Live show so no DVR tonight and thus no time for wordy intros — the last Raw of 2014 is go for launch.

Monday Night Raw
December 29, 2014
Verizon Center
Washington, DC

The maudlin opening to the show seems very worryingly appropriate given the tweet we saw earlier tonight.

Who the hell is this ring announcer? He’s not so good.

Jerry Lawler is still doing the ugly sweater thing. Guess he doesn’t know when to let the Christmas season go. Nice pop for Reigns but nothing earth shattering. Sadly the same for Ziggler.

Daniel Bryan on the other hand: I have avoided the ‘net for hours so that I can go into this with no ideas other than my own.

The fun has ended.

Has WWE previously acknowledged Christian as retired before? Does this mean no more hope for “one last match”? Good to see Brock and Heyman coming out to be jerks. When they beat the hell out of Jericho he was totally asking for it by being a dick to Heyman. This is just a mean jerk threatening some broken old dudes.

This crowd does not seem to be very pro-Cena. Even the dueling chants felt forced. It is funny to see Cena coming out to save Edge. One of my all time favorite promo moments was Edge just flat out saying “I hate you Cena.” No quips, no puns, no wacky photos, just pure bile and rage.

So Lesnar has had what, nine matches in his return? Four of them will have been against Cena and three have been against HHH. Great use of resources. Truly forward thinking there Vince.

Rusev vs. Ziggler: Never been so happy to hear Lillian Garcia in my whole life. I’m hoping all the hype about the Bryan announcement means something good. Usually bad news isn’t hyped up like this.

Rusev’s agility really is awesome to watch. He’s so physically unique in WWE for the last however long. He’s not a musclehead, but also not a traditional fat guy wrestler. He’s not some sort of freak like Lesnar, and if you saw him at an airport you would only notice him if Lana was standing with him. But put him in the ring and he is a force to be reckoned with. It really is fun to watch.

This match has been laid out very well. Rusev keeps working to keep Ziggler grounded, to use his weight on him. Ziggler’s offense is almost all based on reversing Rusev’s momentum and quick strikes. Rusev gets in trouble when he stops adhering to the plan and starts trying to play Ziggler’s game of rapid movement.

Ah yes, the cop out ending. Neither of these guys should eat a pin right now so I can’t be too mad at it. Hey, remember when John Cena was Ziggler’s best buddy? Way to help a friend in need John.

I really wish they would stop having Ziggler need to be saved. No one else in the face ranks ever needs to be bailed out nearly as often as Ziggler does. It feeds the impression that Ziggler cannot hang with the biggest guys, which is essentially making him not worthy of that upper level. You didn’t see Punk needing to be bailed out by his bigger, stronger friends. Winner: Dolph Ziggler by DQ

Al Snow sighting! Daniel Puder sighting! Remember when Meltzer wanted to have Puder vs. Angle as a main event feud?

Every person in this crowd should be…wait a minute, did Ryback just reference “The Secret”? This may take me a minute. I think we may have had a Stansky and Rosenberg sighting as well. This segment has more nostalgia than a Mid-Atlantic fan fest with a Magnum T.A. and Tully Blanchard joint autograph signing.

All kidding aside that was an excellent segment. I’m torn though on whether it would have been better to do it as a sitdown piece like the old Mankind/J.R. interview. It was a little odd to see how well edited it was, but I suppose Ryback might have some editing skills. It definitely was out of the norm and something different, and other than some idiots who have to say “What?” during any pause ever until the end of time Ryback did a great job keeping the crowd with him in a promo that could have very easily been turned on by a crowd who hasn’t been the best so far tonight.

Nikki Bella vs. Natalya: We go from someone showing the depths of their humanity to someone who might not actually be human.

I don’t understand how beating the current champion could put someone in contention for a title shot, but what the hell does it matter when the whole thing is just to create tension for the show on E? Winner: Nikki Bella

So this Naomi/Miz/Uso thing. An opposite way of viewing this angle was presented to me on Twitter. I have issues with it but I’m not able to ignore it either. But I’m going to hold off and see what happens tonight. I may still be proven right before the night is over.

The Usos vs. Miz & Mizdow: The Usos are wearing gear that says “Day1”. Their gear is blue. A first day is kind of like a New Day. The Usos have a dance. I’ve never been so sure of anything since I heard Yokozuna was going to join the Hart Foundation.

They can’t decide whether Miz is actually someone with Hollywood connections or someone to be laughed at for being delusional. Either this is an incredibly well constructed story or they’re just making shit up as they go along. I fear WWE has not exactly earned my trust on this matter as of late.

I take this Will Perdue discussion very seriously. I hope Rich will one day do a 12-part “Over & Back Podcast” series on the centers who played with Michael Jordan.

The gimmick of not tagging in Mizdow needs to go to its extreme. I want a 60 minute broadway that never has Mizdow tagging in. Give me JBL explaining why at the 57 minute mark it makes perfect sense for Miz not to make a tag.

Things picked up quite nicely there after the commercial break. Really nicely. That was a damn solid match, and possibly one of the handful of best matches I’ve seen Miz have.

Sometimes when watching WWE smart people will give this company more credit than they deserve for being able to tell a nuanced, multi-layered story full of twists and turns and character development. In the end, the fact there even was an ending to the story is an improvement over the usual fare served up. But if there’s anything I’ve learned watching this show week in and week out it is that in trying to figure out where a story is going you should assume the simplest explanation. Miz is a bad guy trying to cause trouble. He has no connections and he is the delusional jerk he always seems to be. Naomi and the Usos actually get to show something of a brainwave by playing off that to put Miz a little off his game.

12 hours later: Wow, should I have listened more closely to myself here. Would have prepared me for the end of the show. Winners: Usos

I’m now ready for Daniel Bryan to appear in the Royal Rumble. The announcers have just been WAY too maudlin and constant in pushing that this is Bryan’s night to retire.

Cesaro vs. Bad News Barrett: Another in-ring promo? At first I thought we were looking at another humanizing promo, with Cesaro touching on some real life stuff and showing some less than stellar math skills. Then it turned into rasslin’ talking. And then Wade f’n Barrett came out and the crowd is chanting BNB and I don’t know anything about anything anymore.

And now Cesaro “HEY”ed and my heart grew three sizes that day as I thought of wonderful nights at the Frontier Fieldhouse and driving Claudio Castagnoli nuts.

You know what? I liked DDP so I don’t mind Barrett paying homage to him tonight. Just as long as he doesn’t end up with taped ribs through 2017. Winner: Bad News Barrett

I’m enjoying how weird this night has been. I feel like Vince took the holidays off.

12 hours later: This is where the show fell off a cliff. The momentum the show had at this point had me really feeling positive. Stupid dumb me.

Luke Harper is not Bray Wyatt. I wish they would stop having him be the cut-rate Bray Wyatt. Hell, even the real Bray Wyatt is not exactly universally beloved these days. Let his gimmick be Crazy Crafting Guy or something.

Jack Swagger vs. Luke Harper: I’m going to need a ruling on whether Jack Swagger fights for the rights of every man before I can concur with him being called a Real American.

Air Harper! High Speed Swagger! That was the most natural looking movement Jack Swagger has ever displayed in a match. He looked almost fully evolved.

Outside of the dropkick and the clothesline this match has been like watching dry paint dry.

Swagger should only do running clotheslines. They’re the one thing he does that doesn’t look like someone taught a zoo animal a nifty new trick.

Way to get a guy over as a deranged monster to be feared by calling his finisher “Clothesline From Smell.” Some quality work there by the commentators. Winner: Luke Harper

Edge came in as a golden boy from the first time he appeared. John Cena’s first match was against Kurt Angle and he was endorsed by Undertaker that same night. These aren’t exactly Daniel Bryan and C.M. Punk beating the odds. Surprised they didn’t compare brass rings.

Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns: You sure sound like you care Show. You sure sound like you care hard. I’m hoping to one day be a Sportsmanship Medal Award Winner one day. I need more awards in my life.

Big Show is making way too much sense here. If Show was the same weight but 18 inches shorter he could be HHH’s vision of a “smark fan.”

I would not be at all sad if when he retired Show moved into the booth. He could totally pull off the Jesse Ventura role of being heel-leaning but not incapable of praising faces when they deserve it. He makes the match seem like a real sporting event instead of a choreographed dance. Not many people do that anymore on WWE TV.

Pretty sure we had a “Daniel Bryan” chant coming back from break. At least this time he’s in the building. This match feels like it is running at half-speed. I blame Swagger and Harper for leaving their slowness all over the ring.

Show is so convincing about what a swell guy Rollins is that I almost find myself believing him. It’s really the beauty of Show, everything he says has the genuineness that comes from being so self-aware as he is. Because he is always playing Big Show, the things Big Show says always have sincerity running through them.

And he was totally sincere in dumping that table on Reigns. He meant every last bit of it. Winner: Roman Reigns

12 hours later: I’m not sure if I give Big Show too much credit. Maybe. But I feel like his character understands an essential truth about WWE that I had to confront last night. Nothing matters. Be good, be bad, be funny, be nasty. Who cares? There’s an episode of the 80’s version of The Twilight Zone about a couple who finds themselves lost out of time, discovering every minute is an entirely new world that must be built up and then torn down once the minute passes. That is Raw. Each week is a new world, and the only certainties are John Cena and Evil Bosses. Watch this, it’s better than Raw.

I’ve decided Ambrose and Wyatt is now the best love story since Randy Savage and Elizabeth. If it gets any more intense you’ll have to go back to the little-known but deeply erotic romance between Georg Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch.

I have not been more interested in a WWE segment in a long time. I’m excited and nervous all at once.

Sorry for my lack of anything to say at this. Trying to add on to what I watched feels superfluous. Daniel Bryan is coming back. How the hell do you improve on that?

Why would you not close the show with that? After this the last thing I want to see is John Cena’s smug face. But that’s next segment. For now…that felt so damn good to watch.

12 hours later: Yeah, they couldn’t close the show with that. Not when HHH is here. Closing is for closers!

Ascension vs. Miz & Mizdow: So who were Conor and Viktor going to wrestle tonight if Mizdow hadn’t gone and made a stink to Edge and Christian. Were Stansky and Rosenberg stretching and getting ready to go when they got bumped?

Conor is 6’5” 290 only if using the same scales that Hulk Hogan used to measure Andre the Giant at 9 feet tall and 1,700 pounds at WM 3.

I hate to be a body guy, but neither of these guys is big enough to be that soft looking. I’m not going to say the gimmick is doomed from the start but they are really going to need some perfect booking and presentation to have a chance. Winners: Ascension

Edge and Christian seem kind of old and grumpy here. I mean, they invited the guy on the show and now they seem annoyed that he’s doing exactly what he always does.

I would pay honest cash money to have Slick make an appearance right now. He would be the perfect manager for The New Day (already not appearing on Raw I might point out).

Oh sure, the one time anyone actually wants John Cena to show up and he’s nowhere to be found.

I assume the Money in the Bank briefcase is made of Explodium, causing Christian to go kaboom into 1,000 pieces and be unable to do anything ever again.

Oh dear God they’re going to do it.

Five shows — they went five whole shows before going right back to the Reset button for the millionth time. And the reason is because a guy who spent most of the 2000’s doing every awful thing possible to John Cena was going to get stepped on, maybe, if Cena couldn’t get into the ring in time. Totally worth rendering the last four months utterly irrelevant. Fitting timing, since why not ring in the new year by making clear to everyone that nothing anyone does matters unless they’re John Cena or a member of the McMahon family?

Fuck this show. This is the most fucking pointless waste of time I could ever do with my Monday nights. Nothing means anything, the same story will just keep happening over and over again. Why the hell am I subjecting myself to this bullshit?

12 hours later: Every story ends up dying in the road or just ending up back at the start over and over again. It is as if Frodo and Sam get to Mount Doom, drop the ring in, but then hey what do you know Sauron had another secret ring all along and this happens for about 4,000 books and every time the reason Sauron isn’t dead gets more absurd. Oh, and then Aragorn comes flying in on an Eagle and fights Morgoth to win the Super Ultra Ring of Power because Frodo and Sam don’t stand out in an airport. Why the hell am I giving them the respect of trying to make sense out of their stories and give them any sort of depth that they haven’t earned when the whole thing is just one endless circle jerk between Vince, Steph, HHH, and Kevin Dunn? For a company that’s “telling stories” they are so bad at it that it becomes hard to fathom how they could be doing this on accident. Creating things this bad takes real thought and hard work. Even Mad Libs would create better stories through randomness than what we saw at the end of the show.

What’s that, you thought Dolph Ziggler was important for winning at Survivor Series? Fuck you, he should have just stayed injured the week before and not gotten involved. You thought Big Show was a traitor? Fuck you, he’s the smartest guy in the whole company not named HHH. You thought Sting appearing meant anything? Fuck you, they might as well have just used Bray Wyatt’s holo-lantern as a distraction at Survivor Series. You thought Seth Rollins would get a run as the lead heel in the company? Fuck you, he’s still just an errand boy carrying water for the really important people on the show. You care about Rusev, or Dean Ambrose, or Bray Wyatt? Fuck you, you need a reminder that none of these things are important. WWE can throw them away tomorrow without a second thought because John Cena is still here to fight someone evil who probably wears a suit. You actually gave a shit about any of this? Fuck you, give us your money and shut up.

It’s a shame that sometimes good things bloom in this field of shit. That sometimes Ryback does a promo that makes you rethink how you look at his character. That sometimes Daniel Bryan is so good at what he does it makes you feel alive like never before. It’s a shame that Rusev is doing such good work week in and week out. Because all of it is pointless due to their lack of being John Cena or a McMahon. They’re all the cruiserweights on Nitro. Just there to fill time and keep the crowd in the room until the adults come to talk.

The final scene of the show put it in perfect perspective. There at the front of the scene were Stephanie and HHH. Off to their side was Seth Rollins, hanging out with the other lackeys, looking like Milhouse when his parents get back together. And way off in the corner are Paul Heyman and the WWE champion Brock Lesnar. A violent force of nature who apparently is more than content to just hang out and watch the McMahons in their moment of triumph. Because the title is meaningless, unless John Cena has it in which case it can be part of a story of him vs. Evil Bosses.

If I’m going to keep watching it I’m going to have to come to terms with what WWE is. They’re entertainment for toddlers and those with long-term memory loss. They’re the Little Plastic Castle. Watching them with a critical eye or with any interest in understanding the characters or stories is a waste of time. Their world is self-contained in the week they’re in. The world can change forever and six weeks later be right back where it was.  Really since the moment Vince McMahon pulled off his hood and revealed himself as the Higher Power they’ve been running their stories in the same loop over and over. The only difference is that Steve Austin, the most charismatic and top-drawing wrestler ever has been replaced for the last decade or so by John Cena, whose time on top has been death by a thousand papercuts. They have become the Eloi, happy to decline in faded grandeur until consumed forever by the Entropic Morlocks.

So here we are. The year which started with seemingly boundless promise has ended with nothing on the horizon. The same stories from the end of 2013 are being told at the end of 2014. Most likely they will be told at the end of 2015, and so on until John Cena can no longer wrestle.

Sorry to send out the year on such a down note. I’ll suck it up and be here next week. But I’m not going to like it. Happy new year to all except the McMahons and John Cena. Fuck them.