AEW Dynamite has aired three episodes as of now, and I have some thoughts. Some are positive, others are more critical, and some are neither. They are presented below in no particular order.
-First and foremost, the wrestling itself has been awesome. Obviously, the promise of a more wrestling-centric presentation was a key element of AEW’s appeal, and obviously the roster is an embarrassment of riches, but I’ve still been extremely impressed with the matches themselves. Decades of laboring (not really, but y’know) under the yoke of the PPV-centric wrestling model have conditioned me to accept that the even the best free TV matches aren’t going to get into the same gear as a PPV match, and that has not been the case here. I’m also a huge fan of the picture-in-picture during commercial breaks; it makes so much sense (and is so in line with how actual sports broadcasting works these days) that I see no more reason to even pretend to tolerate the Raw-style “back from commercial just in time for the face to fight out of this rest hold” structure anymore. Hopefully they can keep this up, because good wrestling can cover up many other sins.
-That said, there hasn’t been enough women’s wrestling, with each episode having one women’s match each. This is an extra letdown since Riho vs. Nyla Rose was arguably the best match of the first episode, and since a lot of the women on the roster probably need to be introduced to the broader American wrestling audience in a way that, say, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks do not. Come to think of it, I’m not at all sure who they have on the women’s roster. I can name maybe five or so women they have right now, and the one I was most familiar with going in (Awesome Kong) hasn’t even shown up on the show yet (granted, she’s on the other side of 40 and I would have no trouble believing she’s working on a reduced schedule). They have a lot of men to establish too, but all I’m saying is surely they can find a way to get a second women’s match on each episode.
-I dig the way they use tag team wrestling and give it importance both for its own sake and as a way to advance singles storylines. Doing a better job of emphasizing tag teams and respecting tag team matches as a form than WWE is the lowest of bars, and it’s a smart way to distinguish the product. Tag team matches rule! They’re full of double teams and nuanced tactical psychology and you can weave multiple storylines together both in the broader context of what’s going on in the promotion and in the narrower context of what’s going on in each specific match. That said, I was watching Young Bucks vs. Private Party last week, and Sarah was asking why they even bother with the ‘tag’ aspect of the match when the ref is just going to allow double-teams with impunity. I didn’t have a good answer then, and I don’t have a good answer now. Since those double-teams have been uniformly awesome, perhaps they should consider switching the default tag match to some sort of ‘tagless’ format, similar to Dragon Gate.
-Speaking of referees, I think they also need to figure out a few aspects of the refereeing/rules. There’s been a lot of seemingly sloppy reffing that I think is meant to establish that the refs aren’t going to call a match over some bullshit, which is a mentality us American wrestling fans aren’t really used to. (Several Japanese promotions do something like this; watch an old puro match and you’ll see guys whacking each other with chairs outside the ring with impunity, refs suspending the ring-out count, etc.) The most egregious example of this is Jon Moxley showing up in the main event of the first episode and dragging Kenny Omega all the way to the back, in plain view of the referee, but there was also a moment last night where the ref seemed to get a glimpse of Kenny whacking PAC with a baseball bat, and yet did nothing. If they keep doing this, I think they need to do a better job of establishing that refs are given broad discretionary powers, and are instructed not to call matches whenever possible. They also need to better establish the parameters of their own rules, and make sure the audience is clear on what is and is not a thing in the promotion. (As an aside, here’s something that’s not a ref issue, but an audience understanding issue: the rope breaks in last night’s street fight main event. To paraphrase Jericho himself, in discussing his WK match with Omega, no disqualification does not mean no rules. A rope break still invalidates the pinfall or submission attempt, even if the ref cannot enforce a 5 count).
-I’m not sure how I feel about the win-loss record tracking. I thought it was a great idea when it was announced, but now that I’m seeing it implemented I think there are kinks to work out. My main concern is that there’s no structure to the records – there’s no standings or anything, and the records themselves aren’t put in any sort of context, so I’m not sure what the point is. If they’re gonna bother with it, they need to matter somehow, and right now it’s not clear how (or even if) they do. Also, I’m worried that it may hinder their ability to give people monster pushes as they see fit; this isn’t a huge problem now, but assume that a year from now, they’re gonna want to give a low-level wrestler a major push. This could be a lot harder if they start with an overall record of 2-28, or whatever. Again, some sort of structure would help with this. Maybe provide records for the last 10 matches or so and emphasize those, or maybe reset everyone’s record yearly. I know that’s not how boxing and MMA work, but I’m also pretty sure boxers and MMA fighters aren’t in ranked fights on a weekly basis.
-Finally (for now), I’m intrigued with the seemingly relativistic and somewhat fungible nature of alignments. That is to say, characters aren’t as defined by whether they are on some abstract heel or face side, and more by their relationships to other wrestlers. For example, MJF is a total dickwad in most circumstances, unless Cody is around, at which point he becomes a stand-up guy. Audiences love Jon Moxley, but that doesn’t mean Mox won’t beat the absolute shit out of fellow fan favorite Kenny Omega. This dynamic isn’t universal across the promotion, but when it is present it provides an intriguing way forward for pro wrestling storyline. It resembles the ‘shades of gray’ of the Attitude Era in the abstract, and yet is absolutely unlike the parade of anti-hero edgelords emblematic of that time. It’s something kind of new and different, at least for American audiences.