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Raw refuses to tell stories, and the result is a complete lack of focus and intrigue

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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: Jeff Hardy defeated Sheamus; Alicia Fox defeated Sasha Banks; The Miz defeated Dean Ambrose (c) via DQ (Intercontinental Championship match); Neville and TJP defeated Jack Gallagher and Austin Aries; Roman Reigns defeated Finn Balor; Big Cass defeated Titus O’Neil; Seth Rollins defeated Bray Wyatt via DQ.
  • A warning right off the top: this is a no good, very bad episode of Monday Night Raw. We could call it jet lag from last week’s London show, or an inevitable downturn in quality due to Bran Strowman’s injury, but there’s really no excuse. This is three hours of Raw refusing to tell stories. It’s three hours of Raw throwing segments at the wall without any context, without any attention paid to character motivations, and with no sense of pacing or what makes for a compelling TV show. This is Raw at its most egregiously uninspired.
  • It’s a shame that the show can’t get much going across its three hours, because Raw gets off to a decent start. Kurt Angle is back on our screens again, and this week he’s letting us know that with Braun Strowman out for up to six months, there’s the need for someone else to step up and challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship, most likely at SummerSlam. So, Angle announces a Fatal Fiveway at Extreme Rules to determine the #1 Contender, a match that includes Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Roman Reigns, and Bray Wyatt. All of those guys have been circling around the title for some time, each with their own case for why they deserve the shot. With three weeks to build to the match, there’s a ton of potential to tell some interesting stories.
  • Three weeks ago, this is what I wrote about WWE building to a Hardys vs. Sheamus and Cesaro match at Payback. Now Raw is doing it all over again, minus the handshakes:

It doesn’t get much better from there, as Raw dives into its first of many matches between superstars who will be facing each other at Payback. This one sees Matt Hardy take on Sheamus because last week Jeff Hardy wrestled Cesaro. Just like last week the Hardy gets the win, there’s some brief tension—maybe a little more this time around—and then there’s a handshake. Creative literally took last week’s match and post-match interaction and ran it again. It’s fine to build a feud around mutual respect, but you have to find a way to inject some stakes into the match other than “it’s for the titles.” That’s just window dressing, not real, compelling stakes

  • As if that bit of repetitive nonsense isn’t enough, Raw decides that it’d be best to put on a tag team Cruiserweight match with the same four guys we’ve been seeing inside the purple ropes every single week. At this point the crowd goes full Beach Ball Mania, and while I think it’s typically bad form to not even try to engage with a match, it’s hard to blame them when you consider what they were given in the first hour. From the repeat of the Hardys vs. Shesaro singles matches, Alicia Fox picking up a quick win over Sasha Banks, to a solid Ambrose-Miz Intercontinental Championship match ending with a kick to the balls, the Cruiserweights were once again given a death slot.
  • Seriously, how is the Intercontinental Championship match going to end in a DQ dick-kick from Ambrose? That’s all kinds of lazy. It doesn’t advance the story in any way, and it makes Ambrose look like a jerk, not an “unhinged” babyface. The resolution is supposed to be the Miz getting a match at Extreme Rules where Dean can lose the title on a DQ, but surely there was a better way to get there.
  • The rote structure of Raw and the way WWE builds to PPVs is all over this week’s show. Just as WWE can’t come up with a better reason than “got kicked in the dick” for Dean Ambrose and The Miz to have “you lose the title on a DQ” match at Extreme Rules, the same logic dictates that Alex Bliss has to hit Bayley with a kendo stick in order for them to have a…sigh…“kendo stick on a pole” match at the same PPV. Look, the idea that a match stipulation can be granted if one wrestler hits another wrestler with a weapon is beyond dumb, but that’s not even the most frustrating part. What’s worse is that Alexa Bliss and Bayley have legitimate kayfabe beef that could be used to build their feud heading into Extreme Rules, but for some reason WWE decides it’s better to throw out shitty catchphrases than actually dive into character psychology. Bayley saying she’s finally ready to “get Extreme” is not a good look. Telling the story of Bayley needing to get more vicious than she ever has before is absolutely a story you can tell, but the key is showing us why she has to do that, not just having her spout some tired catchphrases that fit in with a PPV theme.
  • On that same note, Finn Balor mentions that while this might be “Roman Reigns’ yard, it’s my Universe.” How does that sound in any way natural? The Finn Balor character I know—a badass who’s still pissed that he had to relinquish a title he never lost—would never indulge in such corny phrasing.
  • So, after last week’s episode gave Golden Truth some actual momentum with an underdog story that felt real and heartfelt, this week’s episode blows it all up as Goldust turns on R-Truth because…well, there’s no real reason. It just kind of happens. Suddenly Raw is down a potentially compelling tag team in a division severely lacking in them, and all in favor of what? A lower midcard feud that likely won’t get more than a single Raw match to tell a story?
  • Not everything is bad this week. After all, Kurt Angle tries to speak French to Maryse, and The Drifter just wanders into the segment.
  • I’m enjoying Titus O’Neil as the mouthpiece for Apollo Crews, and really do think there’s potential to keep this relationship evolving in interesting ways. Here’s hoping WWE gives it the time it needs to find that next level.
  • It’s hard to come up with much to say about tonight’s two offshoots of the Fatal Fiveway match. Both matches are good, and both end in pretty predictable fashion, with Reigns getting the win over Balor, and Samoa Joe interfering in Rollins’ match with Bray Wyatt. I’m definitely not a fan of a supposedly injured Roman Reigns getting the win over a healthy, previously unstoppable Balor, but I guess that’s just how these things go now.