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The Superstar Shakeup gives Raw the spark it so desperately needs

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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.

  • So, it’s Superstar Shakeup week and…things are off to a strange start. It’s hard to form a lot of coherent thoughts about many of the changes, because it really is a reset button for so many. Ambrose, Miz, and even the goddamn Drifter are here without any real storylines. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities (or lack thereof) that come with the changes, but we’re also in a transitional period that leaves Raw feeling a little listless this week.
  • Raw wastes no time getting to the shakeup, as The Miz and Maryse open the show in their Cena-Bella cosplay. That also brings out Ambrose, who plays along with the shtick and starts insulting The Miz. It’s a good first segment, punctuated by Ambrose hitting Miz with Dirty Deeds, but it also feels so out of place. It’s literally just Smackdown! Live folks dropped into Raw with no story. I understand there’s meant to be “behind closed doors” meetings that make this stuff happen, so why not let us see some of it? Throughout the show Smackdown! Live superstars just show up, no explanation needed apparently, and that doesn’t exactly give the show the solid throughline it needs to make the shakeup more than surface-level fun. Some semblance of rules and regulations would be helpful, WWE! The little things matter!
  • Adding to the sluggishness of the night, the shakeup being the main “story” doesn’t leave much room for solid matches. There’s an awful lot of filler, which I guess isn’t too out of the blue for Raw, but still disappointing to see when you build up this episode to be something really special. I mean, there’s Jinder Mahal vs. Finn Balor with Jinder getting way too much offense, Big Show one-punching Curt Hawkins, and a pretty dull match between Austin Aries and TJ Perkins, and neither of them accomplish much. Sure, Perkins gets a bit of a heel turn, but who even cares about that guy at this point? Certainly not the crowd chanting “YOU STILL SUCK” after the turn.
  • That said, there are certainly a small handful of matches that actually tell stories tonight. The best of the night sees The Revival defeat New Day (sans injured Kofi), and it’s not only a great tag team match—The Revival tends to have those—but it confirms that The Revival are legitimate contenders. The Hardys and Sheamus and Cesaro may have their own match coming up, but it’s The Revival making a name for themselves, one glorious Shatter Machine at a time; the one tonight nearly kills Xavier Woods. It’s great to see them getting their spot, coupled with solid booking to get them over. Surely we’re not that far away from the Top Guys having the gold to prove it.
  • The best part of Austin Aries vs. TJ Perkins is Neville on commentary. He’s not only dismissive of everything Cole says, he also spends the entirety of the match staring at the ring with an insane amount of intensity. It’s small-moment character work, and more proof that Neville is singlehandedly dragging this division into something credible and compelling on a storytelling level.
  • The unceremonious arrivals on Raw, aka. relegated to a video package: Apollo Crews, Kalisto, and former Smackdown! Live Tag Team Champions Heath Slater and Rhyno.
  • Sami Zayn and The Miz get a fun little match in the middle of the show, and Sami actually gets a win. Does that mean he stays on Raw? I really hope not. I need Nakamura vs. Zayn II.
  • There’s a lot of big roster changes, but no one may benefit more than Bray Wyatt. After once again being defanged at Wrestlemania, he’s in desperate need of a shakeup. The tease of some sort of program with Finn Balor is interesting, and could be a great in-ring matchup if WWE avoids leaning too hard on the Demon vs. Demon thing. For now, his title match with Randy Orton stands. If Lesnar shows up on Smackdown! Live on Tuesday, there could be a chance the title changes hands at Payback.
  • So, The Drifter is here to make Corey Graves angry, and maybe for no other reason.
  • Women’s division shakeup: Alexa Bliss and Mickie James are here, which not only adds some serious competition into the mix for a division that’s been stagnating and running the same matchups for weeks on end, but they come with their own shared history. With Nia getting a big win over Charlotte (presumably sending her to Smackdown! Live), it’s a good sign that Raw is ready to invest in multiple storylines for its Women’s division.
  • That Charlotte-Nia Jax match is a bit of a mess though. Two heels means not a lot of emotion or storytelling to go on.
  • Speaking of losses sending superstars away, looks like Kevin Owens is off to the Blue brand. Will his forever nemesis Sami Zayn follow?
  • I love that Kurt Angle acts like a real GM, trying to step between Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe to get them to stop fighting. He wants to protect his employees! Also: I’m digging relatable, humble but fired-up Rollins.
  • That all brings us to the best segment of the night, and for the second straight week Roman Reigns is involved. Well, to be fair, Roman Reigns’ limp body is involved more than anything else; he doesn’t have to do much, which is the key to a good Reigns segment. After Raw hypes up a Michael Cole interview with Roman Reigns, said interview only lasts about 30 seconds before Braun Strowman jumps the Big Dog and sets about making sure he never, ever walks again. It’s a stirring, vicious segment, and Braun looks like a goddamn monster. He throws Reigns over some crates and through a table before slamming a crate into Roman while he’s laying against a cement wall. Oh, but it doesn’t end there. As Reigns is being strapped to a stretcher, Strowman grabs it, wheels it into the parking area, and flips Reigns off the ledge while he’s still attached to the stretcher! Oh, but it doesn’t end there. After the paramedics finally strap Reigns back in and get him into the back of the ambulance, Strowman comes back, shuts the doors to the ambulance, and proceeds to FLIP THE AMBULANCE OVER WITH HIS BRAUN STRENGTH. The segment is pro wrestling at its most delightfully ridiculous, and it makes Braun look like a million bucks. As always, one question lingers: will WWE recognize this as the Braun babyface moment the crowd and people at home clearly see it as, or does WWE see “sympathy for Roman” as the angle? If it’s the former, you’ve used the most hated man in WWE to create a new, monstrous, unstoppable babyface/tweener. If it’s the latter, you’ve once again sunk into the same old Roman Reigns problems. As usual, only time will tell.