The term “jumped the shark” gets thrown around a lot in television. Shows like Lost, Heroes, and Dexter are often mentioned as hit shows with a creative premise or story that over time lost their edge or uniqueness, and in turn, popularity from falling into common tropes.
There are some examples of this in pro wrestling as well. World Championship Wrestling (WCW) comes to mind with their hot nWo angle and exciting cruiserweight division giving way to the infamous Finger Poke of Doom or David Arquette becoming a world champion (among a litany of other things).
Another example I can think of is TNA. I first remember being drawn to it for their six-sided ring and the innovation of the X Division, as well as the International stars that would be featured on the promotion. Once they started relying on WWE and WCW castaways and moved away from the six-sided ring, it was just another promotion to me that wasn’t delivering the quality in ring or story wise that I look for.
Lucha Underground really caught my eye in the same way TNA did in the mid-2000s since it was so different from everything going on at the time.
LU hit the scene with tremendous in-ring quality, innovative and unique storytelling, and a theatrical aspect to it that set it apart from anything else on television. In many ways, it still has most of those qualities. Though I am starting to get a little worried it may be headed for a similar fate.
Season four of LU started off the high of a great Ultima Lucha Tres that saw Rey Mysterio Jr. work in the promotion, an INSANE Hell of War match between Dante Fox and Killshot, and the valiant Prince Puma defend the Lucha Underground Championship against Johnny Mundo, only to be defeated and banished from the Temple by Pentagon Dark.
This would also be the last time we would see Dario Cueto (RIP) and the Temple itself. As has been the case with every season of LU, we were left with closure, but enough questions to explore in case another season would be added to the show’s run.
Season four came in with possibly the most buzz of any before it due to a bigger budget and promotion. However, there have been a ton of changes to the brand. The first is the “new” temple. Admittedly, it has grown on me a tad from the start of the season, but it doesn’t have the gritty, grimy feel of the original temple. The old temple looked dirty and decrepit and straight out of a horror movie, as opposed to now looking more a horror movie set. That aesthetic may be gone entirely now due to the show’s budget increasing. The production value is much cleaner than before, and many may see that as a positive. In my eyes, part of the uniqueness of LU was the almost grindhouse style of the show.
That said, the grindhouse style of stories the show is telling has remained. Where we once had locker room scenes of ninja fights, peyote-induced flashbacks, and torture aplenty, we now have talking murderous dolls in the vein of Annabelle, human Lizards, white rabbits, and death almost every episode. Sure, death/sacrifice to the gods is a fun way to write people off, but the sheer volume of it happening every week has been a tad much.
Speaking of sacrifice to the gods, The Monster Matanza Cueto is still running amok on the show with his newfound strength and freedom. Though now he is with a new Cueto, his father Antonio. Antonio is a strong character on the show with a little more edge and down to business philosophy, but I can’t help but miss the more charismatic, dramatic, and charming Dario (RIP).
Along with Dario (RIP), Lucha Underground has also lost many very important players from the last few seasons. Obviously, Prince Puma is now tearing it up in NXT as his alter-ego. Sexy Star is also a missed fighter in the new temple. Say what you will about her atrocious behavior in AAA, but she was a focal point on the show and a former Lucha Underground World champion. She also spearheaded a strong list of female characters that were presented as true equals to the men on the show, something that I feel has been lacking this season (this week’s Marty the Moth vs. Mariposa match gives me hope). Others like the aforementioned Mysterio Jr., Angelico, Dr. Wagner, and Texano are all absent. Outside of Mysterio Jr. they may not have been considered major players, but added depth to some of the singles and trios programs, which to me have been lacking.
There are also some things that go outside of LU’s control. With more wrestlers being gobbled up by NXT and signing exclusive contracts elsewhere, it is understandable that the depth of the roster gets hurt. That also makes new surprise fighters (hi Jake Strong) feel less special. The taping schedule of the show has also made it impossible to capitalize on a career year from someone like Jeremiah Crane (Snake…ugh)/Sami Callahan. Thinking of how he could have been used in stories on a show like this given where his overall character has gone on the independent scene this year compared to how he is used now is disappointing.
The highs of the show are still incredibly high and innovative, albeit less frequently than previous seasons. Pentagon Dark’s title reign was tremendous. He is one of the most charismatic and entertaining performers on the planet, but in LU, he’s Steve Austin. He was booked as such during this reign as the tough, badass babyface ace we’ve always wanted him to be since season one. His Last Man or Machine Standing match with Cage is the in-ring standout of this season. The way his reign came to an end was a nice bit of storyline continuity but may leave some scratching their head.
Fenix has also been a revelation this season. He has always been an incredible must-see performer wherever he is, and in LU he just always seems to be at home, but this season his character work is exceptional. Having his life force being taken from him by Catrina, but then being brought back to life by Aerostar after an awesomely bad/hilarious/brilliant opening cut scene between Catrina and Melissa Santos has brought a significant change in his character, style, and demeanor. The aptly titled episode “Pet Semetary” is all the clue you need to figure this story out. He’s so good I almost hope he starts to adopt the style a little more into his character in other promotions.
I’ve also been a huge fan of the intentionally (I think) bad acting/comedy from Johnny Mundo’s World Wide Underground this season. It’s lead to some of this season’s most absurd moments, both good and bad. We even had another entry into the failed wrestling weddings library! But the charm of Mundo, Black, and Evans is enough to get even the most hardened wrestling fan to smirk.
It’s also Ultima Lucha season, and some pretty strong matches are already booked for the event. In typical LU style, there will almost certainly be some more tweaks, twists, and turns, but the event always delivers the goods in the ring. The overarching mentioning of “the end of everything” from Aerostar also makes this year’s event very intriguing from a story standpoint.
There’s still a lot to love about Lucha Underground. It is still unlike any other wrestling show on television. I’m optimistic the remainder of season four will deliver and would recommend those who have maybe gotten lost in the glut of incredible wrestling to give the roughly 45-minute episodes a look.
The end of everything may come sooner than you think.