Thursday, April 21, 2016

Top Ten Thursday: WWE Network Original Shows

Since its inception in February of 2014, the WWE Network has taken up a lot of my time. It's one of my favorite things ever. There are plenty of reasons. From getting to see every Pay-Per-View, to classic episodes of Raw to weekly episode of NXT, the WWE Network rules. One thing that stands out are the original shows on the Network. Soon, the adult cartoon Camp WWE will be debuting and it looks like a ton of fun. In honor of that, we'll be looking at my picks for the top ten WWE Network original shows.

10. Unfiltered with Renee Young 

Considering the vast amount of stuff on the WWE Network, there were multiple shows that I considered putting in this final spot. WrestleMania Rewind was cool while it lasted, Legends with JBL was very close to making it and Too Hot for TV was a fun look at some of the wacky stuff the company did. I went with Unfiltered in this slot because of Renee Young. The woman is an absolute treat and hits a home run with everything the company asks her to do. When she got her own show, I was excited. She has instant chemistry with nearly every guest. You can tell that she’s well liked since everyone seems so comfortable talking to her. The show has range as well. She’s interviewed everyone from top stars like Randy Orton to female stars like Sasha Banks to NXT guys like Finn Balor to celebrities like Stephen Amell and the cast of Star Wars. Each episode is a pleasure and there is only one negative aspect. Renee isn’t given enough time. Judging by clips, it seems like she has lengthy sit down conversations but it gets clipped down to about ten minutes. That makes it a very easy watch, but a longer back and forth would make it even better.

9. Rivalries 

When I first heard about this series, I wasn’t very excited. Granted, there have been plenty of great rivalries throughout wrestling history, but a lot of them had been covered in the past. There was even a Top 25 Rivalries DVD set that featured a ton of it. Then the first two episodes dropped, focused on Steve Austin and Vince McMahon and yikes, I didn’t care at all. Like most of the Attitude Era, we’d seen that discussed to death. However, I gave the show a chance after that and found it to be quite pleasing. They chose to mostly focus on feuds that hadn’t been completely highlighted in the past. The episode on Edge and Matt Hardy was especially great and really shined a bit of new light onto them. There are also episodes on Steamboat/Flair and Trish/Lita that are must see television. Unfortunately, the show seems to have fallen victim to the same issues that a lot of other WWE Network originals have. They abruptly end. After only a few episodes, Rivalries seems to have been completely stopped. I’d like to see it come back and give me an episode on Austin/Hart. I’ve seen all I can handle on Michaels/Hart and I’d like the superior feud be chronicled.

8. Swerved 

There weren’t many WWE Network shows that I more excited for. As a fan of Jackass and prank shows in general, fusing that with the WWE sounded like a home run to me. The previews for this also showed me that this show was right up my alley. I’ll admit, I came away a bit disappointed with it. At times, some of the jokes/pranks don’t click and are too over the top to be believable. When the show isn’t doing that, it absolutely delivers. Seeing Kofi Kingston get shot in the face with a blast of powder was priceless. Paige annoying people with a cattle prod was funny. Watching as they got “parents” to hit on Superstars, like Alicia Fox and Curtis Axel, was awkward greatness. Fandango and Heath Slater running a coffee shop proved to be way funnier than expected. I’d watch a show based around the two of them acting like clowns. Luckily, this show actually has been given a second season and should be debuting on the Network soon. Hopefully they worked out the kinks that didn’t hit last season (the episode where a parent made it seem like they were eating their children’s poo is too unbelievably gross).

7. Stone Cold Podcast 

After the initial Stone Cold Podcast with Vince McMahon, I thought this was going to be my favorite thing the Network had ever done. Austin hit Vince with some of the hardest questions and made sure to bring up controversial topics. To hear Vince discuss CM Punk so soon after the Colt Cabana podcast blew my mind. I think that he may have been too hard hitting because the show has become a lot tamer ever since. The episodes with Triple H, Ric Flair, Paige and Shawn Michaels didn’t do much for me. However, I enjoy Austin’s weekly podcast away from the Network so I kept giving it a chance. Recently, it has gotten better again. Still nothing too controversial, but I really enjoyed the interview with the Big Show, while the Mick Foley one was pretty interesting. Like the rest of the list so far, I feel like this could be better, but for what we get, I mostly have fun with them. And on the brightest of sides, it’s vastly better than Chris Jericho’s short lived WWE Network podcast.

6. The WWE List/Countdown 

I’m bunching these two shows together because they are pretty much the same thing. When the WWE Network first launched, my favorite weekly show was Countdown. As you can tell by my weekly Top Ten Thursday, I’m a sucker for a good list. Seeing things get ranked is always fun for me, but one thing really made these shows click. The talking heads. I loved hearing various Superstars and celebrities talk about the things listed. You really get a feel for who loved the business growing up. Some of the best people to hear from are Cesaro, Miz, Zack Ryder, Seth Rollins, Sasha Banks and Bayley. Countdown lasted about a season and a half and featured some standout episodes. The ones on Divas, factions, Intercontinental Champions and blunders were all strong. The List has less episodes and a shorter format (ranking a top five instead of ten) but catered more to social media and things like that. It was still an enjoyable show and I made sure never to miss either one. Either one needs to come back soon.

5. Table for 3 

Can I have more of these right now please? My favorite thing about the old 24/7 Classics on Demand setup was the Legends of Wrestling Roundtables. When those got uploaded to the Network, I said I wanted new episodes. They never gave me them, but this kind of works as a cool substitute. In a shorter format, three wrestling personalities share a meal and just shoot the shit for our viewing pleasure. Some even involved legends discussing a certain topic. Sting, DDP and Vader talked about WCW. Natalya, Charlotte and Tamina discussed being legacies in wrestling. The odd grouping of Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan and Ryback (as IC Champions) proved to be one of the best episodes. I loved hearing Molly, Ivory and Madusa talk about the business. There were some disappointing episodes (I’m looking at you Owens, Cesaro and Ambrose), but overall, the idea and delivery of the show was on point. Again, this show seems to have fallen off of the face of the earth. That’s a damn shame because it was a blast.

4. Legends House

Remember back in 2011, when we first got commercials for the WWE Network? They were poorly executed dubstep ads and didn’t excite me at all. It seems like way back then that Legends House got filmed. The show was produced, filmed, edited and wrapped for almost two years before it debuted on the official WWE Network in April of 2014. While the network already had Countdown and WrestleMania Rewind, this was the first truly great show. It took the Real World setting that worked so well for MTV but instead of drama filled randoms, we got drama filled WWE legends. Almost everything about this show worked so well. There were tons of memorable moments. From the Piper/Duggan friendship to the Atlas/Duggan feud to the unforgettable FLOCK O FLAMINGOS commercial, I loved every episode. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as I didn’t even mention perverted Mean Gene or the newlyweds’ game show the house played. The show also had heart as the episode where everyone reveals a tragic moment in their life and Pat Patterson comes out of the closet nearly leaves you in tears. Plus, having Ashley as the host didn’t hurt at all.

3. Edge and Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness 

Growing up, I adored Edge and Christian. They were some of the first heels that I really remember loving. Their comedy almost always hit for me so when I saw the promos for their new show, I was hooked. I’ll admit, the first episode or two fell a bit flat and I found myself disappointed. As always though, I gave it a chance and man, they’ve absolutely hit a stride. The jokes are landing, the recurring themes are funny and the guests have been great. The episode where they interrogated Stardust about being Cody Rhodes, only for Cody to walk into the room was perfectly handled. Fat Tommy Dreamer being a running joke that Tommy himself is in on always makes me smile. The games the two men play are cool too. AJ Styles has now been featured twice, Bayley has been on and even Luke freaking Perry has guest starred. Nowhere else can you find that variety. It’s a great way to keep Edge and Christian relevant while not having them on normal WWE programming. It also gives their fans an incentive to purchase the WWE Network. This show needs to stick around if they can maintain some of their current momentum.

2. Breaking Ground

I really enjoy NXT. It’s the show that I do weekly reports for, it’s become appointment TV for me, I’ve gone to five live NXT shows in the past 13 months and it’s the best weekly show that the WWE produces. Breaking Ground is a show that gave us a look into the lives of some NXT talent as well as how the incredible WWE Performance Center works. So far (and hopefully we get more), ten episodes were produced. The show allowed us to get a better look and understand of someone like Dana Brooke or Baron Corbin. We got to see people that haven’t made it to TV yet, like Tino Sabatelli and Tough Enough’s ZZ. There were some heartbreaking moments, like Cal Bishop getting released after suffering multiple injury setbacks. I’m glad that the show didn’t try to only focus on a select few, keeping it varied. For example, Sasha Banks and Bayley weren’t a focal point, but they made sure to show Triple H tell them about headlining TakeOver: Respect. One of the best things was getting to see how some of the coaches interact with their trainees, the workings of promo and makeup class and seeing Bayley producing matches in the back. It really showed how intricate everything is in the Performance Center, making for great television.

1. WWE 24 

Unlike other shows on the list, this doesn’t run in a weekly format. It doesn’t even go by seasons. Since debuting in late 2014, WWE 24 has worked as a mini-documentary series. Their episodes have covered WrestleMania XXX, WrestleMania 31, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, Booker T, Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan’s retirement. Each episode is like a WWE produced DVD special, but in a compact thirty minute setup, which is splendid. Every episode has heart and dives deep into whatever’s the topic is. Whether it’s them going deep into Booker T’s trouble past or talking about Roman Reigns’ family, they cover it. The Daniel Bryan episode was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever watched in wrestling. Even with those episodes being great, the ones focused on Mania and NXT were the highlights. As viewers, we’ve been given way more access to behind the scenes stuff than ever before. These shows delved even deeper. We got to see Undertaker and Brock shake hands before Undertaker’s WrestleMania 31 match as well as him meet up with Michelle McCool and their child afterwards. Seeing guys and girls that normally don’t interact sitting together to watch Sting vs. Triple H was such a cool sight. I can’t wait for the episode on WrestleMania 32 and whatever else they give us because they’ve yet to produce one that I didn’t enjoy.