Deadshirt Is Watching…is a weekly feature in which Deadshirt staff, contributors, and guests sound off on the television shows we’re tuned into, from intense dramas to clever sitcoms to the most insane reality shows. This week: WWE Cruiserweight Classic, The Night of and The Get Down!
Dylan Roth is watching…
WWE Cruiserweight Classic
Season 1, Episode 5
This July, the WWE embarked on a new experiment, the Cruiserweight Classic, a single-elimination tournament featuring 32 rising stars from across the world—free agents, developing talent, and international main eventers from 16 countries. It’s an attempt to reproduce the magic both of NXT, the company’s wildly successful developmental brand, and the former World Championship Wrestling’s popular Cruiserweight division, which spawned legends like Rey Mysterio, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero. The term Cruiserweight is most associated with high-flying lucha libre-style performers, but participants in the CWC represent a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, and watching these different athletes compete against one another was consistently entertaining throughout the first round,
But wrestling, done right, is more than just impressive feats of strength and agility, it’s storytelling, and that’s where the first round of the CWC seemed to struggle most. Unlike main WWE brands Raw and SmackDown Live, the CWC is presented as a straight-up legit sporting event. The action is still staged and the outcomes are still predetermined, but there’s very little in the way of character gimmicks, there are no in-ring promos, and most matches aren’t promoted as having a real hero or villain. Instead, there are pre-taped profiles and interviews with each competitor explaining their real-life stories and career paths, just like you might have during the Olympics or a real sports pre-game show. Before each match, the two fighters shake hands. This MMA-style presentation helped to distinguish the CWC from the rest of the WWE, but it didn’t always make for the most compelling television.
Then, the second round began. Now, each participant already has a win under his belt, has had the opportunity to make an impression and win over the audience. The characters have been established, and the story can finally get moving. From the first match of the night, it was clear that the CWC had turned the corner, as forty-five-year-old Tajiri took on young hotshot luchador Gran Metalik. Tajiri is a veteran of WWE but has been absent from the company for a decade, and the CWC represents his last shot at greatness. Metalik, on the other hand, has just joined up with the company, and is revving up for a run in the major leagues. The match wasn’t a barn-burner but it was a compelling last hoorah for Tajiri, who gave his all but was eventually pinned by the always exciting Gran Metalik. That’s the way wrestling is supposed to work—new dynasties are built on the backs of old favorites, and Tajiri has done his duty.
But what truly breathed new life into the tournament was the second match, between Japanese superstar Kota Ibushi and American up-and-comer Cedric Alexander. Ibushi has been billed as the favorite to win the tournament from day one, but Alexander was a relative unknown when he won his first round match in spectacular fashion, becoming one of the CWC’s most talked about participants. Ibushi is a hard-hitting striker, while Alexander is an energetic high-flier. Ibushi is impressive, but Alexander is magnetic, instantly lovable. And anyone who wasn’t an admirer before the match began was in love by the final bell. The story of Ibushi/Alexander is one of an underdog proving his worth, stealing the show, and earning the respect of his opponent and his industry. It is wrestling at its best, a wordless three-act drama that spoke volumes about each performer and is worth watching over and over.
Episode Highlight: SPOILERS AHEAD, highlight to read: After the superhuman Ibushi kicks out of two consecutive near-falls, Cedric, spent, is felled by one of Ibushi’s famous stiff kicks. After he’s announced the winner, Ibushi takes Cedric Alexander’s arm and raises it high for a curtain call. Then, after it seems the episode is over, we cut to Cedric limping back toward the locker room, the crowd going wild for him. They begin chanting “PLEASE SIGN CEDRIC,” while a breathless Cedric smiles tearfully. Then, from behind him, WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H appears on the entrance ramp, puts his arm around Cedric, gives the camera a thumbs up, and leads him back to the locker room. The crowd fucking loses it. Was the moment staged? I don’t care. It was a thing of beauty.
Andrew Niemann is watching…
The Night Of
HBO, Sunday 9e/8c
HBO’s The Night Of is exactly what the 2nd season of True Detective should have been. Based off a BBC series called Criminal Justice and originally slated to star James Gandolfini before his death, this limited series of only 8 episodes is already on my list for one of the best TV shows this year. The show actually has two protagonists: defendant Nasir Khan (Riz Ahmed, recently in Nightcrawler and the upcoming Rogue One) and his public defense lawyer John Stone (John Turturro, in the role originally meant for Gandolfini). Stone may be the most interesting character as Nasir’s world weary defender, a genuinely good man who is forced to deal with the mountain of shit that is NYC’s criminal justice system. There’s a recurring bit where Stone is always picking at the eczema on his feet, which sort of represents his willingness to walk through systemic and societal rot. Nasir (also called Naz) starts the series as a timid and likely innocent soul unluckily thrust into the system but, after some hard time in Riker’s Island, is mentored by convict Freddy Knight (Michael K. Williams), who turns him into more of a prison badass. Ahmed turns in some career-defining work here, and it’s great to see an HBO series showcase a Pakistani Muslim actor, especially in a genre dominated by mostly white or black actors.
The direction from Steve Zaillian and James Marsh is practically film perfect. The pilot (entitled ”The Beach”) acts as a stellar short film following the night that lands unlucky Naz in hot water, and the cinematography is absolutely stunning. The Night Of is a thrilling combination of noir and modern detective drama set in a seedy Manhattan where people are quickly locked up whether they’re guilty or not. The process from arrest to arraignment to trial is shown in gritty fashion, as are the mental and emotional states of all the people involved. It’s not always an easy watch, but it’s certainly a rewarding one.
Episode Highlight: “The Beach” is truly an impressive episode, but I think my favorite moment is when Naz is almost scarred by acid in the fourth episode and then gets to beat the living daylights out of the perpetrator in the next.
Joe Stando is watching…
The Get Down
Episode 1, “Where There is Ruin, There is Hope for a Treasure”
Baz Luhrmann’s new series, detailing life and the rise of hip-hop in 1970s The Bronx, is… so much. While it’s not on the level of technicolor excess of Moulin Rouge or The Great Gatsby, it’s lush, realized and frankly exhausting in that classic Luhrmann way. The Get Down follows Zeke Figuero (Justice Smith), a lovesick teen from the Bronx with poetry in his heart and a gang of rowdy friends. His efforts to win the heart of local church girl (with aspirations of stardom, of course) Mylene (Herizen F. Guardiola) thrust him into a word of criminals and musicians, reluctantly guided by Shaolin Fantastic (Shameik Moore), a street martial artist and wannabe DJ.
It’s all very cliche, in its ways, but it also manages to look and feel different than a lot of Netflix fare. It’s gorgeously shot and edited, and there’s a storybook air of magical realism to much of it. For every corny line or eyerolling plot contrivance, there’s a legitimately engaging moment or strong performance. Jaden Smith is here, and he still fucking sucks, but the rest of the cast is solid, especially minor players (Jimmy Smits as a local political boss, Ginacarlo Esposito as Mylene’s strict, borderline crazed preacher father). It’s not perfect, but it’s enjoyable and fun, and head and shoulders above House of Cards and other, bigger Netflix shows.
Episode Highlight: The show is at its best when it gets big and frenetic, so any of the action-oriented setpieces are great. The dance-off turned shootout is a contender, but my pick has to be the chase scene where Shaolin Fantastic jumps between buildings like Spider-Man. Shaolin Fantastic is a quasi-mythological figure, with a cool look and style, and Moore sells it easily. Some of his bits are borderline Scott Pilgrim, but they’re also my favorite part, so no complaints here.