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The Righteous Gemstones Season 1, Episode 1: “The Righteous Gemstones” Begins in Intriguing, Uneven Fashion

Look beyond the outlandish characters and lavish setting, and it is easy to see the existential promise of Danny McBride’s new HBO series.

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The Righteous Gemstones

Danny McBride’s latest HBO project, The Righteous Gemstones, will naturally be positioned against network counterpart Succession: both are about the empires of fading white men, their families fighting over the power and legacy bestowed to them, to both comedic and dramatic effect. But a more cognizant comparison would be McBride’s first HBO project, Eastbound and Down, using the twisted prism of post-modern American capitalism as a venue to explore deeper metaphysical thoughts about purpose, identity – and most prescient to this comparison, religion (for a more in-depth look at the beginning of that series, you can still read the piece I wrote about it seven years ago).

With The Righteous Gemstones, the Biblical subtext of McBride’s stories becomes quite literal – and it makes for a fascinating, if slightly unbalanced, first hour, easily one of the summer’s most intriguing premieres.

“The Righteous Gemstones,” the self-titled first episode of the series, explores the same ideas of worship and karma Eastbound & Down quietly did a decade ago: McBride’s ability to mix tinges of existential thought between fart jokes and pop culture references remains underrated with his latest series, perhaps his most ambitious project to date. Though the themes are familiar, the scale is completely different: with The Righteous Gemstones, the Biblical subtext of McBride’s stories becomes quite literal, and it makes for a fascinating, if slightly unbalanced, first hour, easily one of the summer’s most intriguing premieres.

The Righteous Gemstones

It still needs some fine tuning; the sardonic tone of The Righteous Gemstones can find itself at odds with its ambitions as a comedy and drama. As a satire of evangelical culture, “The Righteous Gemstones” is devastatingly sharp – but that clarity of vision is set in a world full of characters McBride and company want to exist in three dimensions, which is a tall ask for any series to manage effectively over the course of an hour-long episode (forget an entire season, or a whole series). And though “The Righteous Gemstones” doesn’t quite fulfill its own ambitious vision, there’s so many promising moments and points of interest, it seems a matter of time before it finds a groove.

The Righteous Gemstones tells the story of the Gemstone family, led by the patriarch Eli (John Goodman, who absolutely destroys every single line he’s given), and siblings Jesse, Judy, and Kelvin (McBride, Edi Patterson, and Adam Devine, respectively), nepotistic adult babies who worship at the temple of self-righteous greed and power. As one might expect, “The Righteous Gemstones” paints these family members as narcissistic and self righteous as possible: but there’s more meat on the bone with its main characters than expected, offering some interesting twists on the archetypes it introduces the main trio of siblings as.

It can be a bit of a mixed bag: while Jesse and Judy are compelling characters in their own right, the over-costumed, underdeveloped Kelvin is representative of The Righteous Gemstones‘ early struggles to walk the tightrope between genres. Kelvin, the youngest child in the family, is presented as responsible, ignorant, childish, and cunning at different parts in the pilot, a clash of personalities only further undercut by the ridiculous costuming, which feels superficial and forced, even next to the outlandish clothing offered the patriarch and chosen son of the Gemstone family (which at least tap into a specific fashion sense and projection of wealth in the evangelical community, something more potent and funny than “general hipster douchebag” offered Kelvin).

The Righteous Gemstones

But when “The Righteous Gemstones” is sharp, it’s really sharp: especially when it pauses to reflect on the loss of the Gemstone matriarch, whose ghost hangs heavy over the lives of Eli and his children. There’s a scene where Eli eats dinner alone, in front of a picture of him and his wife, that’s as powerful and poignant as anything the premiere has to say about modern-day evangelicalism (where rich = righteousness), or the tenants of American capitalism McBride is always fascinated with (the fetishization of wealth, celebrity, and tragedy, to be specific). And it’s just John Goodman sitting alone at a dining room table: but what it says about love and faith is as strong as anything else in the series, a moment of reflection on the unseen forces of nature we choose to accept and reject in our short life times.

(of course, there’s a big Sunday brunch that serves as its own highlight; another McBride-ism are scenes set at family dinner, something that’s proven to be a potent setting for storytelling and character on his shows).

There are a few aspects of The Righteous Gemstones that are just downright uninteresting, the blackmail plot chief among them. While it’s at least entertaining to watch Jesse try to navigate inner family politics to try and deal with the situation (someone filmed him doing cocaine with a bunch of naked strippers), it is an extended instance of The Righteous Gemstones fumbling to find its identity: the combination of black comedy and melodrama it aims for is far less interesting than its examinations of the dark, unexplored places where faith and prosperity meet.

The Righteous Gemstones

When “The Righteous Gemstones” isn’t stuck on Pilot Auto-Pilot (introduce character, give them quirk, give them drama, integrate, repeat), it offers moments of enormous potential, intersecting ideas about American society without doing what too many shows do to ground itself in this specific era of 2019 (where evangelicalism has become “support a racist, homophobic prick bent on the self-destruction of humanity at all costs because he gives us power”). The Righteous Gemstones is not about adjudicating punishment for the evil, narcissistic parasites of society; though objectively designed as a tragedy, McBride smartly crafts his new series as a study of American opulence, rather than a pointed, one-dimensional rejection of the very-real cult of religion TRG is observing.

That’s because at its core, The Righteous Gemstones does hold a curiosity and reverence for the existential: it is perhaps more interested in theology than its titular subjects, whose adherence to Christian customs and behaviors only carries as deeply as the silk lining in their jacket pockets. What happens to a man of purpose, when faced with the meaninglessness of life? How blindly (and simply) can one be corrupted by money and fame? Is redemption attainable? These are the real questions Danny McBride searches for in his art, that are quietly weaved into the DNA of The Righteous Gemstones; and while it may take a few episodes to find the right calibration of its many ingredients, but the pilot is full of vibrant characters, an incredibly crafted world, and plenty of enticing sequences, signs that the series just needs to tweak its recipe a bit to channel the holy spirits of serialized TV greatness.

Other thoughts/observations:

  • welcome to reviews of The Righteous Gemstones! Chapel is on Mondays, and tithes are only accepted in the form of tacos.
  • there’s a subplot with Dermont Mulroney regarding small-town priests angry at the Gemstone expansion into Locust Grove (aptly named city); it is more of a placeholder in this episode than an actual plot point, something the arc of the season will be built around.
  • Walton Goggins does not appear in this first episode, and that’s just a bummer.
  • Perhaps the most interesting intersection of the many ideas on this show is with the unseen faithful; The Righteous Gemstones doesn’t condemn the core idea of belief and faith, just the disgusting culture of opulence, fear-mongering (there’s a great exchange about Judy’s fiance being pro-abortion), and the frauds at the top of the Christian industry pushing these “values” on society (including Eastern society, a centuries-long movement Gemstones briefly touches on).
  • One troubling note: unlike his other two series, McBride has said he doesn’t have a definitive ending for the Gemstone story in mind, leaving it more open-ended than his previous works. While this certainly offers a lot of potential, it also leaves room for narrative wandering and navel-gazing in the future that could dilute some of the stronger thematic and symbolic structure of the series. Time will tell!

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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The Mandalorian “Chapter Two: The Child” Muses on Morality Whilst Getting Muddy

The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode Two Review: “Chapter Two: The Child”

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The benefit of The Mandalorian‘s soon-to-be weekly releases is that it gives times to ruminate on the preceding episode. Case in point: Werner Herzog’s mysterious “Client” is clearly part of the “Imperial Remnant” — in new Star Wars canon, the fractured factions of the formerly very centralised Galactic Empire. It makes sense that these groups would be so disparate in the ensuing power vacuum, and now Herzog’s already ominous “good to restore the natural order of things after a period of such disarray” is far, far more terrifying for the state of the galaxy.

That sort of information percolates at the back of the mind when watching The Mandalorian’s “Chapter 2: The Child,” which draws on the audience’s existing knowledge of Star Wars to elevate the piece far more than the first episode. While “The Child” is squarely focused emotionally on character relationships, there is significant interplay between viewers and the screen through Rick Famuyiwa’s direction of showrunner Jon Favreau’s script, creating dramatic irony, visual symmetry, and a certain degree of fan-service. Indeed, the first few minutes of the surprisingly short thirty-minute episode is almost a condensed redux of R2-D2 and C3-PO’s escapades on Tatooine in A New Hope. There’s even a Jawa sandcrawler!

In the same way that Rogue One’s chaotic man-to-man confrontations help set the tone for that film, the Mandalorian slugging people while his burgundy armour glints amongst the orange hues of the canyon encapsulates the grimily poetic atmosphere that “The Child” possesses.

Unlike the Jawas capturing R2-D2, or Luke Skywalker being knocked out by Tusken Raiders, the Mandalorian acquits himself much more successfully against his Trandoshan ambushers. Director of Photography Baz Idoine and his team’s coverage of the melee combat is engaging and clear. The cinematography keeps the impacts of the twirls, slams, and shoves centrally framed in mostly full and medium shots, as the Mandalorian wields his long blaster like a staff, then snipes the assailants as they run towards his bounty in a particularly satisfying long shot.

The Mandalorian walks in front of child.

It feels quite similar to the combat in Rogue One, which shouldn’t be surprising given that Idoine previously worked as the second unit director of photography. In the same way that Rogue One’s chaotic man-to-man confrontations help set the tone for that film, the Mandalorian slugging people while his burgundy armour glints amongst the orange hues of the canyon encapsulates the grimily poetic atmosphere that “The Child” possesses. It makes stabbing through muddy, matted hair beautiful.

This review has held off necessarily spoiling the big reveal at the end of the last episode for long enough. If you’re somehow reading this and haven’t seen “Chapter One,” (insert Jedi mind trick) this is not the review you’re looking for.

Fifty-year-old baby Yoda is adorable! Disney’s got its latest sold-out toy just in time for Christmas. So the Mandolorian now has himself a baby “Yodaling” to keep track of at all times; its innocent eyes observe both the delight of dune frogs and the brutality with which Mando kills and literally obliterates enemies. In the aforementioned fight scene, editor Andrew S. Eisen intercuts between shots of the Yodaling watching serenely, but also shots from the Yodaling’s perspective.

Focusing in on the Yodaling’s viewpoint throughout the episode is probably Famuyiwa’s best decision as director — not only because it makes the puppet feel real and not a prop, but the child is a constant reminder that bounty hunting (and killing) has a ripple effect on others. Part of Star Wars’ appeal has always been fancifully designed characters shooting some mooks, and although The Mandalorian indulges in this pleasure, it also seems to be slowly deconstructing mythic qualities. Actions have consequences, and this Yodaling acts as a yardstick to measure Mando’s morality against.

The Yodaling watches the Mandalorian

This all lends itself to the ambiguity pervading the “Chapter 2: The Child.” There are many wide shots where Mando walks through valleys and across the rocky outcrops with a floating pram in tow, with Mando and the Yodaling spread far apart, visually illustrating an emotional gulf between them. As the episode wears on, however, their physical separation in scenes closes until Mando is not-quite gently rocking the sleeping baby. He could be abruptly attempting to coddle as an awkward parent, but he also could also just be making sure his prize still is alive so it will “survive and bring [him] a handsome reward” (when Kuiil says this, does he mean emotional fulfillment or money?). As is often the case with Mandalorian bounty hunters, the question of intent is left to subtext and nebulous silence.

Actually, apart from a few grunts here and there, Mando says nothing at all for the episode’s first ten minutes. In lieu of talking, the handheld cinematography, with its close-up shots or momentarily going out of focus when Mando is disorientated, tries to convey the bounty hunter’s mental state. It’s also interesting to see the armour itself act as an evolving symbol for Mando as person. Where in “Chapter One” the addition of the shoulder plate suggested a form of exterior wholeness, “Chapter 2: The Child” sees Mando continuously fixing an increasingly tattered and fractured suit. Mando’s scarred childhood, as shown in “Chapter One,” clearly still torments him, and his emotionally suppressive stoicism may just have been broken through by meeting this baby.

The muteness is also ripe for some cartoonish, exaggerated visual comedy to break the solemnity. Mando setting the Yodaling down, only for the baby to immediately trot over, is like watching the antics of Jerry and baby Nibbles from Tom and Jerry. And after an action sequence recalling Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s tank climbing, Mando then mimics Wile E. Coyote as he falls off a sandcrawler. Pedro Pascal’s comic timing whenever he cocks his head in disbelief or sighs deeply is hilarious. Even composer Ludwig Göransson has some fun, playing a ridiculously triumphant trumpet piece as Mando’s convoy trudges slowly through pouring rain. As in “Chapter One,” “Chapter 2: The Child” modulates its tone expertly to naturally weave these extremes in.   

Mandalorian and Yodaling walking in the sunset.

Part of that may be because the story is so pared back, and the location is evocative enough to bleed into and dictate the wistful atmosphere. Famuyiwa lets the stunning red palette of the landscape’s geological formations and sunsets take prominence throughout, and it lends visual consistency. Tangentially, “Chapter 2: The Child” comes as close as Star Wars ever has to observing the principles of theatre laid down in Aristotle’s Poetics, taking place on — and never shifting from — the red planet Arvala-7 (unity of place) and having the single driving dramatic action of leaving the wasteland behind (unity of action). That it ditches Aristotle’s rule that a drama should only take place across a single day validates Kuiil’s claim last episode that one needs a Blurrg to traverse the terrain.

Speaking of Kuiil, he might just be the nicest character in Star Wars thus far. For the second episode in a row, he declines Mando’s earnest offer of payment, saying, “you are my guest and I am therefore in your service.” The service that comes with hosting ends, however, and therein lies the difference. As he says, “I have worked a lifetime to be finally free of servitude.” It is possible that we or Mando will not see nearly enough of Nick Nolte’s loveable character going forward, but the impact he has had on Mando is quite profound — especially Kuiil’s faith in his guest’s abilities, despite never having met a Mandalorian. After Mando returns with the goods needed to barter back parts that were stolen from his ship, he says, “I’m surprised it took you so long;” if the Yodaling is a test of morality, then Kuill is a kind, humanising force for Mando.

Kuiil and the Mandalorian talk.

Therefore, the fact that this idiosyncratic, wise, old Ugnaught cannot remotely understand a phenomenon of The Force demonstrates the extent of the impact the Jedi Purge in the aftermath of Order 66 (Revenge of the Sith) had on eradicating not only Force users, but knowledge of its existence as well. The Yodaling’s Force sensitivity is not a surprise. Surely the use of Yoda’s species was to clue the audience in as soon as possible, because otherwise they could have used many other species, as was done in The Clone Wars’ “Children of the Force” or Rebels’ “The Future of the Force.”

The purpose of accentuating the dramatic irony in this story is as yet unknown, but the reliance on an awareness of Star Wars’ wider canon is intentional. Anyone with knowledge of Darth Sidious’ attempts to raise and experiment on an army of Force-sensitive children would probably suspect the same aims for Omid Abtahi’s “Dr. Pershing.” However, the Sequel Trilogy is the real looming spectre for The Mandalorian. “Chapter Seven” releases on the same day as The Rise of Skywalker, so it’ll be interesting to see whether there are any direct connections. However, while the galaxy is vast, the knowledge that the First Order eventually rose up, and that Luke Skywalker’s attempts to establish a new Jedi Order failed, makes this story of the Mandalorian and his child a potentially very tragic and futile one. So we should enjoy the quiet moments while they last.

Other Thoughts/Observations:

That said, Padawan Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels is currently out there and presumably surviving in the post-Return of the Jedi period where The Mandalorian is set. So maybe this will be a happy ending if Ezra lasted through the terrors of the Empire!

If I recall correctly, Yoda died at 900 years old, and said he had been training students for 800. So he must have been at least a Jedi Knight by 100 years old. Maybe the next 50 years for the Yodaling will be full of rapid growth? It already has wrinkles!

On that note, how long are Yodaling foetuses stuck gestating in the womb? Actually, scratch that — I don’t need to know.

The assassination of IG-11 in “Chapter One” obfuscated my thinking, but there are at least three factions after this baby: Herzog’s group who hired Mando, whoever hired IG-11, and the group protecting the child that the duo eliminated.

Also, Mando’s prejudice against droids (and everyone’s) makes sense given that number of Confederacy droids annihilating everyone during the Clone Wars, including his home as seen in the flashbacks (benefit of Disney Plus: The Clone Wars is available to rewatch).

Can somebody please adapt Lone Wolf and Cub? Please?

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Apple TV+’s The Morning Show Both-Sides Itself Into Prestigious Irrelevance

The Morning Show’s mix of flashy performances and one-dimensional writing makes for one of 2019’s more intriguing misfires.

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The Morning Show Review

One of Apple TV+’s early projects was a Whitney Cummings-helmed comedy firmly rooted in the #MeToo movement – unsurprisingly, it was canceled when Apple executives balked at the idea of hosting such politically charged content.

Then Hillary Clinton’s press secretary walked in with a #MeToo-themed drama based on a CNN’s anchor’s poorly-reviewed book, and Apple said: “Here’s $300 million.”

Everything about The Morning Show bows at the temple of Late Sorkin, shows whose neutered centrist politics bleed through indulgent monologues, carelessly crafting limp arguments and diatribes around events nakedly parallel to our own world.

The strange optics are a rather apt reflection of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, one of the more confounding high-profile dramas in recent years. Comparisons to Aaron Sorkin’s HBO disaster The Newsroom might seem lazy and obvious, but there’s really no comparing it to anything else. From shot composition to dialogue and performance, everything about The Morning Show bows at the temple of Late Sorkin, shows whose neutered centrist politics and indulgent monologues, carelessly crafting limp arguments and diatribes around events nakedly parallel to our own world.

The Morning Show

It, unfortunately, begins with one of 2019’s worst pilots, a grating 63-minute introduction to its world of morally compromised broadcast news players. As it builds out its world of producers, lackeys, stars, and C-suite executives, The Morning Show‘s first (and most of its second) hour painfully imitates the worst Sorkin-isms with glee, a series of painfully overt character introductions and an overwhelming feeling the script is about five years behind on the many conversations it wants to have about gender, power, political conflict, and the state of broadcast news.

At the center of it all is Jennifer Aniston, relishing in the decidedly two-dimensional Alex Levy, host of the eponymous show-within-a-show. When the delicate balance she’s found between being a mother, a star, and a serious contributor to the morning show culture, is disrupted by sexual misconduct allegations against her co-host Mitch Kessler (Steven Carell, doing the best he can with it all), it becomes an inflection point in her career.

To her credit, Aniston justifies the hype of her streaming debut; her committed performance allows her to run the full emotional gamut of Alex’s life, grounding her with an emotional restraint I only wish carried through to the writing. Both to its benefit and detriment, it writes around its star, offering Aniston all the room in the world for showy, dedicated, awards bait. And though it carefully avoids falling completely into a series of tropes and cliches about women almost having it all – and what they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve it – there’s no denying how the basic notes of her character are pounding over and over in early episodes, to dull effect.

The Morning Show

The same goes for Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson, a woman whose Libertarian opinions and rough edges have stalled her career as a try-hard journalist… for a conservative news outlet (twist!). In the pilot, Bradley gets fired for yelling at someone during a protest against the coal industry, a speech that absolutely belongs in the Both Sides-ism Hall of Fame. Experienced and naive, whip-smart but held back by her own intelligence, Witherspoon’s overbearing presence as Bradley combines with some of the show’s clumsiest writing, an unremarkable attempt to subvert expectations on multiple levels.

Jackson’s character begins to come together by the third hour (once Jay Carson, the show’s creator, was fired and no longer credited on scripts), after she’s thrown unexpectedly into the mix by an Alex Levy power move; “unexpected” in that Bradley didn’t see it coming, though it is painfully obvious to even the most casual observer where the first 110-plus minutes of plot is heading. But it’s a painful road to get there, one full of asides about blue-collar upbringings and frustrations with the left and right (centrism, baby!), with the obligatory tinges of bad mom drama and professional insecurity.

The Morning Show

Bradley’s character becomes an unfortunate mouthpiece for all the issues The Morning Show is woefully equipped to handle; the fossil fuel industry, what’s wrong with broadcast news… and in “That Women,” abortion, when she accidentally (or…??) reveals what the show treats as a Deep, Dark Secret of her past… and then immediately drops as an actual plot halfway through “That Woman,” folding it into the background noise that is the capital-d Drama surrounding the fictional Morning Show.

(This happens on her second broadcast, I might add, during her attempt to subtly undermine the wickedly facile dialogue being fed to everyone from cue cards and teleprompters.)

The benefit of having such a large, talented cast and prestigious directors (Mimi Leder and Lynn Shelton direct three of the first four hours) does allow The Morning Show to occasionally stumble into being quite watchable. There’s strange chemistry to the cast, and it combines with the sharp direction to breathe life in between the many instances where The Morning Show trips over itself with bloated plots and repetitive character beats.

The Morning Show

There are a number of scenes in the third and fourth episode that are genuinely compelling, in a sadistic kind of way: the writing and performances are so confident and dedicated to what they’re trying to say, even when it is blindingly obvious The Morning Show is ill-equipped to catalyze on the many compelling ideas it throws into the mix. It can be fun to watch, an incongruous relationship between style and substance that is occasionally intoxicating in the sheer ludicrousness of it all.

But mostly, The Morning Show is just tiring in its dissonance, and its clear horniness for moderation and careful reinforcement of systemic norms – it is more interested in getting participation trophies for being in complex sociopolitical conversations, than actually having a concrete point of view on anything (it’s like the anti-Superstore in a lot of ways). The first four episodes are a confluence of elements, brash lead performances clashing with the naturalistic work of the show-within-a-show characters around them, all trying to convincingly deliver the dramatic equivalent of sugar-coated chalk. There are certainly some tasty, addictive qualities to The Morning Show; but those delicious morsels are overwhelmed by the bitter, archaic nature of its central narrative and episodic flow.

It is certainly fascinating to watch a show consistently jump in the deep end without knowing how to swim – it’s just not entertaining to watch The Morning Show flounder around helplessly scene after scene, a creative misfire of epically-budgeted proportions.

Other thoughts/observations:

$300 million and those are the best opening credits you could come up with? Dots?

It is interesting how Steve Carell is listed among the main cast; he is not in these first four episodes very much – and when he is, it offers some of the show’s most uncomfortably strained writing.

This show constantly cuts to a shot of a clock alarm going off at 3:30 am. Literally every day that passes on the show, we get Bradley or Alex slamming the alarm off. WE GET IT.

Mark Duplass co-stars as the longtime producer of The Morning Show; of the show’s collection of idiotic male characters, his Charlie is rather carefully constructed. It is unexpectedly strong, and stands in interesting contrast to Billy Crudup’s Cory Ellison, a network executive Crudup clearly relishes in making a brash, exaggerated performance.

There’s a subplot about a simpleton weatherman (the always-welcome Nestor Carbonell) and the young producer he’s hooking up with. She’s apparently from a rich, influential family? It kind of feels like this show’s 2019-ified take on Sports Night’s Jeremy and Natalie.

Yes, there is an episode that ends with an acoustic version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”… spoiler: it is the episode that has a Kelly Clarkson cameo.

Karen Pittman chews up scenery as Mia, a very pragmatic producer, and Bradley’s guiding hand.

The second episode focuses pretty intently on Alex’s role as a mother… and then her daughter basically disappears without mention? I’m sure they’ll come back to it, but boy does The Morning Show like to go on tangents and forget its many, many, many side plots.

Oh man, there is an awful, awful scene where Martin Short plays an unnamed director, who talks with Mitch about what they’ve done, and how they can try and return respect to their names. And then Mitch reveals he knows the director is an “actual rapist,” and presumably decides not to make a documentary with him? It is so weird and distonal, and feels like The Morning Show presenting a weird moralistic litmus test to Mitch.

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A Brief History of Survivor Series: A Cornerstone of WWE

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History of Survivor Series

Relive Some of the Biggest Moments in Survivor Series history

There are a few pay-per-views that are mainstays of WWE’s annual slate of offerings. SummerSlam. Royal Rumble. WrestleMania. Kids grow up dreaming of wrestling at these shows, and Survivor Series is one of them. The classic Survivor Series match is a five-on-five elimination bout, featuring a variety of top stars as well as up and coming wrestlers. It provides an important showcase for WWE’s talent, some of which don’t always get pay-per-view time.

Survivor Series
Hulk Hogan’s Best Survivor Series Team

Besides that, it’s a lot of fun for fans to watch.

Over the years, Survivor Series has produced a number of career-defining moments for the talent involved and those moments can mean everything. This is the pay-per-view that kicks off the build-up to WrestleMania, the ultimate goal for all WWE wrestlers.

The 2019 event is even more interesting than past iterations because of its incorporation of talent from NXT for the first time ever, pitting their champions against Raw and SmackDown. If fans were looking for a statement as to how seriously WWE is taking NXT as its own brand, matching NXT against their long-standing brands accomplishes that. Let’s look back at some of the most memorable moments of the event.

Survivor Series NXT
Triple H with his NXT Champions

Bret Hart’s Survivor Series History

Many of the biggest moments in Survivor Series history happened outside of the actual namesake match. One of the most infamous moments in WWE history, The Montreal Screwjob, happened at Survivor Series 1997. Knowing Bret Hart was leaving WWE and wanting to make sure he didn’t take the belt to WCW, Vince McMahon ordered a fast count during Hart’s match with Shawn Michaels.

Hart’s response was infamous and understandable, his long feud with both McMahon and Michaels only coming to a relatively recent end.

Hart had a part in another big moment, this time at Survivor Series 1996. One year before The Montreal Screwjob, Bret Hart faced off against a young wrestler name Stone Cold Steve Austin who was looking to make a name for himself. Thanks to this match, he would do it. While it’s not often recognized as such, this match was the start of Austin taking the wrestling world by storm and building a legendary career that fans still talk about.

Notable Survivor Series Debuts

A WWE franchise player, The Undertaker himself debuted at Survivor Series 1990, starting arguably the most legendary run for any gimmick in wrestling history. The next year at Survivor Series 1991, The Undertaker would go on to defeat Hulk Hogan for the World Championship and cement his legacy as ‘The Phenom.’

Royal Rumble
The Undertaker vs. Hulk Hogan at Survivor Series 1991

The Undertaker wasn’t the only wrestler to debut at the venerable pay-per-view. The Shield, a faction that would go one to produce three major singles champions, made their first main roster appearance at Survivor Series 2012. They came through the crowd and destroyed both John Cena and Ryback on behalf of CM Punk. The legendary Sting made his first WWE appearance at Survivor Series 2014, attacking Triple H and setting up a WrestleMania match between them.

WrestleMania
Sting vs. Triple H at WrestleMania

Sole Survivors

Asuka also achieved glory at Survivor Series 2017 as part of her build-up to WrestleMania. She was a member of the Raw Women’s Team, putting in a typically dominant performance. Asuka was the sole survivor, winning the match for her brand and eventually going on to win the first Women’s Royal Rumble match.

Survivor Series WrestleMania
Asuka Victorious at Survivor Series

Unfortunately, she didn’t win her match at WrestleMania, a loss that took months and months to recover from. Now, it seems like she’s finally back on track alongside Kairi Sane as the Women’s Tag Team Champions.

Many big names have been sole survivors, as well. Roman Reigns, Kofi Kingston, Andre the Giant, and Lex Luger have all held that distinction. The likes of Ric Flair, The Rock, and Dolph Ziggler have been sole survivors on two separate occasions each. Randy Orton holds the unique distinction of being a three-time sole survivor, though that’s no surprise for ‘The Viper.’ He is nothing if not a survivor.

Now. Then. Forever.

The big four pay-per-views will always have a special place in the hearts of WWE fans, and Survivor Series is no exception. While every moment on screen plays a role in building a successful wrestler, showing up and showing out in big moments like this set the tone for the rest of the year.

Some of the biggest names in WWE history have made their names at Survivor Series, possibly even more so than WrestleMania. Survivor Series was created to play off the success of Andre the Giant versus Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. Both men led their own teams at the inaugural event, featuring some of the biggest talents of their time.

That continues today as modern talent use this traditional pay-per-view event as a means of launching careers. It’s one of those events young wrestlers grow up dreaming about.

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