By Will PruettCo-Senior Staffer of ProWrestling.net (@itswilltime)
There’s a lot to love about All Elite Wrestling. On a weekly basis, there’s no TV show I look forward to more than Dynamite. It’s compelling, fun and logical. Wrestling is a better place because of AEW’s existence and the last three years have been a nicer time to be a wrestling fan than the decade before.
AEW seems to pride itself on long-term storytelling. We have seen some great stories and spinoffs from them over the past few years. At the same time, we’re starting to see troubling patterns in Tony Khan’s booking philosophy. AEW wants to emphasize long-term stories, but they don’t push those stories forward. Stories are left for weeks at a time and then come back, often out of nowhere.
Let’s start with the confusing Varsity Blondes promo from last night. I’m disappointed every time I see Brian Pillman Jr. and Griff Garrison on Dynamite. It’s a rude act that’s been pointed out too often in AEW. Them coming in out of nowhere and trying to rekindle a long dead feud with House of Black is nothing to add to this show. While I appreciate the follow-up to Julia Hart’s long-teased turn, AEW expects us to care about something that happened too long ago that was one-sided to begin with.
The Varsity Blondes and House of Black isn’t a long-term storytelling triumph, it’s just bad storytelling. Telling a bad story over a long period of time doesn’t make it better.
This brings me to the women’s division of AEW. AEW has made progress, both in acquiring talent and creating matches to improve a women’s division that was their biggest weakness two years ago. At the same time, AEW is forced to fulfill a quota of one women’s match per show instead of organically telling stories.
The failure of AEW’s quota system is evident in the endless behind-the-scenes segments between Britt Baker, Jamie Hayter, Ruby Soho and Toni Storm. Since Toni Storm’s March 30 debut, she’s been backstage talking (or rather talking) for over a month. She has yet to have another match on AEW TV (she has a match announced for the May 6 episode of Rampage).
Toni Storm felt like a major star coming into AEW and a major talent acquisition fresh off WWE television. Why hasn’t she done anything for over a month? Why not win Storm a few squash matches on TV in mid-April? Why did we need a whole month of pointless behind-the-scenes interviews that didn’t make anyone look good?
Storm is worse off now than she was when she debuted. It is less finished and less convincing.
It might be easy to see this as just a Toni Storm glitch and a timing coincidence with tournament qualifier Owen Hart, but that’s not the case. AEW has spent over a month building a cold challenger in Marina Shafir for Jade Cargill’s 30th game. There were endless backstage interviews. The match finally happened and it made almost no sense. Jade is still finished, but that’s despite this construct, not because of it.
What about the feud between Serena Deeb and Hikaru Shida? They had five games over the months and the intensity of the feud diminished with each encounter. Although it was a long feud, it was not a good feud. I can’t say that Serena Deeb is a better act after winning than she otherwise would be.
With the Owen Hart Tournament coming up for AEW Women, will we only see one women’s match per show? Will reigning AEW Women’s Champions Thunder Rose and Jade Cargill take a month off because Tony Khan refuses to host two women’s matches on Dynamite?
AEW tells long stories and doesn’t leave stories unfinished. I appreciate that and definitely prefer their method of storytelling over the alternative. At the same time, AEW is telling too many long stories and running into huge pacing issues, especially in their women’s division which has imposed a quota of one match per show on itself. While stories and characters aren’t abandoned long term, they can disappear for weeks, only to reappear as if nothing had happened. It could be better storytelling than WWE, but it’s just as bad.
Tony Khan also has the added complication of weaving Ring of Honor stories and championships into his TV shows. Adding four new titles and new divisions, as well as new wrestlers, is a tall order and both Dynamite and Rampage are giving way under the weight of the constant action that AEW tries to impose on them.
Perhaps the problem isn’t AEW’s long-term storytelling, but the amount of story AEW is trying to tell with too little time to do so. The solution here is more paced stories and a more direct focus on talent. I would also argue for more than one women’s match most weeks on Dynamite, giving these female wrestlers less time to hang out in the wings and more time to be featured.
Some might say that AEW maintains many of the stories I mentioned, but only on Dark and Dark: Elevation. It doesn’t count. While I understand how AEW uses these shows, a small fraction of their audience tunes into YouTube to watch them. They’re just shoulders and should never be the core of the AEW experience.
My hope for AEW, as they embark on their fourth year of existence after Double or Nothing 2022, is for Tony Khan’s continued improvement as booker and storyteller. I have seen Khan improve massively over the past three years and believe that continued evolution is possible. I hope my belief is not misplaced and that AEW can continue to create the best wrestling shows on television.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. What interests him is diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content, subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact him, find him on Twitter @itswilltimeleave a comment or email him at email@example.com.