After WrestleMania and the Superstar Shake-up, the creative well in WWE already seems to be running dry. One would think that the returns and debuts of so many familiar and fresh faces would spark some innovation as far as the writing is concerned, but in the past few weeks, we’ve been left with a fairly stagnant product. This begs the question of whether or not WWE has simply exhausted all options.
Right now, WWE is overrun with great talent. They have superior in-ring technicians, like A.J. Styles and Daniel Bryan; unparalleled talkers, like Elias and the Miz; and some superstars who can do both, like Samoa Joe and pretty much all of The New Day (and yes, I am saying that Smackdown is currently better). The only aspect of a successful product that’s lacking is on the creative end. And it’s not entirely the fault of the writers. A lot of blame comes from a place of fear. I can imagine their aren’t a lot of lines that can be crossed in the writing room anymore. Not only does the creative team have to walk on eggshells with Vince McMahon, but they also don’t want to lose sponsorship by airing anything too edgy or what could be viewed as too sensitive of a subject. But this is pro wrestling, not exactly something that should be taken as a moral example.
I’m not saying that WWE needs to go back to the days of bra & panties matches and concussion-inducing chair shots to the skull, but there is an element of darkness that has gone untapped for too long. Wrestling should be somewhat gritty, dirty, and leave you wanting more. The most successful wrestling eras had a sex, drugs, and rock & roll vibe that you just can’t accomplished when every feud revolves around: “I’m coming for that title!”
Quite frankly, family friendly can get pretty boring. Most of the storylines going on right now hardly come from a grudge. They’re just matches to have matches. Long past are the days of Randy Savage being protective of Elizabeth and jealous of Hulk Hogan. We can’t have nice things, like Eddie Guerrero fighting Rey Mysterio over the custody of his son, Dominic, in a ladder match. These were storylines. I can’t get behind a match that centers around Michael Cole repeatedly stating that “these two just don’t like each other!”
Case in point, the most original storyline going right now is the “Bobby Lashley’s sisters” feud with Sami Zayn. It’s great to see Sami finding his groove as an obnoxious heel, but playing off of Lashley’s energy is an uphill battle. Last week’s segment featuring the imposter Lashley sisters had at least marked with a shade of Attitude Era. A drawn out segment with men dressed in drag is a surefire way to win over Vince McMahon, but it may not have resonated with the PG/PC era of sports entertainment. In 2018, this brand of mockery can easily be deemed as transphobic by the online masses; to which I would say, that’s exactly what a heel is supposed to do. I’m not saying they need to be intentionally offensive, but a bad guy is a bad guy. He or she is intended to be hated. Poking fun at certain sensitive issues can be a great way to get heat. The segment with Lashley’s sisters may have been objectively dumb, but it was an effort to do something different, uncouth, and…well yeah, dumb. And we should be allowed to be dumb.
Alexa Bliss bullying Nia Jax for being big was a pretty well put together feud for that reason. These are characters in a show, but even in a time when everyone is smart to the fact that it’s staged, these performers are subconsciously held accountable. Even if it’s family friendly, we can still show how one character is a good person and the villain is behaving immorally in some way. But unfortunately, character flaws can be triggering, and the story arc suffers for it.
The whole point of even being “creative” is to take risks and to not play by the rules. There have been glimpses of hope and originality in WWE here and there, but they’ve become too few and far between. The root of any feud should be something sinful, because I’m just not getting the entertainment I would like out of friendly competition.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke