Thursday, December 29, 2016

WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016

Welcome to the second half of 2016 recap of original content for the WWE Network. For newer readers, twice a year I will give recaps on the most noteworthy original content the Network has to offer so you can decide if it is worth the time to stream or not. Feel free to check out my previous installments in links at the bottom of this blog. I do not watch all the original content as there are some regular running original Network material I skip almost all the time. Such as the weekly RAW & Smackdown pre-show (but I do watch the PPV kickoff pre-shows since they have matches and I just have to hear Booker T's quack quack moment of the night!) and the This Week in WWE weekly recap of key storylines since I stay on top of RAW and Smackdown already. Enough prefacing let us get on recapping the second part of 2016!

Cruiserweight Classic - This 10 episode limited series that took place over the summer is must-see for all fans! Make it 11 episodes by including the preview 'Bracket-ology' episode that gives a thorough look at most of the 32 participants in this tournament featuring Cruiserweights that WWE scouted all around the world. There are no over-the-top WWE storylines here, just the story of the best around the world competing to see who is the best in their class. Each episode is three or four matches, with a little interview clip featuring the wrestlers telling us a little bit about themselves so we know a little more about them. That is it, and it is absolutely fantastic. The first couple episodes feature more rapid-fire matches to get through the 16 matches in the first round, but usually each episode has at least one standout, main event quality match.

I am not super familiar with the international wrestling scene, but there are several familiar faces including veterans such as Tajiri and Brian Kendrick resurfacing in hopes of getting one last shot at glory. Current NXT tag champs Johnny Gargono and Tomasa Ciampa square off against each other in the first round in what wound up as one of the best matches of the tournament. International sensations Zack Sabre Jr. & Kobashi I heard a little bit of before, but from the moment they kicked off their matches they owned the arena and I could tell they were big deals and I was easily won over by both of them by the time they both wrapped up in the tournament.

Each episode has intriguing bracket updates from Corey Graves in a sweet setup that harkened back to memories of the Mean Gene Control Center updates in his WWF/WCW days in the 90s. Daniel Bryan & Mauro Ranallo do an excellent job at calling the action in authentic sports-like sensation and the two gelled wonderfully together and had me worked up and heavily invested in most match ups. I was caught off guard by the winner of the tournament, who got to be crowned the new Cruiserweight champion. I cannot recommend this tournament enough, this and The Monday Night Wars are the first two original series on the WWE Network all new subscribers must binge watch first. The Cruiserweight Classic was such a success that a couple months after it finished they got their own original WWE Network show.....

205 Live - As the name of the show suggests, it features wrestlers under 205 pounds, and is broadcasted live, immediately following Smackdown Live on Tuesday nights. They are only several episodes so far, but the show is slowly starting to come into its own. For a couple months the entire Cruiserweight division was part of RAW but only featured in one, maybe two matches a week, and they were mostly non-essential multi-man tag matches that were quickly forgotten about. Here, they get an hour a week to shine. This features a lot of the wrestlers from the Cruiserweight Classic as well as some other WWE roster mainstays that switched over to this division like SinCara and Neville.

The main feud over the Cruiserweight title was this back-and-fourth nonsense between Kendrick, Rick Swann and TJ Perkins that did not win me over first three or four episodes, but now a super hideous Neville is now in the mix and that has made it exponentially more interesting. Some of the other wrestlers are now starting to flesh out their characters now too with Cedric Alexander and Noam Dar vying for the attention of Alicia Fox and a few other guys like Ariya Daivari and Mustafa Ali starting to rack up wins to establish a few other acts to keep an eye on. The last couple episodes have got me hopeful that WWE can salvage this Cruiserweight division after a disastrous two month start to it when it was exclusive to RAW.

Holy Foley! - WWE put a lot of hype into this reality show following Mick Foley's family. Yes, this is WWE's version of The Osbournes and the spiritual successor to Hogan Knows Best. WWE Network currently has five episodes up and claims it is the first half of a 10 episode season. The first episodes follow Mick's son, Dewey around as he tries to make it on his own as a WWE TV writer with him trying to shake off his dad from interfering. Mick's daughter Noelle, is trying to break into the business as a wrestler (but since this is WWE-land, she keeps WWE lingo in check by constantly referring to 'wrestler' as 'superstar').

Mick's comedy career, his wife and other children also are up to no good in side stories in these episodes, but most of the five episodes were a bit of a chore to get through. I am kind of interested to see where they go with Noelle and how serious she gets about trying to make it in the WWE, but I do not care about Dewey's writing hopes at all, and the rest of the show is a moreorless a wash. Sorry Mick, I still love ya, and I will still give the remaining shows a chance when they air, but the first half did not win me over.

Talking Smack - This is the surprise hit of second half of 2016. It is the 20-30 minute post-Smackdown Live show. Renee Young and Daniel Bryan recap the show and bring on a couple guests each episode. What is readily apparent is that unlike the heavily scripted interview and super-long promos on RAW and Smackdown is that the wrestlers are not scripted and essentially wing it on their own while trying to stay in character. This resulted in quite a few big moments over the past several months, including an intense encounter between The Miz and Daniel Bryan that had a lot of people buzzing that things went off-kilter and got personal.

It is so refreshing to see the stars be themselves and have their own voice instead of having to remember (mostly) awful pre-written scripts for them on camera. Baron Corbin especially has broken out on Talking Smack and always has my attention whenever he is a guest. The same can be said for Becky Lynch and the Usos, while others have kind of flopped on the show and gave me the impression they would be better off with some coaching and more scripting, but for the most part this has been a surprisingly good post-show that sells the storylines and helps flesh out the characters for the Smackdown roster.

WWE Story Time - Now this is how the WWE should do an animated show! Forget the awfulness that was Camp WWE from earlier this year, and invest your entire animated budget into Story Time instead. This features current and former WWE stars telling old road stories and pranks, but with the tales getting a Family Guy-esque animated treatment and it surprisingly works! The animation is over-the-top in all the right spots and filled with little insider gags and references for those of us that spend way too much time reading up behind-the-scenes online and watching documentaries over the years. Best of all, each episode are quick and easy watches between 10 and 15 minutes long.

Ride Along - There have been three new episodes of this since the last blog, and even the least entertaining ones are still good fun because the premise of the show just works. Throw cameras in a car recording the conversations between wrestlers as they travel between towns and tell old war stories and get to know each other. The best of the three new episodes features The Club in one car and WWE's two most tenured talents, Chris Jericho & Mark Henry in another. Watch Henry crush an apple, you will not regret it! Poor Byron Saxton proves he is as obnoxious as he is on camera as he endures a ton of ribbing from JBL and Michael Cole, and the Dudley Boyz have some good tales from their paths in an episode featuring them before they retired.

Legends with JBL - JBL had a ton of new interviews for the second half of 2016. Each one touches on major moments and controversies throughout their careers. New interviewees since the last blog are a two part interview with Booker T, Sting, The Outsiders, Bruno Sammartino and Alundra Blayze. I would recommend listening to Sammartino's interview first since he has not done a whole lot of interviews for the Network so far, and the man still has an excellent memory and tells a lot of unbelievable tales throughout his entire life, including eluding capture from the Nazis and his many triumphs in the ring. Alundra Blayze/Madusa may be a bit of an eye opener to some too if all you knew her for was just trashing the old Women's Title on Nitro. She has had quite the storied career in Japan, AWA, WCW, WWE and yes, monster truck driver! Almost all these interviews have a ton of good anecdotes on there, and you probably heard a good chunk of them before, but I learned something new about each interviewee, but Blayze and Sammartino I learned the most out of, and hopefully you will too.

Unfiltered with Renee Young: Season 3- Renee took nearly five months off from Unfiltered shortly after I posted the last blog. Ms. Lunatic Fringe came back in November though with a new slate of episodes featuring Chris Jericho, Becky Lynch, Enzo & Cass and John Cena. Like Story Time these are nice, quick watches around 15-20 minutes long each. I am glad she stopped interviewing celebrities like in the first season as they just did not work that well, and even Renee admitted that some of them she regretted. Renee continues doing little sketches and mini-interviews with other WWE talent before the episode's featured guest arrives several minutes in. These are not like the career retrospective interviews with JBL, but more lifestyle focused on what has been happening with the star being interviewed lately and goes into interesting personal interests too. Definitely give Unfiltered a chance if you have not already.

Miscellaneous - WWE only had one new installment of WWE 24 in the second half of 2016. The episode featured a extensive build up to the Women's title match at Wrestlemania 32 this year. It also goes into what lead to the Diva's title being rebranded as the Women's title and how the infusion of Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks into the main roster in 2015 truly revitalized the division for the WWE. It is a well done look at how women's wrestling has evolved from throughout WWE's history, and WWE essentially apologizing for the 'Diva Search' era that took over the division from 2007-2014. If you missed my blog from earlier this month, old school ECW fans should check out OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History and the Authentic Untold Story of ECW that went online about a month ago. Check out the blog entry for my rundown on those two specials that are must-see, with the Untold Story catering towards ECW diehards more familiar with the product and OMG Vol 3 serving as a good primer for newer fans to get acquainted with 50 of the most standout moments in ECW history.

There were no new Steve Austin, Chris Jericho or Mick Foley WWE Network branded podcasts for the remainder of 2016. I think the Dean Ambrose podcast may have went up just a week or so after my last WWE Network blog where Dean was caught off guard and came off as extremely out of it and unlikeable and WWE Network has not done a podcast since. As a result, I am guessing they will leave their big 'hard hittting' interviews to JBL who does not do his interviews live like Stone Cold does so he can edit out anything undesirable if need be. There were only a couple new Table for Three episodes posted since this half of the year, and I would recommend checking out WWE veterans Mark Henry, Kane and Big Show gather around so they could share a ton of stories from their many years in and out of the ring.

Finally, there is an interesting 'State of the WWE Universe' special that can be found under the 'In-Ring' category in the WWE Network. It is Renee Young hosting a panel with both RAW & Smackdown general managers and commissioners shortly before the Survivor Series. They really tried to play up the whole 'RAW vs. Smackdown' angle going into that PPV, and the hosts had fun engaging in this kayfabe debate on why their brand is better. It is interesting to watch as it felt like they did not have scripts and were winging their answers, with Daniel Bryan standing out the most with many good answers, and unfortunately Mick Foley got me a little concerned as he went off on bizarre tangents that went nowhere relative to the topic on hand and other had to step in and steer him back on track.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
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
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW 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
RoH Supercard of Honor X
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
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016

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