The first week of programming in “the new era” is now complete, and I personally was very impressed with what WWE delivered. I would arguably call this the best Raw and Smackdown episodes in a long time.
What I especially enjoyed about this week’s episodes:
– Identities – The two shows have different identities. Of course the theme songs are different, but the ropes are colored differently, the announcers are placed in different places, the shows have different lengths, different camera angles are favored, the lighting is different, etc. However, it is too soon to describe what the brand of each show is.
– Minimal Recaps – There were fewer recaps within each show. This used to be my biggest complaint, since so many people are watching on-demand or through DVR, so there was not much of a need to tell what had happened earlier in the programming with such frequency.
– Roster Refreshing – The roster had changed up substantially with the NXT call-ups and a handful of announced returns beyond the draft itself. Right now it doesn’t feel like we are going to get tired of seeing the same people wrestle as many people had for John Cena and Randy Orton.
– General Manager Focus – On Raw, Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley were pretty much only there in the first segment. On Smackdown, Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan were a little more involved, but they were not the central storyline as had been the case for a long time.
– No Heel Authority Storyline – Along with the general manager focus changing up, there is no heel authority figure-based storyline. Granted, this can change, but I don’t know anyone who actually enjoyed this. And WWE kept bringing this to us nearly every week for years.
– Some Unexpected Victories – The victories of Finn Balor and Dolph Ziggler on this week’s shows were unexpected. It was nice not to know who was going to win the main event after watching the show’s first segment.
– Also Unexpected Appearances – Although Teddy Long spoiled the return of Shelton Benjamin — and possibly MVP — in an interview last week, the announcement of his return is a nice surprise. Same goes for Rhyno, even if the dirt sheets had speculated about this. Even if Curt Hawkins and other rumored talent is coming back, it’s not as if this talent has been photographed outside the WWE Performance Center or making high-profile appearances as of late to stir it up. Some element of surprise is left.
– Enhancement Matches – There were two squash matches on Raw and there was a hinted one on Smackdown before Heath Slater appeared. I personally like these, as predictable as they are, as they help build storylines and also help less experienced talent get their footing. I don’t recall the last time I had seen a female enhancement match on television, so that was a pleasant surprise.
– Women’s Division – Both shows seem to have expanded female rosters. There are going to be non-title storylines within the women’s division. This is a win/win for fans of female wrestling.
– Teases – There are things to look forward to. The Cruiserweight division is being teased as coming soon. Storylines for Summerslam are already put in place. American Alpha is debuting next week on Smackdown…I am compelled to want to tune into both shows.
However, the tag team division got the short end of the stick this week. While every tag team I can think of appeared in some form within both shows, there aren’t two tag division storylines of note at the moment. Also, the “Sonny Boy” thing with The New Day was one of their weakest segments, which strangely followed a montage of their strong moments from the past year or so.
WWE, if you keep this up, you may have my eating my words and watching six hours of television every week — Raw, Smackdown, and NXT — beyond these twice-monthly pay-per-views. And I’m not sure if that will be a good thing for me as a person.