Previously on the Ins and Outs of AEW Dynamite: We weren’t under quarantine and wrestling shows had fans in the stands. Remember that?
If you’d like to keep up with this column and its thinly veiled Best and Worst format, you can keep tabs on the Ins and Outs of AEW Dynamite tag page. I’m also recapping Dark, which you can keep up with here, and you can keep track of all things All Elite here.
And now, the Ins and Outs of All Elite Wrestling Dynamite for March 18, 2020.
If The Dynamite Goes Boom And No One’s There To Hear It, Does It Make A Sound?
What do you write here?
I thought about writing something melodramatic dissecting the differences between All Elite Wrestling’s empty arena Dynamite and WWE’s empty Raw and empty Smackdown, but I don’t think it needs that. The difference is simple. WWE feels like they’re lost. They’re so consumed by habit and routine that they’re just plowing through, trying to put on the same shows they would for a live crowd for a sea of empty, brightly lit chairs. Same backstage segments, same interviews, same crowd hype during tag matches, same everything. It feels sterile and weird. Dynamite, on the other hand — while certainly not perfect, and not as good as it could’ve been with a building full of people losing their minds at Brodie Lee and Matt Hardy — felt like an escape. For two hours it felt a little bit less like we’re never going to have this back again. It didn’t feel scared. It didn’t feel lost. It felt cautious, sure, and COVID-19 suddenly overtaking and shutting down nearly every avenue of popular culture erases a lot of the little things we’ve been taking for granted, but for the first time in too many days, it kinda felt like this shit was only temporary. Like the people who do what they do to entertain us aren’t gone, they’re just on hold.
I guess that’s still pretty melodramatic. It’s just professional wrestling, after all. On the list of important things going on in the world right now, pro wrestling having to call some awkward audibles is near the bottom of the list. But pro wrestling is important as hell to me, and presumably to you too since you’re reading about quarantine shows on a wrestling blog, and we need SOMETHING we love to still be itself and still come with the same optimism and energy. Unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to get that from a guy who hates sneezes micromanaging a global pandemic while Rob Gronkowski announces a new attendance record for an empty Performance Center.
Cody’s show-opening promo is important but a little tonally jarring at times with the jumps between real life and fiction, and the pre-pyro stuff between Kenny Omega and Matt Jackson felt a little like friends catching up at a wake, but it’s hard to get anything exactly right right now. At least they’re talking about it, and trying to apply the consequences of what’s going on outside of their world to what’s happening in it. In the end, it felt like we were watching three guys we know really well accepting the strange reality of the situation in real-time and dealing with it in their own way. I like the content and intent, but I’m also not sure I’m emotionally or mentally stable enough right now to process all of it.
Also Hangman was there in a Dixie Chicks shirt, because he’s amazing.
So let’s also take deep breaths, shoot off the figurative pyro, and get into Dynamite.
All In: Bros Versus Bros
I think Best Friends versus Lucha Brothers was a great way to start off the show. It’s two borderline cartoonish luchadors having a competitive tag match with two guys who love to hug but must socially distance, while a guy who never speaks sits in on color commentary. It’s a nice way of saying, and I mean this as a compliment, “we’re back on our bullshit and hope you like it.”
The setup for the show made some major improvements on WWE’s model. Firstly, they blacked out the stands so you didn’t have to constantly notice how empty all the chairs are. Secondly, they made the smart decision of positioning the hard cam opposite the video screen and spending most of the matches filming in that direction, keeping the admittedly very disheartening empty arena as a thing you mostly only see in the background in passing. Corner shots and low angles and such. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, they had other wrestlers from the company sitting in the crowd, loosely divided up in heel and face groups, to react to the matches and give the show some energy and life. Even a few people cheering is better than dead fucking silence and pretending fans are in the stands when they aren’t. Putting characters who aren’t wrestling on the show in the crowd also sets up a lot of chances for character moments like MJF betting on the matches with Shawn Spears, or Jake Roberts and Lance Archer maintaining their shadowy watch from last week, and so on. I think what I was trying to say in that opening section is that it feels like AEW looked at the concept of an empty building and said, “okay, how do we make this work,” instead of just doing what they always do and pretending it still works.
After Los Hermanos del Lucha Libre win the match, Chuck Taylor — who appeared on both AEW Dynamite and NXT (in archived PC workout footage) this week, cementing him as the modern day Rick Rude — challenges them to a literal street fight in the street on next week’s Dynamite. Trent quickly changes it to a challenge in a parking lot, so nobody gets hit by cars. The best news? There’s another Dynamite next week.
Also Wrestling This Week, Bless Them
Hikaru Shida wins a fatal four-way against former Women’s Champion Riho, current alien Kris Statlander, and recent AEW Dark Superstar Penelope Ford. It validates Shida’s number two ranking in the women’s top five — check them out actually paying attention to this and having enough matches under their belts to have the stats make some kind of sense — and pivots to a Colt Cabana and Kip Sabian beef during the post-match. Having wrestlers at ringside not only livens things up, but allows you to play with character beats and interactions in ways you’d normally have to write a bunch of complicated side-stories to get to. Sabian overhears Cabana shit-talking him because he’s at ringside and so is Cabana, because of the insane and unique situation. Use this shit to your advantage from a storytelling perspective at least, everyone! It’s not that hard if you haven’t spend 20 years convincing yourself you’re exactly one thing and can’t change it without years of people begging you to.
The Butcher and The Blade and Not The Bunny lose a tag team match to Luchasaurus and Jungle Boy after MJF slips some money to the heels and then gets too proactive trying to coach them to victory. I’m guessing The Bunn isn’t there because someone had to run the takeout business at their mysterious butcher shop. Marko Stunt’s not there because his parents won’t let him out of home school and he’s never once washed his hands.
After the match, the Dark Order shows up to make good on their promise to reveal the Exalted One, and red herring Christopher Daniels interrupts them. That sets up the following video and the All Elite Wrestling debut of the homie Luke Harper, now once again Brodie Lee, finally running the hapless jobber cult Bray Wyatt trained him for so many years ago.
I agree with the fact that AEW should continue focusing on their original talent instead of signing and immediately pushing every single former WWE guy they can grab instead, but the two they added on this episode are good pick-ups. Brodie Lee’s right behind Cesaro on the list of the most underrated and underutilized wrestlers in the world, and as for the other guy … well, let’s get to that.
The night’s main event is a six-man tag team match between the Inner Circle and the Elite for the advantage in the Blood and Guts match, whenever and wherever that happens. Blood and Guts is War Games, and as you know if you’ve ever watched any War Games ever, the heels get the advantage. It’s crucial to how the entire match works, as you’ve got to build sympathy for the folks you want people to cheer, and you can’t do that if they’re ostensibly on top in a handicap match for 75% of it. It’s predictable but necessary, and Chris Jericho is a true highlight on color commentary. He manages to put everyone over and ruthlessly insult them at the same time, and it never once sounds insincere.
Jericho: "Arn Anderson with his Waffle House menu"
— Brandon Stroud (@MrBrandonStroud) March 19, 2020
MJF is at ringside heckling Cody, so Cody tosses Ortiz into him. That causes Wardlow to choke Cody, and Arn Anderson to swat at Wardlow with his aforementioned Waffle House menu. Kenny Omega’s just standing there making surprised Michelle Tanner faces the entire time instead of helping out, but that’s neither here nor there. Hangman and Matt Jackson decide to try an Indy Taker, but Page gets yanked off the apron by The Savage Jake Strong and Santana rolls up Jackson for the win. Afterward, Jericho and the Inner Circle spend several minutes gloating and rambling about how they’re going to easily win Blood and Guts, as they’re a unified force and the Elite are already down a man after Nick Jackson’s unfortunate garage door murder, Scream style.
And then, as if the show wasn’t already weird enough, they’re interrupted by a drone. By a drone we know, because pro wrestling is bizarre enough that we’re familiar with specific kinds of drones and their personalities.
Brother, if you need someone to figure out how to write years of compelling wrestling television with no fans on a shoestring budget and only a small cast of characters, there’s nobody better in the history of the wrestling business than Matt fucking Hardy. That guy rejuvenated multiple careers by filming a warped backyard wrestling universe where the major stars included a baby, a dilapidated boat, and his wife’s dad. Dude is EQUIPPED to promote post-modern wrestling in quarantine.
All In: Sammy Guevara Singing ‘Judas’
— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) March 19, 2020
“Wresting is better than the things you like.”
All The Way The Hell In: Lance Archer, Traveling Carnie Strongman
The best moment of the entire night, somehow, belongs to a Lance Archer video package. In it, Lance, Jake the Snake, and the little person I really hope is the same guy from the old Spin the Wheel Make the Deal videos visit a backwoods locale, set up a wrestling ring with EVERYBODY DIES written in the center, and have Lance beat up the entire community. This is the stuff dreams are made of, man. It’s the most Lucha Underground thing they’ve ever done, and I swear, the first big league wrestling organization to take LU’s understanding of kayfabe and dramatic vignettes and consistently apply them to prime-time cable and network television will be the best promotion in the country. Impact kind of does it, but their backstage stuff is just shaky cam and excuses to say curse words they have to bleep out. Give me WANDERING CARNIES CHOKESLAMMING LOCAL MAN ONTO THE HOOD OF A CAR IN THE WOODS with DRAMATIC OVERHEAD SHOTS or give me death. Absolutely incredible, top-shelf stuff.
Also On This Episode
I believe the only other thing I need to mention is that Jon Moxley wasn’t “medically cleared” to enter the empty arena. His response: “When have I ever been medically cleared in my entire career?” It’s a nice little way to get him on the show without him actually having to be on the show, and a chance to bring back his MOXMOBILE Ford GT. Wrestling shows with good continuity are like cocaine for me at this point.
All In: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
“Hangman Page” is the character WWE thinks they’re writing for Becky Lynch but they’re failing miserably.
Hunter: “So last night Brodie Lee said you were an out of touch old man that didn’t believe in him.”
Vince: “That’s it! Get the North American Championship off him immediately!”
Hunter: “Sure. Fine. Life’s great.”
I thought Jim Ross at his age was taking a big risk coming to work with the Covid 19 outbreak, than I remembered Luchasaurus is prehistoric.
I LOVE THIS FORMAT. Hard cam pointing at the entrance ramp to take focus away from the empty seats, darker lighting and THE REST OF THE TALENT AS AN AUDIENCE. This is INFINITELY more enjoyable than Raw and Smackdown were. I even commented that WWE should have done similar adjustments, glad to see AEW have a good eye for how to get things done.
Also, ACTUAL NEW CONTENT, not effin’ reruns! Why should I care about WWE’s shows if they’re not putting in the work?
Waiting for MJF to start the CM Punk chants
Honestly, the AEW “crowd” with 15 wrestlers in it is making more noise than the average RAW or Smackdown live crowd.
MJFler: Hey I think I can see the damage to Cody’s head area from here
Spearsdorf: Oh you mean from my chairshot?
MJFler: No, I mean the tattoo!
Baron Von Raschke
Jericho: I am banning fans from all AEW events until I say so.
Baron Von Raschke: How can I boo that man?
The real Death Triangle:
All In: The Chyrons, Working Overtime
Give whoever writes these things an Emmy.
Before we wrap up, I want to take a moment here at the end to say thank you to AEW for this show. I know all of this feels impossible, but it felt good to stop catastrophizing and love wrestling again for a couple of hours.
That does it for this week’s column. Happy we still get to do these. Thanks for reading about Dynamite! If you’re able to leave us a comment below, give the column a share on social media, and make sure you’re back here next week. Your support means like, ten times more than usual right now.