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How Good was AEW Dynamite This Week? Genius Just About Covers It

AEW Dynamite Review: Matt Hardy Debuts

Another Great Episode of Dynamite, Despite No Audience

Due to the continuing coronavirus pandemic, episodes of WWE Raw and SmackDown took place this week at the WWE Performance Center without an audience. The result was one of the strangest TV viewing experiences you will ever see— at times reminiscent of Avant-garde theater and at times akin to a B-movie like quality. For the most part, however, both episodes of Smackdown and Raw were pure unintentional camp; an oddity that offered a few chuckles here and there but not much else in between. As someone who watches more bad TV than your average viewer, I’m mostly immune to the so-bad-it’s-good aesthetic, though I can see how, viewed with a few drinks, this might conjure up its own hilariously demented reality. Really though, WWE just couldn’t wrap their heads around how to broadcast a show live without an audience. In the end, both Raw and Smackdown were downright terrible.

Tonight’s Dynamite which was aired from a closed set from the Daily’s Place in Jacksonville was also broadcast without a live audience— but unlike WWE, AEW hit it out of the park, delivering a showcase of athleticism and artistry and gave fans couple of big surprises that had the internet in a rage.

Stripped down to its bare essentials, Dynamite was exciting, even without a crowd roaring its approval. Honestly, given everything that has happened over the past week and the lack of time AEW had to prepare, this episode is pretty much a masterpiece of professional wrestling. WWE should start taking notes.

How Small We Are

With just a ring, a spotlight and a microphone, Cody Rhodes opened the show with a heartfelt monologue, calling on The Elite to come together (even if it’s at a distance) and put away their differences so that they can rise above and prove they are better than Chris Jericho and the Inner Circle. Despite addressing an empty arena full of empty seats, Rhodes stated that he felt more alive than ever and that he was ready to continue to entertain fans around the world who desperately need an escape from their everyday problems. Not long after, Matt Jackson and Kenny Omega joined him on stage, followed by Hangman Page who gestured slightly as if indicate that they could indeed count on him.

It was a simple but incredibly effective way to kick off the show, opening with a far shot on Cody standing dead center in the middle of the ring and admitting that “he never thought of his world as small before”. As the camera zoomed in, Rhodes addressed the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic without mentioning the word coronavirus (a wise decision as to not damper the mood)— before stating how big and important professional wrestling is to him and the fans across the globe. In other words, come hell or high water, the show must go on!

Watching Cody, Kenny Omega and Matt Jackson in that opening is akin to watching a group of actors practicing before the opening night of their big Broadway play, only this wasn’t so much acting— as it was clear that they were speaking from the heart.

Few wrestlers have delved into their own lives and emotions while standing in the ring with such ruthlessness and with such moving results as Cody Rhodes. During the spot, it was as if, he could hear us— the fans—cheering for him through the airwaves.

It truly was a perfect way to open a show and set up what would be a historic night for professional wrestling.

Acting for the Camera and Not the Imaginary Audience

Not having an audience didn’t stop AEW from producing the show as they would if fans were present— but unlike the aforementioned episodes of Raw and Smackdown, the wrestlers didn’t play to an imaginary crowd. Yes, there were pyros, entrance music, and a big screen showing their video packages, but each wrestler understood the difference between performing on stage for a live audience and performing for the camera. Since a live audience must see and hear a performance to enjoy it, stage performers must act for the back row. In other words, the results usually bring larger than life performances. Without the fans, however, this wasn’t necessary and the AEW talent understood that they needed to dial back their performances just a notch and behave naturally, no different than if they were wrestling for a small indie promotion. Helping, even more, was the wise decision to include a makeshift crowd using workers and a few wrestlers who sat in the front row cheering on the action.

In terms of production values, Dynamite also featured great camera work this week that focused mostly on the ring with the occasional close-up cutaways to the wrestlers watching from the stands and the announcer’s table. And unlike Raw and Smackdown, Dynamite’s announce team brought their usual energy; their funny quips; and non-stop banter that kept the mood light. And because of the tighter shots, the actors wrestlers needed to be extra quick on their feet in order to mask anything that might go wrong since a missed cue, a dropped line or any other malfunction would be more visible. And kudos to the talent who delivered a performance with the same energy they would any other night.

These Video Packages Are Awesome

Throughout the broadcast, AEW gave us plenty of well-produced video packages including a promo for The Lucha Bros showing their journey through AEW leading up to their recent partnership with PAC and forming the Death Triangle— and later, a post-apocalyptic, backyard-wrestling video package showing “Murderhawk” Lance Archer in action against a ring full of jobbers. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, AEW does a stellar job in producing these promos which are essentially short films with a story to tell. And when compared to other wrestling promotions past and present, these video montages usually have better cinematography and sharp editing. With this promo, I especially love the slow-motion; the out of focus point of view of Jake Roberts watching from a distance, and the overhead shot showing Lance standing victorious over a dozen or so challengers.

Commentary Without Commentary

Best Friends vs. Lucha Bros

As per usual, Dynamite gave us more great tag team action, opening with The Lucha Bros defeating The Best Friends (Chuck Taylor and Beretta). There were some fun moments here including MJF and Shawn Spears placing bets on the match as well as watching Orange Cassidy who sat with the commentary team but provided no commentary. The biggest highlight was perhaps seeing Chucky T and Trent practice social distancing (yet, still giving fans what they want) by bumping elbows instead of hugging each other as they normally would.

It’s unclear why Pac wasn’t present tonight but I’m guessing it has something to do with Covit-19. Hopefully, the world will get back to normal sooner than later so we can get a six-man tag team match between Best Friends and Death Triangle.

Riho vs. Kris Statlander vs. Penelope Ford vs. Hikaru Shida

The second match was a Fatal 4-Way featuring Hikaru Shida vs. Kris Statlander vs. Penelope Ford vs. Riho. There was very little to criticize here as all four women put on a pretty good show, considering the circumstances. Shida who was the standout in this match got the win, which makes me happy since I’m a huge fan of her and I’m hoping she’ll get a title shot soon against Nyla Rose. It was also great to see Riho back in action and rumour has it that because of the travel ban, she’s currently stuck in the United States which means she’ll get to wrestle more on AEW.

More Fun Interviews

Meanwhile, the post-match interview with Colt Cabana was not only a fun way to end the segment but it showed how charismatic and natural Cabana is on the mic. Given that AEW will have to continue to produce episodes of Dynamite without a live audience, it would be smart of them to give Cabana more time on the microphone in between matches to liven up the broadcast.

Speaking of interviews, Dynamite also included an interview conducted earlier in the day with Jon Moxley who was not allowed in the arena because he’s not medically cleared. What stuck out most in this spot was the fact that Mox was randomly walking around with the AEW Championship belt before driving off in his blue Ford GT (the $500,000 fully-loaded automobile which belongs to the billionaire entrepreneur Shad Khan).

The Butcher and The Blade vs. Jurassic Express

I don’t have much to say about The Butcher and The Blade nor Jurassic Express, that I haven’t said in the past few weeks. I’m a huge fan of Luchasaurus and Jungleboy Jack Perry and I was glad that Marko Stunt was nowhere to be seen this week since I feel he holds them back. Don’t get me wrong, I like Marko Stunt and I think AEW has done an admirable job in trying to make him seem like somewhat of a viable threat, but I think he would make a better manager than he would a tag team partner. This match also gave us more of MJF who pretty much stole the show, match after match, even though he didn’t wrestle once.

Brodie Lee is the Exalted One

As I predicted, Matt Hardy is not the Exalted One; instead it is Brodie Lee (formerly Luke Harper of WWE).

Even though I was convinced Brodie Lee would indeed be the leader of the Dark Order, I must admit it was a huge disappointment that this episode didn’t take place in his hometown of Rochester. Not having an audience (especially a hometown audience) react to the reveal is disappointing. That said, I think they made the right choice by moving forward with the announcement. For starters, they told fans they would announce the Exalted One this week, and it would have been a terrible mistake to not fulfill their promise. Secondly, since this was the first episode without fans, Dynamite needed as many big surprises as possible to keep viewers invested. Finally, the lead-up to the reveal featured another great video package for the Dark Order— and as I mentioned above, AEW does a superb job putting together these promos.

The good news is that Lee is going to be an interesting addition to The Dark Order— or rather, he’ll hopefully make this faction a bit more interesting. I guess time will tell.

The Main Event: The Elite vs. Inner Circle

In the main event, The Inner Circle’s Santana, Ortiz, and Jake Hager took on Hangman Page, Matt Jackson and Cody Rhodes to see which team would have an advantage in the Blood and Guts match set for next week.

The match itself was good, even if it did feel like it lasted a bit longer than it should have (26:12 minutes to be exact). That said, it at least featured plenty of fun spots including Sammy Guevara and MJF singing Chris Jericho’s theme song as Jericho made his way out to join the commentary team. Surprisingly, Chris Jericho put over the Elite team by acknowledging how talented Page, Jackson, and Cody are— going so far as calling Rhodes the total package.

Going into this episode, I was sure that Brodie Lee was The Exalted One and even more convinced that Matt Hardy would make an appearance and become the fifth member of Team Elite, replacing the injured Nick Jackson. However, when I looked at the clock there was, but three minutes left in the broadcast as Jericho was still killing time with what seemed to be an improved promo. Just as I was about to give up hope thinking that time was running out, along came Vanguard 1 (the drone) which landed in the ring, leading to the big reveal of Matt Hardy appearing at the back of the empty arena with his piano theme song playing in the background.

Much like the first appearance of Brodie Lee, it would obviously have been way more exciting if there was a crowd to react to the reveal but regardless, it was still a huge moment for AEW, executed to near perfection given the circumstances.

A Near-Masterpiece

All in all, Dynamite was a hell of a good time thanks to the AEW stars who were having fun while also making the best of a bad situation. I’ve spent the past two weeks in quarantine no thanks to the Covid-19 virus and it’s been an incredibly frustrating and stressful time for me personally. Watching AEW Dynamite was the first time in over a week that I was able to take my mind off my troubles. It was also the first time in over a week that I found the energy and passion to sit down and write something. I figure if the AEW superstars could put on such a great show, I can find the strength to review the episode.

Tonight’s episode of Dynamite had no business being this good— but it was because of the hard work and passion of everyone involved. There’s no question that this is the best empty arena show yet— but it’s also so much more than that. It’s an instant classic, and somewhat revolutionary for being the first of its kind to pull it off with such success. Who would have ever thought a televised wrestling show without a live audience could be this good.

If anything, it was the emotional honesty of the episode that made it a near-masterpiece. I can’t wait to see what they do next week.

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