Something got into Raw on Monday night ... and hopefully it's here to stay.
Fresh off a particularly underwhelming stretch in recent months, the WWE's flagship brand returned to must-see status for the second straight week.
No, this wasn't three hours of perfection and not quite the well-balanced effort from one week before. But at the very least, Raw made a concerted effort to live up to its name on Monday -- it was edgy and vicious, with plenty of chances taken. It was also fast-paced.
In many ways, it was everything one can ask for as a fan.
Raw's greatest victory Monday was its return to being a true variety show. There were pay-per-view quality matches (Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn and Roman Reigns-Chris Jericho), well-played comedy and a deeper commitment to the kind of dramatic, soap opera-like presentation of story lines often seen in the late 1990s.
The central theme of the show, which emanated from Austin, Texas, was a trio of double-crosses. Jericho spurned the desperate attempts from Owens to repair their friendship, and the devilish duo of Rusev and Lana conspired to trick Enzo Amore into a savage beating in their hotel room.
But the show closed with Charlotte, quickly ascending to status as one of WWE's true elite heels (regardless of gender), fawningly apologizing to her estranged father, Ric Flair, before unleashing a vicious slap across his face. Charlotte stuffed the subsequent run-in from Raw women's champion Sasha Banks just as stiffly, providing ample tease for the 30-minute ironman match that was made official minutes earlier for the Dec. 18 "Roadblock: End of the Line" PPV.
There was a cruel edge to Charlotte's words and actions that made the entire sequence feel real, punctuated by her constant berating of Banks throughout the beatdown. And it was likely no coincidence that Charlotte's segment, along with the Rusev-Amore brawl, was saved for the final hour of the show.
Let's not beat around the bush: This wasn't PG-rated material.
Monday marked the closest Raw has come to feeling like the "Attitude Era" in a very long time. Again, it wasn't perfect (more on that below). The first hour of the show was largely forgettable and the ruthless beating Amore endured may not have been enough to overcome the overtly sexual (and largely predictable) nature of the segment, which received polarizing reactions on social media.
But give WWE credit for trying something here and making a pointed effort to improve the creative tendencies and patterns that had grown stale.
The more Raw can do to retain this level of unpredictable electricity, the better -- for everyone.
Hits and misses
Sometimes it's the little things that stand out the most. Credit Owens for landing such an impactful jab on Seth Rollins during the show's opening segment. "You know what's funny to me? The fact that you don't realize that sometimes best friends fight," Owens said, referencing his falling out with Jericho. "Of course you don't know that because you don't have any friends. Let's just look at the way you treated your little Shield 'brothers' -- not even your friends, you call them your brothers -- and you stabbed them in the back first chance you got." The truth hurts.
It was frustrating to see two weeks of buildup in the brewing beef between Zayn and Raw general manager Mick Foley (which felt like a trade to SmackDown could be imminent) so easily tossed aside. Owens and Zayn are always money together inside the ring and they proved that once more on Monday. But with nothing at stake in terms of prize or story line, there was very much a "cheap thrill" element to the booking, especially since the goal was simply to make Owens look strong again after his loss to Reigns the previous week.
Amore's brief backstage segment with Ric Flair was everything it should have been from a comedic standpoint (including Amore's closing line of "I won't be soft, baby"). Seriously, "Enzo and The Natch" -- it just has a certain ring to it. Can we get them a sitcom or at least a WWE Network special?
Amore's hotel room debacle provided equal moments of good and bad in terms of entertainment, but I will say this for Rusev: He may be the heel in this feud, yet the storyline treatment his wife Lana has received from Amore (and Reigns before him) has been far from babyface behavior. I don't think it's out of line to suggest Enzo's character had it coming.
The booking to the finish of Rollins' singles match with the Big Show was atrocious, as the giant walked off and willingly accepted a countout loss after choke-slamming Owens into the ring (which was a setup for Rollins to land a Pedigree). But let's not bury the lead: hats off to The Big Show for coming back in such great shape. In recent weeks, he gave interviews to multiple outlets saying he is under 400 pounds for the first time since 1995. And he was sporting a legit beard, to boot.
WWE cruiserweight champion Rich Swann has such a captivating ability to take over the screen and instantly change the culture of what's happening with his dance moves and electric vibe. And his finish of TJ Perkins on Monday, after Perkins spring-boarded off the top rope and was met with a kick to the face was a fun end to a good little match:
- WWE (@WWE) December 6, 2016
I'm all for cruiserweight Jack Gallagher's in-ring antics and unique style, which he showcased in his Raw debut by defeating Ariya Daivari. But "The Extraordinary Gentleman" is going to have to bring something bigger to the dance than a dropkick as a finishing move.
It has happened twice now and both times have felt a bit backward. Can we stop having Banks, as a champion, issue PPV challenges to Charlotte? Shouldn't it be the other way around?
Move of the night
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn produced plenty of great spots on Monday as they rekindled their rivalry. But for as good as Owens' flip over the top rope was, Zayn's tornado DDT off the second turnbuckle and onto the ring apron was even better.
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) December 6, 2016
Line of the night
"You son of a b----! I'm your daughter. I'm your flesh and your blood. Who was she to dedicate her victory to my father? My father! You turn your back on me?" -- Charlotte, at her heel best, berating her father, Ric Flair, for celebrating with Raw women's champion Sasha Banks on last week's episode of Raw.