Friday, 28 February 2014

And It’s So Easy When You’re Evil

Let’s talk about heel turns.

("But wait!" you cry. "Weren't you going to talk about Zema Ion?" I haven't forgotten. We'll get back to him.)

In wrestling, when it comes to heroes becoming villains, there is no set strategy to do it.

Everybody has their favourite. For example, I could point to James Storm's recent storyline and say "For me, pretty much that".

Image © Mike Kalasnik via Flickr.

However, as Yahtzee Crowshaw said, I like to think I'm more professional than that. So here are my ingredients for a perfect heel turn.

First, you can't do it all the time.

When Vince Russo was booking TNA, he aimed for "shades of grey" booking but missed the mark. Instead of ambiguous characters, we had good guys and bad guys swapping roles from week to week with no rhyme or reason.

This kills the impact heel turns have on the viewers and gets irritating fast.

Heel turns should be scarce to make them special.

Next, take your time. It's possible to have a character switch without prior warning, but I prefer the gradual shift over a period of weeks.

I love how the suspense builds when a company teases their audience, being lulled into a false sense of security, believing that the switch won't happen. Then wham! surprise heel turn, both expected and unexpected, surprising but satisfying.

Can you tease for too long? Of course. But I still think slow build is the way to go.

And finally, and most importantly, the reason for the alignment shift should be logical and reasonable, but done in a way that's still villainous. Your bad guy shouldn't be in the right (which is something I'll write about another time).

So. How do these apply to Gunner and Storm?

Image © Mike Kalasnik via Flickr.

Storm is the first heel turn in TNA since Magnus, and his switch happened before Christmas. This made Storm's heel change came across as something different and special.

What's more, TNA have been teasing us with the idea of Storm becoming a villain since "Feast or Fired", which was over two months ago. And in that time, Storm could have turned on Gunner two or three times, but didn't.

In fact, I remember expressing surprise when Storm apologised to Gunner instead of attacking him.

I began to think that the heel turn wouldn't happen. Then it did. And when it did, It was surprising, it was satisfying, and it was entertaining because the timing was perfect.

And finally, Storm's reason for attacking Gunner is theoretically sympathetic, but his behaviour puts him in the wrong.

Yes, Gunner walked over Storm to get the briefcase when other tag-teams were working together.

But Storm couldn't defeat Gunner for the briefcase. He apologised to Gunner for his behaviour. He even promised to watch Gunner's back. And then he broke that promise so he could turn on Gunner when it hurt the most and cost him the World Heavyweight Championship.

Reasonable motivation: malicious, evil behaviour.

Image © binkaminka via DeviantArt.

And that, my friends, is what I call a good heel turn.

– Stark

Monday, 24 February 2014

TNA Impact from Manchester: UK Air Date 23rd February 2014

How did TNA's second Mancunian Impact go? Let's look.

Image © TNA Wrestling courtesy of Rasslor.

The promos in this episode ran too long, perhaps because TNA were covering for a lack of match material, but Magnus and Gunner's performances were good enough to make them enjoyable.

Speaking of Magnus, his conflict with EC3 continues to escalate, and I can't wait for EC3 to turn face or snap completely. Either way, it'll be good.

#1 Contender Samoa Joe had nothing in the way of plot, but his resounding defeat of the BroMans and Zema Ion presented him as unstoppable. He has incredible momentum going into Lockdown.

The conflict between MVP and Dixie was handled better this week, and focussed mainly around Lethal Lockdown, where Team MVP, possibly led by Austin Aries, will take on Team Dixie, led by Bobby Roode. A good build towards the PPV.

The teased Bobby Roode face turn didn't happen this week, but Dixie's promise that he'll get 10% ownership of TNA if he leads her team to victory is fascinating. Lots of potential here.

Team MVP representatives the Wolves (who have lost their American for some reason) defeated potential Team Dixie members Bad Influence in a match that I'm in two minds about. The wrestling was awesome and it's good to see the Wolves get momentum, but I never like seeing Bad Influence lose.

I'm also in two minds about Samuel Shaw and Christy Hemme. On one hand, Shaw's acting is magnificently creepy, but on the other, shouldn't somebody have tried to stop him from brutally assaulting somebody and abducting Christy Hemme? Like, I don't know, the winner of the International Gut Check? Just a thought. I'm interested, but conflicted.

Less interesting was the Street Fight between Gail Kim and Madison Rayne because their feud has been off the boil and it came out of nowhere. It was good to see a Street Fight between two women, and surprisingly to see Gail bleed, but the Knockouts have been so out of the frame that it was difficult to start caring. My low point of the evening, unfortunately.

And now, a word on Willow: he scares me. Moving on.

The main event and its build-up were excellent. Gunner got to show a tremendous amount of personality and humanity, and he and Magnus wrestled excellently. Even the interference was handled well, with Gunner's back-up thinning the numbers before things got crowded and silly.

And then the ending.

TNA used to have a chronic flip-flop problem. You could never tell from week to week whether a character would be heel or face.

But now, it's a slow boil: change comes gradually, and that creates uncertainty and surprise.

And James Storm's heel turn was definitely surprising. After over a month of teasing it, Storm finally double-crossed Gunner and cost him the title. Perfectly foreshadowed, perfectly timed, and my highlight of the evening. Amazing.

In short, this show was a little heavy on the promos, yet still a solid and consistent episode of Impact.

See you Friday.

– Stark

Friday, 21 February 2014

But I Will Always Hate You More

What does it mean to hate a professional wrestler?

Then question's more complicated than you'd think. After all, there are at least five different aspects of any given wrestler that can be loved or loathed.

For example, if I say "I hate Zema Ion" (which I did in my last review), what exactly do I mean by that?

Image © Mike Kalasnik via Flickr.

Do I hate him because he's a heel and we're supposed to hate the villains? Or do I hate his wrestling style? His acting? The performer Michael Paris himself as a person?

And the answer is none of the above: what I hate about Zema Ion is his gimmick and the way that it's written (although I'll go into more detail about that another time).

The point is that in professional wrestling, hate can get complicated quickly. Unless you dive into a long explanation of what you mean, it can be difficult to make it clear exactly what you're complaining about.

For Zema, I could say, "I really hate Zema Ion, but I'm sure Michael Paris is a great guy."

Using the ring name for the character and the real name for the performer separates the two aspects and makes it clear that you hate the fictional personality, not the real one.

But that doesn't always work. What about people who perform under their real names? TNA employs Jeff Hardy, Dixie Carter and Eddie Edwards to name just a few. And there is no way to say "I really hate Jeff Hardy, but I'm sure Jeff Hardy is a great guy" without sounding like an idiot.

Image © StrongBrush1 via DeviantArt.

And that's why I'm making this post: I want to make it clear that I criticise characters, not people.

I'm not friends with anybody from TNA. I've done Meet & Greets before, and I follow a lot of wrestlers on Twitter, but that's the extent of my contact with them.

I don't know them as people. I can't criticise them as people. And I never will.

But we do know the characters they play. We see them on television every week and get to know them as intimately as any other fictional character. And on top of that, I'm a writer: evaluating and critiquing characterisation is my bread and butter.

As such, I feel well within my rights to analyse, criticise and contemplate the gimmicks that wrestlers play, and to point out the elements that I like and dislike as I please.

I will always try to explain why I have the opinion that I do. Sure, sometimes, I'll just end up going on a long, exasperated rant if I feel that a particular character is irredeemable and should just be scrapped.

Image © chriscoven via DeviantArt.

But I will always give reasons for the way I feel, and – if I can – suggestions on what could be done to improve the character or fix the problems it has.

So what does it mean to hate a professional wrestler?

Almost anything you could want it to mean. So don't forget to elaborate.

– Stark

Monday, 17 February 2014

TNA Impact from Manchester: UK Air Date 16th February 2014

From Glasgow, TNA goes to Manchester. Will it make a difference?

Image © TNA Wrestling courtesy of Rasslor.

Magnus being favoured over EC3 and the conflict that's creating has now neatly escalated to shoving and bickering during matches: I can't wait to see how this will ultimately end and whether EC3 will turn face or just turn on Dixieland.

Another potential turn is Bobby Roode, seen uncharacteristically pensive after threatening Dixie. His mounting frustration at her seems to have triggered some kind of epiphany to him, and it'll be interesting to see where this goes. A simple character moment that expressed much with little: my favourite part of the evening.

Stubbornly not turning was James Storm, who continues to surprise by having Gunner's back like he said he would. The Cowboy and the Modern Viking are on the same page and have a Tag Team Championship shot. It can only get more awesome from here.

On the other hand, Eric Young and Abyss are now officially over, and Abyss is about to go through some kind of change and find some kindred spirit somewhere. Whoever it is, I'm eager to see more of the new direction for Abyss's character.

Continuing the theme of shattered relationships, the match between Velvet Sky and Chris Sabin introduced TNA's latest Knockout, Alpha Female, who was presented as a terrific powerhouse. I look forward to a feud between her and Velvet.

Another rocky relationship is Christy Hemme and Samuel Shaw, which is still being touched on in short vignettes that keep the plot in the audience's mind without overloading us in a really skilful way. It's also still really creepy.

Speaking of creepy, Jeff's new-to-TNA gimmick Willow has the most unnerving laugh since Sting decided to become the Joker. I've no idea what Willow will be doing, but whatever it is, I want to see it.

Our final creep of the evening was Bully Ray, who was justly punished for taunting Anderson's wife by getting slammed into a casket. This feels like a satisfying conclusion to the feud and I hope they leave it at this.

The Wolves, however, are just beginning in TNA, and all the better for it. The tag division was crying out for a team like them, and hopefully the Wolves will breathe some life into it. Zema Ion getting beaten up was also a plus for me because I hate it. What do I mean by that, exactly? More on Friday.

MVP's match with Rockstar Spud was funny, but I'm not enjoying Spud being jobbed out so much.

And finally, my low point of the show: the ending segment with MVP and Dixie Carter. I love their conflict, but given the choice between ending the show on Mr Anderson triumphant over his great foe, or on Dixie's grumpy face, I will always pick the wrestler: anything else is an anti-climax.

The ending aside, this was a solid episode with good character moments. If TNA can keep this consistent, they'll be on to a winner.

See you Friday.

– Stark

Friday, 14 February 2014

Take a Chance on Him

Last week, Bad Influence approved of me; this week, they won't.

Why?

Because I love Joseph Park, and I don't care who knows.

Image © Mike Kalasnik via Flickr.

Yes, Joseph Park. Not Abyss. Do I love Abyss too? Oh hell yes – he's awesome. But there's something about Joseph that just warms my heart and makes me smile.

First, his personality. He's a bit strait-laced, maybe a bit prissy, but underneath that, he's sweet, he's kind, he doesn't approve of bullies, and he stands up for what he believes in. He's clearly a nice guy, and that's unusual in wrestling. "Nice guys finish last" tends to apply and even faces lean towards ambiguity or combat pragmatism.

Not Joseph Park. He's a nice person.

Then there are his relationships. Joseph's friendship with Eric Young is fantastic. EY suspected all along that Joseph and Abyss were the same person and he didn't care. They made a wonderful odd couple team that I'm going to miss if they split up now that the multiple personality aspect has been officially revealed.

Speaking of, the multiple personality storyline has been consistently fascinating, bringing to light mysteries and intriguing implications for Joseph and Abyss's characters. After all, this taught us that Abyss was a lawyer before he became a wrestler. But what prompted that change? We don't know yet, but it has so much potential.

And the official revelation itself was simply amazing: dramatic, exciting and emotionally satisfying. Unlike some unmaskings we could mention.

Image © WWE via WWE.com.

But the thing I love most about Joseph Park? He's an inspiration.

Yes, I'm serious. Think about it.

When Joseph came to TNA, he was a lawyer. An everyman. He wasn't a wrestler – heck, he wasn't even an athlete. He just wanted to find his brother.

Then he discovered professional wrestling, decided to become a wrestler, and dedicated himself to that goal.

The storyline about him in training may have been presented as comedy, but I never saw it that way. I didn't laugh at his naïveté or the fact that his trainer in OVW thought he was an idiot.

I was too busy paying attention to what he was saying: that if you work hard and put the effort in, you can pass law school, become a wrestler, do anything you want.

And Joseph did. He went from somebody who could barely throw a punch to somebody who was exchanging blows with Magnus a few weeks ago without too much difficulty, and that was without seeing his blood and going into a berserker rage.

Joseph Park is us, and like him, we can do anything if we put our minds to it.

Image © Frederik Hermann via Flickr.

I made this post because I've noticed a lot of negative responses to Joseph on Twitter, and I felt he needed somebody to state a case for his defence.

If you don't like him, that's fine. I'm not going to force you to change your mind.

But I hope that what I've written here has inspired you to give him another chance if nothing else.

– Stark

Thursday, 13 February 2014

TNA #OldSchool: UK Air Date 12th February 2014

I don't like old school wrestling.

Call me a spoilsport, but all too often, it translates to "ECW alumni hit each other with sticks".

Image © Jeffhardywhyx via Wikimedia Commons.

And yet somehow, TNA's #OldSchool worked for me.

The video packages were well made and expanded on character histories, and the interviews established motivations well. Although Bully Ray's speech was the most inconsistent, balancing great exposition with unintentional hilarity. "Your heart may belong to Terry Funk, but your ass is mine" is far too easy for immature twits like me to misinterpret.

Every match did what a good match should: tell an effective story though body language and performance. The wrestlers were fantastic and I can't praise them enough. I was especially impressed by how everyone stayed in character despite alignment shifts, such as Bad Influence turning in a face performance consistent with their heel cockiness and fun (which I've waxed lyrical about here).

Was it perfect? No. But there were only four matches that I had any quibbles with: all the others told their stories properly and were simply glorious. Kudos to:

  • Austin Aries, Chris Sabin and Sonjay Dutt
  • Bad Influence, Velvet Skye, the BroMans, Lei'D Tapa and Eric Young
  • Jeff Hardy and Abyss
  • Kurt Angle and Mr Anderson

    Then there's the not so great. James Storm versus Bobby Roode, Last Man Standing, had awesome action, and James Storm looked an indisputable bad-ass, standing up despite handcuffs and several head-shots, but he still lost and that frustrates me. I haven't seen him get any payback yet and it grates.

    Image © Mike Kalasnik via Flickr.

    Samoa Joe and Magnus also had good one-on-one action, but the fact that EC3 interfered and the finish involved a ref bump threatens a return to the cluttered finishes we seemed to be moving away from. That worries me.

    Speaking of EC3, his winning streak may be vital to his character, but I've had enough of him beating the crap out of Dewey Barnes and/or Norv Fernum with no consequence. I know that they can't beat him without it being farcical, but couldn't they get some back-up from somebody stronger than themselves à la Amazing Red getting Crimson to beat up Jeff Jarrett way back when? EC3 is well overdue for some payback and it's annoying me.

    Then there's Tommy Dreamer and Bully Ray's Street Fight.

    Now I hate it when wrestlers spit on each other. It may be short-hard for disrespect, but it's also disgusting, and this match had far, far too much of it from both competitors.

    But putting that side, the biggest problem? The ending. Bully tries to use lighter fluid, his opponent takes it and tries to set a table on fire, but Bully revives and takes advantage of the distraction to win.

    Sound familiar?

    It should: it's the same ending as his match with Mr Anderson at Genesis. And I didn't like it the first time.

    Image © chriscoven via DeviantArt.

    Having said that, the rest of the show was fantastic. I may not like old school, but #OldSchool is well worth your time.

    See you tomorrow.

    – Stark

    Related Post: TNA Genesis Part Two: UK Air Date 26th January 2014

  • Monday, 10 February 2014

    TNA Impact from Glasgow: UK Air Date 9th February 2014

    Last week's Impact was the best in months. And this week's?

    Image © TNA Wrestling courtesy of Rasslor.

    The opening Monster's Ball match between Abyss and Eric Young was the show's highlight. Violent without gratuitousness with great spots, it officially revealed that Joseph Park is Abyss and put that plot firmly back on track. I loved it.

    Why Curry Man turned up when he had no scheduled match, I do not know. Bully Ray squashing and interring him as a message to Mr Anderson made sense, but Curry Man's presence baffles me. Also, he hasn't won a match since approximately 2008. That's some losing streak.

    Someone on a winning streak is Austin Aries, who powered his way through an impromptu tittle defence against Zema Ion. I'm very glad that TNA are easing on the X Division title swaps at last, and Aries was awesome.

    His former rival, Chris Sabin, will be wrestling Velvet Sky next week. I'm hoping this will somebody make sense to me.

    Also experiencing relationship issues were Christy Hemme and Samuel Shaw, the latter of whom was rejected by the former because she apparently watches the show, which is something I always like. This story is creepy, but I'm still fascinated by where it's going.

    Then... Rockstar Spud. Spud was solid gold. Everything he did from toadying to Dixie Carter and MVP to live-tweeting the show to his underwear photo-shoot was fantastic. I love this guy.

    The animosities in Dixieland still fascinate me, and contrast well with the loyalty amongst the faces. From EC3's issues with Magnus to Magnus snarking at Bobby Roode to Roode pressuring for his title shot, it's all a simmering power keg, and I look forward to the faces lighting the fuse.

    And one person definitely on fire is Samoa Joe. His defiant stand against Dixie was amazing, his victory over Roode dominant and imposing. I hope his push is here to stay.

    I felt sorry for EC3 being ignored by Dixie, but that passed after the sustained and vicious attack on Kurt Angle's knee that ended the non-title match with Magnus. It suggests that instead of turning face, EC3 could become a dangerous loose canon within Dixieland: I'd be happy with either.

    MVP's interview about his life was lacking because of the sound quality. It was so quiet that I couldn't hear, so I couldn't care. Disappointing.

    But more disappointing was his involvement in the show's nadir: his plot development with Dixie. His meeting with her seemed intended to instil doubt, like Jeff Hardy dining with her, but it failed because the attitude switch necessary for this would be far too abrupt. I never believed MVP would join Dixie, so when he rejected her at the show's climax, it had neither weight nor impact. And it ended the show not on a bang, but a whimper.

    This was a good episode, but not a great one, containing great elements yet suffering from a core plot that failed to convince. Hopefully next week will be better again.

    See you Friday.

    – Stark

    Friday, 7 February 2014

    That's All They Really Want – Some Fun

    I love Bad Influence.

    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    A controversial opinion? Doubtful. Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian are well-known for being charismatic performers and excellent wrestlers.

    So if being their fan is nothing special, why am I making an entire post dedicated to them?

    Simple: I want to explain exactly what it is about them that I like, and why them getting a decent amount of screen time on any episode of Impact automatically makes it a thousand times better.

    Like the Internet, wrestling is srs bsns. Championship belts are fought over as serious accolades to be won. Veterans like Kurt Angle or Sting make epic sweeping statements about respect, the business and the things they've seen. Feuds become violent and deeply personal, like Bully Ray bringing in Mr Anderson's family.

    Wrestling is steeped in the significant and the dramatic.

    And of course there's a place for drama in professional wrestling. With it, we would have no idea of the stakes involved in various situations, lose all possibly gravitas, and everything would become farce.

    And yet if the show is nothing but grim, gritty seriousness, it gets very old very quickly. All drama all the time is dull; variety keeps your audience coming back for more. And that's where Bad Influence come in.

    Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian are fun. Pure, unadulterated fun.

    Image © Alexander Gibson via Wikimedia Commons.

    Bad Influence are the guys you have a blast with. Sure, they're not nice people – they're arrogant, they're vain, and they'd sooner insult you than look at you – but you can tell just from looking at them that they know how to have a good time.

    They're always smiling. They all but dance to the ring. They insult their opponents without a care and in the most bizarre, creative ways – who else would call James Storm "monkey fart"?

    And that's the best thing about them: they're funny. When I see Bad Influence backstage or coming down to the ring, I perk up because I know that whatever happens next, it's going to raise a chuckle. Heck, I even laughed when they re-enacted the climactic scene of "Carrie" on Joseph Park and I like him.

    Bad Influence take refuge in audacity and it's always amazing.

    The only problem is that they need microphones and screen-time to make the most of their talents, and up until last week, they haven't been getting it.

    That's why I was moaning last week about them having nothing to do. That's why I was so happy to see them on the Glaswegian Impact. And that's why I hope that they get a decent feud with Gunner and James Storm.

    If Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian are doing nothing but run-ins for your main event, you're wasting them. They deserve so much better than that because they're are entertainment on two legs. And that's before you take into account the fact that both of them are fantastic wrestlers as well.

    So that's why I love Bad Influence: because they're witty, fun, and all-around awesome to watch.

    Appletini, anyone?

    Image © George Pankewytch via Flickr.

    – Stark

    Monday, 3 February 2014

    TNA Impact from Glasgow: UK Air Date 30th January 2014

    So Genesis was lacklustre, but how was TNA's first Glaswegian Impact?

    In a word: awesome.

    Image © TNA Wrestling courtesy of Rasslor.

    Even the evening's biggest disappointment was positive – that the tag match between Madison Rayne, Velvet Skye, Gail Kim and Lei'D Tapa was cut short so Velvet could dump Chris Sabin. Seeing him get his comeuppance was nice, but I would've preferred to see more of the Knockouts.

    James Storm burying the hatchet with Gunner was amazing. I was certain that Storm would betray Gunner: instead, he promised to have Gunner's back and was true to his word when they wrestled Bad Influence. This was more of a shock than treachery could ever have been and I was blown away by it.

    Bad Influence brought their usual energy and fun, and it was great to see. More about them this Friday.

    The Eric Young and Joseph Park story confuses me. The implication is that Joseph is gone and only Abyss remains, which is why he attacked the referee and got him and EY DQ'd, but I'm not sure exactly when that happened, or why EY thinks a Monster's Ball match against him is a good idea. I hope it's explained more next week.

    One story that was explained more was Samuel Shaw and Christy Hemme, which is getting incredibly creepy. Shaw's Phantom of the Opera-esque mannequin of Hemme is terrifying and makes me want to know what's going to happen next with these two.

    Also creepy was Bully Ray threatening Mr Anderson's wife and kids. This was less disgusting than last week, but only because Anderson got to reply with a casket lid to the face. The casket links well with the Aces & Eights funeral and the match should be interesting and brutal.

    Now, the best of the show, a two-for-one: Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe. The two manipulating Magnus into giving them their match? Awesome. The two beating up and choking Bobby Roode? Awesome. Joe making Magnus tap? Awesome. Even their video packages were amazing. Joe's was haunting and Angle's was the coolest thing I have ever seen.

    Magnus' thirst to prove himself in an interesting trait and I love how his enemies manipulate it, and how it causes friction between him and Dixie Carter. This and the other disagreements in Dixieland – between Magnus and EC3, and between Dixie and Bobby Roode – are also ripe with potential.

    But of course, the core of the evening was the question of the Mystery Investor. The American Wolves acting as his heralds gave Rockstar Spud a chance to be hilarious, and in combination with Dixie's freak-outs, helped to keep the idea in the audience's mind. And, of course, the Investor turned out to be MVP, which conflicts me. On one hand, it was unexpected and has potential; on the other, TNA can pay MVP but not AJ Styles? These priorities seem skewed to me.

    However, I still consider this show to be my benchmark for an excellent Impact. May TNA maintain these standards.

    See you on Friday.

    – Stark