when neither he nor the group as a whole has anything to gain from a teased breakup. I really don't get this.

    I also don't understand why Lashley ruined his own three-piece suit by letting the milk he poured over the crew guy spill onto his own suit. Couldn't the camera operator have taken a few steps back so Lashley could've stood a bit further from his victim? Lashley's the real loser here for ruining that expensive suit. The crew guy's clothes looked basic so that shit's replaceable. I'd be fucking livid if I were Bob.

    Fearless forecast: The Hurt Business finally pick up the RAW Tag Team Championships.

    CLOSING RHETORICK: Well, that really just doesn't work since I am not a Rick. I just nitpick. See what I did there? DO YOU SEE HOW CORNY YOU SOUND, DREW? I WAS ROOTING FOR YOU. GOD!

    Well, we got a go-home episode alright. It wasn't great, must-see television, which is shocking considering WWE's competition is literally banding together to take shots at the giant. It really makes you wonder why WWE isn't stepping its TV game up, but knowing the Superstars, they'll find a way to at least make TLC memorable for the in-ring action. My only solace comes from the fact that this go-home show wasn't downright horrible.

    Show Grade: B-.

    RhetoRickal Bullet Points:

    • Wow, that was incredibly tonedeaf to put Jaxson Ryker on TV after his tonedeaf (and downright wrong) comments about the BLM movement. I couldn't stand seeing this dude on my screen because I realized that I don't want someone with his outdated views to succeed in the industry I want to take pleasure and enjoyment out of. I guess if SmackDown has Lars Sullivan, RAW has to have a counterpart, right? Jeez.
    • Hey, 24/7 Division, here's an idea. Why don't you all gang up on Jaxson Ryker and beat his ass together?
    • You can see that they're trying to build RETRIBUTION back up here, but it really is too little, too late. Nobody even gives a shit anymore, except for probably Mustafa Ali. And that's the saddest part of it all, to be honest.
    • Putting Riddle with Jeff Hardy has to be a not-so-subtle reference to Jeff's history of drug addiction, right? Right? If it isn't, I still don't see how this pairing makes sense. And the way they're writing Riddle as a goof—who isn't even as credible a threat as he was on NXT—isn't doing him any favors.
    • Damn, how did John Morrison's Scottish accent get to be so good in the span of a week?!
    Header image from WWE

    *****

    Stan Sy (@_StanSy) is the Editor at Large of Smark Henry and is also a radio DJ on Wave 89.1, an events host, a freelance writer, and the host of On Deck, as well as one of the hosts of The Wrestling-Wrestling Podcast. He also used to be one of the hosts and writers of The Wrestling Gods on FOX. He enjoys watching WWE, AEW, and the occasional New Japan match. 
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    Item Reviewed: The RAW RhetoRick (12/14/20): Please Let This Be A Normal Field Trip Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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