Sunday, July 31, 2016

WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016

I am a little late on this one, but I really wanted to sneak in my monthly wrestling entry on the last day of July. Rest assured, I am working my way through another mammoth WWE Home Video release also, but finding the time to get through it along with the weekly first run WWE television content along with all their exclusive network content sometimes makes it difficult to make time to plow through their eight-to-nine hour video collections in a timely fashion. With that out of the way, let us take a look at the original content on WWE Network that hit in the first half of 2016.

Swerved: Season 2 – The first season of Swerved, WWE’s Punked-inspired prank show, was not a mega hit with me. It redeemed itself with season two though with the theme this season being the wrestlers messing with the fans. In this case most of the fans were little kids!!! A bunch of grade school New Day fans were stoked to try out the latest New Day inspired food items that left them spitting it out in disgust. Dean Ambrose dressed up like a white-collar know-it-all and hustles a fellow contestant in a mall quiz show! The best gag is this one poor rugrat who is hanging out with AJ Styles and Ryback backstage who both convince the kid to make such disparaging signs as “AJ Styles has Ugly Hair” and “Ryback’s Bald” only to have the other wrestler walk in on the kid and witness the kid crap his pants. Not all the gags are a hit, but the ratio is much better than last season.

Camp WWE – WWE really hyped up their adult-oriented, original animated series for the WWE Network that sees children-age versions of wrestlers at summer camp with evil Vince McMahon as the head of the camp. Only McMahon, Ric Flair and Sgt. Slaughter provided their voices while the rest of the cast is comprised of mostly awful sound-a-likes. The adult-oriented humor misses on most marks with such featured jokes as an episode building up to Mark Henry eating too much molten lava cake and “delivering” a cake baby, Ric Flair humping a tree and extended Vince McMahon fart jokes. I was not surprised to see this show last only five episodes and I hope it does not return for a second season.

Ride Along – I am down with the premise of this show and surprised WWE did not do it earlier. As the name implies, it is the wrestlers in a car travelling between towns and the WWE cameras bouncing between a couple different vehicles of the talent sharing old road stories and life in and out of the ring. Not a whole lot to this show, but I am down for being a fly on the wall as the superstars talk shop and we learn more about them. Some of the talent featured in the first batch of episodes includes New Day, League of Nations, the Usos, Shield and the Bellas.

Unfiltered With Renee Young: Season 2 – After taking nearly half a year off, Renee Young came back in June with the second season of her show that specializes in brief-yet-detailed one-on-one interviews. She mixed things up a little bit in her season two episodes by introducing little other backstage antics before the interview to give the show a little more depth. Rest assured, the interviews are still the main focus point and Renee is terrific at connecting with most of the talent and talking to them like a person and getting them to seem like themselves in front of the camera. Season two interview subjects thus far include Charlotte, Dean Ambrose, Paige, Cesaro and Roman Reigns.

Table for 3: Season 2 – After taking a few months off, WWE came back with five more episodes of Table for 3. Like Ride Along, Table for 3 is a low-budget, yet extremely entertaining series where all there is to it is placing a couple cameras in front of the wrestlers in a certain setting and watching them talk about their craft and lives for about a half hour. In this case we accompany them for dinner. The first season had a good mix of current and past stars while the second season focuses exclusively on legends. One episode reunites Edge & Christian with their favorite commissioner, Mick Foley as they reminisce on many vintage moments of awesomeness. Another episode reunites the Outsiders with X-Pac and another has three of the original Four Horsemen (Flair, Arn & Tully) reuniting for the first time in many years. High recommendation to jump right into any episode in this series, especially with your favorite adult beverage!

Edge and Christian Show – Along with Camp WWE, The Edge and Christian Show was the other main series that WWE heavily promoted in 2016 as their top tier of original content. The Edge and Christian Show is actually kind of decent and not a complete flop like Camp WWE turned out to be. It is a variety/sketch show with Edge & Christian doing all sorts of sketches and bringing on other WWE stars and legends for cameos. The first episode is a bit of a rough watch, but within a few episodes of the 12 in the first season you can tell they start to hit their stride. They somehow managed to bring in past WWE stars I have not seen featured in any WWE content in many years, and they even track down such unique interview subjects like the “Just Say Yes” fan from Wrestemania XXX. I do not want to overhype it too much, as about only half the sketches and gags really hit home with me while other just went over my head or were among the groan-inducing variety. I think I heard this will be returning for a second season next year, and the first season trial run left me optimistic that Edge and Christian were able to shake off the cobwebs and will return with a much improved second season.

Steve Austin Podcast – Stone Cold is still hanging around the WWE Network with monthly installments of his hit podcast. Like Renee Young, Steve Austin has a pretty good rapport with his interviewees and he has a great mix of questions centered on the talent’s career, and usually sneaks in a couple hard-hitting questions too. Highlights from 2016 so far include trading many old war stories with Ric Flair, Big Show and Mick Foley. The AJ Styles interview is especially revealing as he has some uncomfortable childhood memories I did not expect him to go into much detail on, but that interview is also noteworthy as being the first time on any WWE televised content where they openly discussed TNA wrestling for more than 10 seconds as that promotion was a big part of AJ’s past and they make sure to talk a lot about AJ’s 12 year run there.

Miscellaneous – There are a couple new episodes of Legends with JBL in 2016. It was a delight hearing him hook up again with his longtime tag team partner, Ron Simmons in a very candid, emotional interview. Also make sure to check out JBL’s interview with Michael Hayes as that man is a big player behind-the-scenes and JBL makes sure to pick his mind and holds nothing back discussing a few big controversies Hayes was part of over the years.

There are also a couple new installments of WWE 24, which is high-budget half hour documentary series that goes behind-the-scenes of WWE. 2016 so far saw three installments and all are well worth going out of your way to see as they spotlight behind-the-scenes of Wrestlemania 31, backstage with Daniel Bryan on the day leading up to his shocking retirement announcement and a compelling look at Seth Rollins’ recovery from his title reign-ending injury last November. Finally, Mick Foley subbed in for Stone Cold to host a podcast to interview Shane McMahon shortly after he made his surprise return to the WWE. Shane kind of danced around some of the harder hitting questions from Mick, but it is definitely worth checking out to see Shane’s side on what lead to his near-decade long sabbatical from WWE and what he made of his jaw-dropping match against the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 31.

What’s in Store for Second Half of 2016 - As of this writing we are already a couple episodes into the Cruiserweight Classic tournament on WWE Network, which is a tournament focused on purely in ring competition featuring cruiserweights of all styles from around the world. I will make sure to go into far more detail on that here when that wraps up in my end of the year WWE Network blog. Also, I am hopeful that Holy Foley is not a bust, as this Osbournes-meets-the-Foley-family hybrid looks like it could be a winner. The only other programming I am aware that is coming soon is a second season of Jerry Springer’s Too Hot, which I am not as hopeful for. I guess they cannot all be winners. Overall though, I would say this was mostly a positive first half of the year for original WWE Network programming. I have no idea how I managed to keep up, but with RAW, Smackdown, NXT and soon two PPVs a month on the horizon along with all this original content and a regular slate of home videos still hitting stores the WWE easily has you covered with far too much content to consume.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
RoH Supercard of Honor V
RoH Supercard of Honor VI
RoH Supercard of Honor VII
RoH Supercard of Honor VIII
RoH Supercard of Honor IX
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Sting: Into the Light
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28
Wrestlemania 29
Wrestlemania 30
Wrestlemania 31
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015

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