With Ashley Burns out this week, I’m pinch-hitting. Before I begin, I should point out a couple of quick facts. First, I’m an avid viewer of WWE’s primary programming, meaning Raw, Smackdown, and various PPV events. I understand (and adore) the conceit of professional wrestling, and I also know who all of the people on this program are.
Having said that, I have never watched Total Divas. In fact, I don’t watch reality television.
I don’t think that will hurt this recap in the least. If anything, dear reader, we’ll navigate these shallow waters together as I try to wrap my mind around the idea of a reality(!!!) show based on the lives of professional wrestlers.
Let’s dive in.
Cold Open: On The Value of Bronzer
Our show begins with Eva Marie and JoJo discussing the benefits of bronzer and applying same to one another. The
ladies divas make their way to the workout room, and we get some more theoretical cheap thrills watching them “plank” and perform basic wrestling holds together. So, any of you Keeping Up with the Kardashians viewers who were thinking about changing the channel—think again.
The girls run into former All-ACC defensive lineman Joe Anoa’i, who looks a lot like the Shield’s Roman Reigns. An on-screen graphic helpfully points out that the two are, in fact, one in the same. That makes sense.
The divas apologize for interrupting Joe’s workout, but, in a stunning twist, their pleas don’t stop Reigns from brutally spearing both of them. Ok, that didn’t happen. He actually gives them a pass for the interruption, possibly because the two women are basically in their underwear and there happens to be a camera crew a few feet away.
“That’s why we wear bronzer,” observes Eva Marie, perhaps realizing that the only thing standing between her and the relentless pursuit of the Hounds of Justice is a lovely complexion.
Act One: Momma’s Boy
After the opening credits, we’re whisked away to Natalya (Nattie Neidhart) and Tyson Kidd (real name: TJ, evidently) frolicking in their pool. Suddenly, the phone rings, and it’s TJ’s mother, Cheryl. TJ doesn’t want to come to the phone because he’s a bad son. He submerges himself in the pool to avoid speaking to his mother, but that plan has a fairly obvious flaw.
Nattie explains that this is her birthday week, and, therefore, she doesn’t want to have it ruined by spending time with the “mother-in-law from hell” in Cheryl’s one-bedroom apartment. Things take a turn for the weird when Nattie says that, until the couple is married, Cheryl requires that Nattie share a bed with her, since sleeping with TJ is out of the question.
Meanwhile, in New York, the Funkadactyls reveal that Ariane is the Felix Unger to Trinity’s Oscar Madison. Hilarity comes close to ensuing. Ariane wants to spend her day off shopping, while Trinity wants to relax in a robe at her hotel. I’m unclear as to why Ariane would give a shit.
(The answer, of course, is that she doesn’t. Shhhhhhh!)
Also, I love the premise that Ariane is rousting a groggy Trinity from her off-day slumber, yet there’s already a camera crew on the inside of the hotel room when Ariane arrives. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, thus far, Total Divas is the least-realistic WWE show on television.
Now in Calgary, the Bellas prepare to shoot a backstage vignette with the Funkadactyls. I like that Brie doesn’t know the writer’s name. Take that, nerd!
A bunch of additional credits start rolling for some reason. That was a little odd.
Now I’m super-confused. Nikki is talking about her strained relationship with her father (***Dramatic conflict alert***), but she’s discussing it in a way that doesn’t acknowledge that she and TWIN SISTER Brie have the same dad.
After Nattie reminds us that it’s her birthday, we get a clip from Raw that spotlights the time-
honoredhonoured WWE tradition of having wrestlers lose in their hometowns, which Nattie dutifully does here.
Nattie has now mentioned four times that it is her birthday.
TJ turns out to be kind of a dick, as he checks into a hotel with Nattie, only to leave immediately when his mother calls and asks him to come stay with her. I fairly confident that this is 100% made-up reality-show stuff. Otherwise, uh, good luck with that, Nattie. Oof.
TJ’s takedown of Nattie on their hotel room bed is the only wrestling I’ve seen him do in 2013.
Act Two: Chinese is Chinese
The Funkadactyls and their boyfriends (one of whom is an Uso) attend some kind of store opening in Los Angeles. Disappointingly, this doesn’t involve a giant, novelty pair of scissors. Trinity explains she’s all about the craft of wrestling. Ariane chastises her repeatedly for not “working it.”
Now we’re back at John Cena’s Tampa home, where Nikki notices a picture of the Yalta Conference and … sigh … identifies Josef Stalin as “Churchill,” then identifies Churchill as “our president … President …” before Cena mercifully interrupts. STOP TROLLING ME, NIKKI.
All right, so, I think the purpose of this segment is to make us believe that John Cena is smart. We’ve already been dazzled by his knowledge of history, and now we discover that he knows at least a few words of Chinese. You’re not going to believe this, but Nikki doesn’t pick it up immediately!
“Chinese? It’s literally, like … Chinese,” observes Nikki.
John then transitions into therapist mode, advising Nikki that she should make peace with her father. Is there anything this man can’t do? I say no!
Back to Nattie, who is having lunch with Cheryl, TJ (subtly wearing a “WWE ’13” hoodie in public—“I WOULD BE HAPPY TO SIGN THAT FOR YOU!”), and TJ’s sister, Valerie. Nattie says this is shaping up to be “the birthday from hell.” First off, I’m glad she clarified that it’s her birthday, because I was having trouble following that point. Secondly, if you’re spending your birthday with someone previously confirmed as the mother-in-law from hell, it only stands to reason that your birthday would also emanate from those same fiery bowels.
There’s a lot of awkward-ish talk about rushing marriage and pre-marital counseling, most of which is contradictory and seems like a list of stock lines fed by some producer to Cheryl and Valerie.
Brie and Nikki are working out, and they agree that, if Nikki is going to bury the hatchet with daddy, that Brie should be there, too. An estranged father with a history of addiction issues is no match for TWIN MAGIC!
Next, Trinity and Ariane brainstorm on a new pre-match dance routine. Ariane looks a little intimidated by Trinity’s (honestly very impressive) athleticism and flexibility. Ariane flips the proverbial script by making the conflict about Trinity’s failure to “work it” for the camera.
I’m sure this tension won’t go anywhere, and this will probably be the last we hear of it in this episode.
Act Three: It’s Already Took There
After a quick family dinner scene with the Bellas, their brother, and their grandmother (in which Brie explains that Daniel Bryan apparently has some kind of toilet that uses his feces to grow vegetables—not sure, but that’s what I pieced together), we’re back with Nattie.
Nattie pulls into a parking lot and GOOD LORD, WE KNOW IT’S YOUR F*CKING BIRTHDAY! I didn’t talk about my birthday this much when I was eight.
Anyway, Nattie goes to a tanning salon owned by her friend Jaret, who may have purchased the salon using winnings from a Chuck Liddell look-a-like contest. I guess we’re supposed to think that Nattie agreeing to go to dinner with her friend is “cheating?” Is that the point of this? Let’s say yes and move on.
Heartstring-tugging piano music plays while the Bellas and Brother Bella visit their grandfather’s grave and speculate on how he would feel about the Bellas’ wrestling career if he were still alive. Overwhelming consensus: He would want to know why one of them would get breast implants and one of them would get pelvic tattoos. It’s a twin gimmick! Go watch The Prestige! THAT’S commitment!
Or, maybe they said he would be proud of them. I don’t know. I sort of checked out for a minute. That was probably it.
Back in Calgary, Nattie receives a phone call from TJ Here’s a transcript:
TJ: “Hey, I’m down in the lobby.”
NATTIE: “No ‘Happy Birthday?!?'”
Wow. I’m really not sure whom to root for at this point. Stop confusing me, reality TV producers! Which is it—is TJ a weirdo obsessed with his family, or is Nattie high-maintenance? Pick one!
TJ naturally reveals that the itinerary includes spending the day at his sister’s, much to Nattie’s chagrin. Cue sad piano bed. Tyson Kidd isn’t a good enough actor to make me think this isn’t all bullshit, but, in any event, Nattie is displeased with this turn of events, vowing to return to her room and watch . . . Nancy Grace (GAUNTLET: THROWN DOWN).
Next up, the Funkadactyls and JoJo and Eva Marie are cart racing for some reason. Ariane takes first place, but doesn’t feel that Trinity’s words of congratulations were heartfelt enough(!). Seriously, that’s the phony straw that breaks the fake camel’s back.
The Funkadactyls eventually start arguing about their respective sports-entertainment skill sets, which precipitates a heated argument (during which Trinity says “bullshit” without being bleeped, which I didn’t know you could do on a TV-PG show), inevitably leading to a shoving match. And . . . scene.
Acts Four & Five: Will Someone Please Eat That Chicken?
Nattie elects to go to dinner with Jaret since TJ “decided to blow her off,” which isn’t how I remembered it from ten minutes ago, but whatever. Nattie dishes on TJ to Jaret, who plays the supportive shoulder to cry on, then pivoting to say that he and Nattie have a great connection, going on to suggest that Nattie shouldn’t marry TJ.
This is terrible.
Back in Bellaworld, the anticipated meeting between the Bellas (including brother JJ) and their father takes place. Dad shows up in a sweet fedora, which is always a great sign that a middle-aged guy has gotten his shit together after years of dysfunction.
Nikki hashes things out with her father while a perfectly good roasted chicken sits on the table, uneaten. The dad apologizes, blah, blah, blah. Nikki says she feels better now. Great. The fact that I was distracted by onscreen food during conflict-resolution time probably isn’t a plus.
We cut to backstage at Raw, where the divas are getting the rundown for the night. When a tag match involving the Funkadactyls is discussed, Trinity says she “just doesn’t want to work tonight,” which is totally plausible and, if anything I’ve ever read about the wrestling business is true, is probably a smart career move.
After some bad acting from a couple of suits, the Funkadactyls schedule a sit-down with Stephanie McMahon. Nattie informs Ariane that this is bad news.
Acts Six & Seven: Unprofessionalismamism
Ariane tells her side of the story, referring to “the Go-Kart thing” in an entirely serious tone. Stephanie suddenly becomes very interested when the shoving aspect comes up. Steph informs them that physical contact has no place in the world of professional wrestling!
After scolding them for their “unprofessionalism” (not a real word), Steph lets them know that they’ll be wrestling singles now, which was in no way the plan all along. Ariane seems excited about this opportunity to “work,” while I learn that the WWE Seamstress’ name is Sandra.
As Raw goes on the air, Nikki and Brie watch “Team Boo Boo” backstage. Nikki confides that watching a half-naked John Cena wrestle is a huge turn-on (That makes all of us, am I right, America?!?). She adds that she wants to “bite his butt(?).”
Naomi (Trinity) works a Main Event match with Alicia Fox that starts out strong, but, as things progress, Nattie rats her out to exec Jane Geddes backstage as “looking winded.” We go to break as Trinity blows a spot—although not as badly as the exaggerated reactions would have you believe.
After Trinity finishes losing to Alicia, it’s Cameron’s (Ariane’s) turn. She wrestles Aksana, and the match is edited down to about ten seconds, most of which consists of shaky bumps and botches. Trinity seems genuinely concerned. The fact that the match got chopped up so much for the purposes of Total Divas suggests that it wasn’t pretty.
The girls talk after their matches, deciding that they like tagging together after all, believing they’re stronger together than apart. They tearfully reconcile. So, we wind up back where we started, but with each of us much the wiser for the journey.
On The Next Total Divas: A bunch of people get drunk. Nattie enjoys her bachelorette party, but can’t stop thinking about that tanning salon owner. JoJo makes out with Justin Gabriel. Eva Marie finds this troubling. Also bikinis!!!