“Total Bellas” premiered Wednesday night on the E! Network. It’s a show you should basically only watch if you love all the best parts of “Total Divas” except for Titus O’Neil, who is somehow inexplicably absent.
Well, not totally inexplicably.
See, most of the action of “Total Bellas” takes place away from the WWE arena, for good reason: Three of the four primary characters — Nikki Bella, John Cena and Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson — are out of the ring with injuries that range from temporarily sidelining to tragically career-ending. What’s a wrestling promotion with a valuable unscripted entertainment property to do?
Spin off, of course!
Here’s how it goes down: Jacked up on anesthesia post-neck surgery, Nikki asks sister Brie and brother-in-law Bryan to come out to Florida with their dog Josie and take care of her, which they do, bringing along the Bellas’ brother JJ. Rounding out the cast are Mama Kathy Bella (or Colace, but whatever) and, of all people, John Laurinaitis, who has until now avoided making even a fleeting appearance on “Total Divas” but is going to have a hard time keeping out of the franchise now that he’s Mr. Mama Bella (although in TV timeline, they’re still just engaged at this point).
Here’s the first and most important thing we learn in the series premiere: John Cena — a man who has managed to become a millionaire whilst showing up to work every day in jorts, a man who sweats for a living and fancies himself a “rappist”, a man who built his fortune on neon sweatbands and allowed his face to appear on a T-shirt design modeled on the Pabst Blue Ribbon can — secretly wants to live at Downton Abbey.
This isn’t implied, by the way. It’s set out explicitly the first night the Bella clan descends on Cena Manor, at a formal dinner during which Sir John reads out by royal decree the rules of life under his roof, including:
- Beds must be made every day.
- The family will have coffee together each morning.
- Shoes must never be worn inside the house, except when there is a formal dinner, in which case shoes are “encouraged” (read: required) but must be clean.
- Text John if you’re going to be out late so he doesn’t accidentally shoot you when you try to get back into the house.
- After dinner, ladies retire to the drawing room for aperitifs and men gather in the cigar room.
- If you get close enough to an alligator to have a problem with it, “you get what you f–king deserve.”
It’s like he watched just enough “Downton Abbey” to not figure out that uptight Lord Grantham isn’t the show’s dashing romantic hero.
He also legitimately gets up to get a spray bottle of Wine-Out to remove the drop of Opus One Nikki accidentally splashes on the tablecloth.
“You gotta get it on immediately,” he insists when Nikki suggests he wait until later. (As a reminder, Nikki had to sign a contract when she moved in with him, a Great Moment in “Total Divas” History.)
Free-spirited Brie and Bryan, naturally, chafe under the draconian edicts set forth by their Floridian overlord, and things get extra tense when Josie, their French bulldog, nips John on the thigh. John, a man who gets punched in the face for a living, wants to call animal control to take away the world’s smallest dog, while Bryan wants to talk about the dog’s feelings, which more or less sums up the Oscar and Felixness of their brotherly relationship. Later, when Nikki catches Bryan and the other Bellas trying to build a dog run without John’s permission, she tattles, at which point John expresses his disappointment that anyone thought he was being intimidating or overbearing during his stern lecture on how to properly close and latch the back door (seriously, I wish I were exaggerating except that I don’t because it’s so perfect).
Anyway, Brie and Bryan think about leaving, and then everything comes to a head at Downton Abbey formal dinner, and John tries to clear up the “weird dark cloud” over him: “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is John and I’m very difficult to live with.”
In other words, the perfect slow-burning heel for this storyline.
Other things that happen in this premiere episode:
- We relive Bryan’s heartbreaking farewell to the WWE Universe, cut together with footage of Brie and the locker room watching from backstage.
- We witness John trying to help Bryan feel better about his future in wrestling and Bryan explaining that he’s feeling stuck because “The part I hate about wrestling is the part where you don’t wrestle.” (Which he must have come to terms with, since that’s the part he’s doing now IRL.)
- Mama Bella grossly refers to Johnny Ace as “a very special man in my life” and we see now-awkward footage of the Bella Twins pawing at him in old promos. We learn that JJ, a grown-up adult man, needs future stepdad John Laurinaitis to tie his necktie for him.
Also, while teetotaling Bryan is off at ComicCon, the rest of the family goes out to get drunk on expensive wine (a gathering to which John Cena WEARS A PURPLE SUIT I KID YOU NOT) and swap horribly awkward stories about their sex lives.
Did you not want to know that Bryan is a tender lover who is incapable of initiating a “quickie” while John Cena is a pro at getting down with a lady who has a broken neck?
Did you really not want to know that?
Oops. My bad.
“Total Bellas” airs Wednesdays on the E! Network.
TL;DR? I made you a video recap: