Recapping and Grading the Premiere of WWE Total Divas

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Recapping and Grading the Premiere of WWE Total Divas
"Total Divas" cast (E! publicity photo)

The moment that you've been either anticipating or dreading is here.  Total Divas premiered last night!  There were so many questions going in: How much obvious fakery would there be?  

The show opened with a big exposition dump:

  • Quick intro to WWE that included the term "Broadway with bodyslams."  Yes.
  • Nikki and Brie Bella are excited to be coming back from a year off, but...
  • They think the Funkadactyls, Ariane and Trinity, took advantage of their departure to become fan favorites.  Yes, we quickly learn that they're using real names for just about everyone: Not only are Cameron always Ariane and Naomi always Trinity, but the latter's boyfriend, usually referred to as Jon, is Jimmy Uso.  I may be wrong, but I don't think the names "Cameron" or "Naomi" were ever uttered.
  • Natalya also gets the real name treatment as Nattie Neidhart, but while her boyfriend T.J. Wilson (Tyson Kidd) appeared briefly, he wasn't really introduced yet.  Her introduction was mostly about her coming from a wrestling family, and they showed her, T.J. and her dad watching her train (with...I think maybe Emma?) at the now-defunct FCW school.

Then we jump right into the Bellas' relationship status: Nikki's boyfriend is John Cena (dun dun dunnnnnn) and Brie lives with her boyfriend Bryan Danielson, "who wrestles as Daniel Bryan." Cena (because referring to Nikki's boyfriend John and Trinity's boyfriend Jon would make this all even more confusing) is teaching her how to fish in some small body of water on his palatial estate in Tampa.

We see way too much of John Cena's pelvic bone at one point in this scene.  Nikki talks about how this is like that one scene in "The Notebook," which she declares "the hottest thing ever" and OH GOD SHE WANTS HIM TO REENACT IT WITH HER.  Well, the kissing part, not the overwrought romantic dialogue.  He does it!

Meanwhile, Brie and Bryan are shown in San Diego returning home from walking their dog and Brie goes on about being an almost hippie-ish type who eats all-organic.  I'm honestly not sure how much of the juxtaposition of the twins' differences is intentional but there's a lot of it starting here.

On that note, Nikki, flanked by her mom, shows up in San Diego with a new Range Rover that Cena got her. For some reason I laughed at her pointing out that the interior was red what seemed like 30 seconds after Bryan and Brie started looking over the interior.

They head inside and make lunch.  In his only real line in this first episode, Bryan notes that "It is slightly odd from a man's perspective that he gave you a Range Rover before he gave you a ring."  How Machiavellian.  Bryan is awesome.

TIME FOR THE REALITY SHOW SHENANIGANS!

From here on, the rest of the episode takes place in New York City and New Jersey.  It's "seven days before WrestleMania," yet Nattie talks to Stephanie McMahon about being sorry she missed Stephanie's speech "last night" because she was doing a Fan Axxess signing during the Hall of Fame.  As you may be aware, the Hall of Fame is the night before WrestleMania.  I get that they're banking on reeling in the non-wrestling fans who watch every E! reality show, but why include that?

Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Jane Geddes during her LPGA career

Anyway, Vice President of Talent Relations Jane Geddes calls Nattie to a meeting for some bad news: Nattie is not wrestling at WrestleMania.  Yes, the idea is Nattie was shocked and devastated to learn this a week before WrestleMania (shot the day of WrestleMania!) even though she was not in the middle of any ongoing storyline other than "being The Great Khali's girlfriend."  I get the producers are trying to make her sympathetic, but was that really their best idea?

Jane does have a very important job for Nattie, though: She wants Nattie to chaperone newbie Divas Jojo Offerman and Eva Marie during the week.  After they meet I'm pretty sure she doesn't chaperone them anywhere after their initial meeting, which...um...OK?

Eva Marie just had red highlights put in her brown hair, but Jane wants her to go blonde and she reluctantly agrees.  Nattie is not happy about this development since she's the resident blonde Diva right now.

At the WrestleMania dress rehearsal, Ariane's non-wrestler boyfriend Vincent is backstage for the first time.  My immediate reaction was that he looks like UFC fighter Manny Gamburyan, but F4WOnline's Vincent Verhei observed that he looks like Felonious Gru from "Despicable Me," which is much funnier.

Felonious Gru (Universal Pictures)

After the run-through of her match (Tons of Funk and the Funkadactyls vs Team Rhodes Scholars and the Bella Twins), Ariane comes to Vincent backstage in tears.  Whatever actually happened isn't shown, but she messed something up and Brodus Clay started screaming "YOU SUCK!" at her.  Given Ariane's wrestling acumen, I suspect this is, in fact, something that really happened.

Vincent went completely nuts and declared he would beat up Brodus.  The way he was talking, I suspect Vincent has never seen what one Brodus Clay looks like.

Brodus Clay channeling Kingpin as Snoop Dogg's bodyguard (Zimbio)

Trinity is immediately worried that this will lead to something that will also blow back on her, so she, Jon, and Nattie calm Vincent down before he does anything.  Later, Trinity and Jon discuss what happened while they're in the car and Trinity basically says Brodus did nothing wrong and that she would've yelled at Ariane for the screwup herself.  Awesome.

The most amazing thing in the episode might be when the Bellas meet the newbies.  Nikki half-jokes that with brown hair, Eva Marie looks too much like her.

Let that sink in for a moment.

With Jojo by her side, Eva Marie goes to a salon in Manhattan to get her hair dyed and the stylist looks horrified by the prospect of making her a blonde, as the color would have to be stripped from her hair first.  It's clearly not going well, so she asks to get her hair dyed "Rhianna red" instead, which is how you saw her on Raw last Monday.  Jojo is absolutely terrified that this could get them fired, but Jane Geddes likes the new color!  She says that Eva Marie can't ever defy them like that again, though.

Next up is the WrestleMania kick-off party/Stars for Sandy charity auction.  Nattie is annoyed that she's hosting the WWE.com coverage of the event.  She feels that she's not getting the "Diva moments" on the red carpet because the office thinks she'll go along with whatever they want.

Steve Tisch looks very confused (E!, screencap by ProWresBlog.Blogspot.com)

Inside, the plot moves along with the Bellas being wary of the new girls as everyone gets really snippy at each other.  In the most awkward moment of the episode, the Bellas ask New York Giants owner Steve Tisch if there is a secret locker room in Metlife Stadium that they can lock the new girls in.  Tisch looks so disinterested it's hilarious, and this scene was there seemingly there just so the Bellas could be seen schmoozing with a billionaire at a fancy charity event.

The Bellas get lunch at a Cuban restaurant.  Brie notes that she's going ring shopping with Bryan soon, so Nikki starts worrying about her future with Cena again.  And...scene.  That was quick.

2nd Kool-Aid reference on WWE TV in the last week or so, FWIW... (TotallyLooksLike.com)

Trinity and Ariane argue about how Ariane needs to talk to Vincent.  It doesn't go anywhere constructive, but their argument includes the following exchange:

Ariane: "You're all up in my kool-aid."

Trinity: "It's now my kool-aid too, because what happened, that affects me too."

On top of that amazingness, Trinity tells Ariane she needs to see a therapist.  I laughed.

Then Nikki and Cena talk about commitment in that scene we all saw online already and opens with this:

How romantic (EOnline.com)

"Both marriage and family are very difficult obstacles for me,"  says Cena, but he reassures Nikki that she's changed him for the better and blah blah blah romantic platitudes.  Oh, and in giving examples of things he loves doing with her, he refers to what they're doing at that moment as "a dinner on a random Thursday night" even though this is allegedly the night before WrestleMania.  Oops.

What was the most ridiculous plot development of the episode?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Time for WrestleMania.  The Bellas cheer on Team Hell No and then get ready for their match.  While they walk around in their special WrestleMania gear (their usual red gear plus top hats and canes; I guess now I know why women loved the Fabulous Ones), they taunt the the Funkadactyls, who were scrambling because their gear wasn't ready yet.  The gear they already wore AT THE DRESS REHEARSAL.  Seriously, show, you're killing me here.

Nattie and the new girls are watching from their skybox as The Undertaker vs. CM Punk ends.  Nattie explains that mixed tag match is on next, but then Cena comes out even though Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar was between those two matches in real life.

They go downstairs, where the Bellas and Funkadactyls are commiserating in what looks like the General Manager office set.  Their match got bumped for time constraints and everyone is sad, including Nattie because it sounds like she helped lay it out.  In the middle of all this, Ariane promises to talk to Vincent about his behavior and the Funkadactyls make up.  The end.

We got a wacky "This season on Total Divas..." montage that oddly didn't include any direct references to Nattie and T.J.'s wedding even though it's the climax of the season.  In general, there was a lot of footage of the women scantily clad, spread out among footage of:

  • The trip to Las Vegas for the bachelor(ette) parties (with Hornswoggle among T.J.'s friends and a Bella literally falling down drunk).
  • Jon snapping at Trinity.
  • T.J. putting on his best Al Bundy face while ignoring Nattie in lingerie.
  • 19 year old Jojo being warned that 32 year old Justin Gabriel could break her heart.
  • Stephanie McMahon tearing into Eva Marie.
  • A match with an unplanned slap (oh no).
  • Jojo (concussion) and Nikki (stress fracture in her leg) dealing with injuries.
  • "No wonder people call you fat on Twitter, NICOLE." "SHUT UP, BRIE!"

So, how did everyone come off so far?

  • Nikki Bella did not make the best of accounting of herself, though I have no idea how much of that was her fault and how much was brought on by wacky plot lines.  She's fairly frustrating here, though.  In an online-only clip on the Total Divas page on EOnline, she also doesn't seem to know what the human male's prostate and testicles are for, much less what they do.  Until Bryan explains it to her, it doesn't seem like she's ever heard the word "testicles" before.
  • Brie Bella comes off as a perfectly normal and nice person when she's around Bryan.  Not so much when she's with Nikki, but it's fairly obvious she's playing a character in those scenes.
  • Trinity also came off like a fairly normal and well-adjusted person, but...
  • Ariane, um, didn't.  Nikki comes off as someone who might just be playing a specific character, but Ariane is a babyface on WWE shows, so it would be counterintuitive to make her a reality show heel out of thin air.  Between how she came off on Tough Enough, how she's coming off here, and her legal issues, she's easily the least likable woman in the cast.
  • I think Nattie's story will get her over as a bigger star in WWE, but so far, she's been given overly manufactured plots, which won't make it as easy.
  • The newbies didn't really do much at all.  Jojo did nothing and Eva Marie's hair story was fairly obviously scripted, so it's hard to tell with them so far.
  • Finally, as for the guys: Cena was what you'd expect but I could see some women turning on him because they hate Nikki.  I don't think much will change for Bryan since he came off really well and he has a cute dynamic with Brie.  Jon and T.J. didn't really do anything yet, but I suspect viewers will like T.J. if there aren't too many wacky plots with him and the show gives the backstory about how long he and Nattie have known each other and been together.

Stray notes:

  • For some reason, Mark Carrano of WWE's Talent Relations department is one of the most convincing actors in this first episode.
  • Layla's only appearance in the episode is to play the same role she's had on WWE lately: Comforting the other, more important other Divas when they're sad.
  • The name stuff makes sense, but there's some weirdness like the Funkadactyls' gimmick first names not being used in any context, not even "I wrestle as..."
  • I don't mind "reality shows" being obviously phony, because that's par for the course now, but the timeline and continuity problems are really bad.  While some of it (the WrestleMania weekend jumbling) will only be noticeable to wrestling fans (if non-fans are watching...), some of it (the dress rehearsal with costumes that allegedly weren't finished) is out there for anyone to catch.  At least none of the guys have gone from bearded to clean-shaven and back to bearded in the span of the day like on "Celebrity Rehab."

What grade do you give "Welcome to the WWE"?

Submit Vote vote to see results

If you're wavering, you should check out the show (which is being replayed on USA tonight after Raw, though that's only for this week) because it was definitely enjoyable.  The only exception is if you can't stand obviously manufactured reality show plots, though even then you could hate-watch it with glee.  Personally, I'm looking forward to how ridiculous "Total Divas" gets over the course of the season.

See you next week for episode 2: "A Tango with Fandango."

Total Divas S01E01 - "Welcome to the WWE" Grade: B

David Bixenspan has been Bleacher Report's WWE Team Leader and a contracted columnist since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @davidbix and check out his wrestling podcasts at LLTPod.com.

David Bixenspan has been Bleacher Report's WWE Team Leader and a contracted columnist since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @davidbix and check out his wrestling podcasts at LLTPod.com.

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