Total Divas first episode recap, what we learned about the WWE

Total Divas first episode recap, and so much more …
Total Divas, Episode 1 “Welcome to the WWE,” Original airdate July 28, 2013

Quick Intro: I’m Gerry Strauss (@gerrystrauss), I’m a lifelong pro wrestling fan, a freelance writer and, last I checked, I’m a guy. Confession time: I’ve never watched a female-centric reality show before, but I’m going to leap into this with both feet and watch from the point of view of someone who is more Kardashian-centric than Undertaker-friendly. Instead of giving you the play-by-play, let’s look a bit deeper and find out what we REALLY learn each week as we follow the WWE Divas in and out of the ring, starting with …

The WWE: One of the burning questions about this show is whether it would treat pro wrestling as scripted entertainment, or try to suspend our disbelief and convince us that the in-ring action and storylines are real. The answer falls somewhere in the middle. Yes, there are discussions of rehearsals and match run-throughs, but none of this is really shown … at least in episode #1. This is a good thing: We all know the WWE is “sports-entertainment,” not “sport,” but their shows are a lot more fun to watch if we aren’t beaten over the head with that fact.

Total Divas on E! features the BellasThe Bella Twins: Of all the featured Divas, Nicole and Brianna Bella (pictured left) are depicted most closely to their onscreen personas. Catty, vindictive and rude, their commitment to maintaining their spot atop the pecking order and harassing the “newbies” (I thought that word went out 20 years ago) paints them as the WWE’s nastiest sorority sisters to viewers. Yet, as with most characters on this show, we can see a genuine effort to show a different side to these girls. Brie is apparently a “hippie” (who knew?) who is planning an eventual marriage to her 2 ½-year boyfriend, WWE Superstar Bryan “Daniel Bryan” Danielson (got that?). Nicole has developed a deep relationship with WWE kingpin John Cena, whose reluctance to commit to marriage due to his own history with divorce has left her continually concerned about her future. Not exactly deep stuff, but these ladies are certainly given a layer of vulnerability that “WWE Raw” cannot provide.

The Funkadactyls: On standard WWE TV, Naomi and Cameron are the back-up dancers to the oversized hip-hop tag team known as “Tons of Funk” and they get to wrestle once in a while. Here, we find out that these girls have personalities … and they don’t always get along.  Naomi, the more experienced grappler, is the levelheaded one … even if she allegedly doesn’t have the charisma of her rookie partner, Ariane. When the latter’s boyfriend threatens to cause problems backstage in a heated moment, the two find themselves at odds for the rest of the episode as Ariane’s naivety fails to let her understand how dangerous it is for both of their careers to invite drama into their workplace. From the previews, it looks like this is far from the last blow-up that we’ll see between these two.

Natalya: The designated “Jan Brady” of the show, episode #1 showcases this second-generation superstar as a frustrated, overlooked malcontent who never gets the spotlight that her less-experienced peers seem to be handed. During “WrestleMania” week, she is relegated to showing the “newbies” around and babysitting friends and family, a fact that does not sit well with her. In future episodes, it appears that we will see her troubles extend to her longstanding relationship with fellow WWE superstar (and Canadian) Tyson Kidd, but those who follow these two on Twitter know that things certainly turn around for them later in the season. Could we actually see Natalya smile before the series is done?

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The “Newbies”: Not much is explained to us about these two, other than the fact that they allegedly have no idea what they are getting into (and say as much on the drive to meet with WWE Talent relations for the first time). Eva Maria, a stunning Mexican-Italian Californian, is immediately seen as a threat by the Bellas, who take several opportunities to throw their veteran weight around. When WWE management advises her to dye her dark hair blond to distinguish herself from the twins, she goes “Rihanna Red” instead, establishing a defiant streak that (luckily for her) impresses her boss but puts her peers on high alert. As for Jo-Jo Offerman … well, she is short, cute, a dancer, and only 19 years old. I’m sure there’s more to come, but episode #1 just sort of pat her on the head and sent her on her merry way.

Total Divas: When this show was announced, wrestling fans groaned. How “real” can a reality show about pro wrestlers actually be? Where will scripted WWE storylines end and “reality begin”? As a knowledgeable fan, I’m here to tell you that it’s actually not bad. Certainly, there were a few hugely noticeable falsities (Natalya allegedly converses with Stephanie McMahon about the prior night’s Hall-of-Fame ceremony seven days before WrestleMania, but wrestling fans know that this ceremony doesn’t happen until the night before the big event). How much of the interpersonal relationships and romantic ups and downs are genuine? We may never know, but that’s not necessarily the priority here. In the bigger picture, the characters are compelling, the stars get to show different sides of themselves than usual, and the overall product is entertaining enough that I’m definitely in for next week. So who’s with me?

Till then, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @gerrystrauss or drop me a line with questions or comments at gerrystrauss@aol.com!

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