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“Total Divas” Surprises WWE Doubters, Spotlights Natalya, Eva Marie

While demographic data reveals that the E! audience contains a surprisingly large percentage of male viewers and that WWE’s programming attracts a surprisingly large number of female viewers, denying the vast differences between the two camps is thoroughly foolish.

And so no matter how expertly one promoted new reality series “Total Divas,” which premiered on E! this Sunday, he was always facing the risk of alienating E! viewers with too much emphasis on wrestling and alienating WWE viewers with too much emphasis on standard reality show shenanigans.

But it is awareness of that dichotomy that makes some of the recent marketing effort so surprising. Rather than highlighting wrestling aspect of the show, a promotional clip during Monday’s WWE RAW focused more on cattiness between the cast members. That clip–a scene in which the Bellas sized up new Diva Eva Marie–received universally negative reviews from RAW’s critics and social commentators.

If a wrestling fan’s impression of the new “Total Divas” series were driven by that clip (or one shared online, in which Nikki Bella confronted boyfriend John Cena about whether he sees marriage in their future), he would be justified in curbing his enthusiasm. It might feature wrestling personalities, but this did not come across as a show for wrestling audiences.

And yet if that fan–or anyone else passionate about pro wrestling–tuned into Sunday’s series premiere, he was surely pleasantly surprised by how compellingly the E! reality series connected itself to the world of WWE.

Make no mistake, this was not necessarily a great episode of television, even by reduced reality standards. It was not high-art. And it was not without the forced, ultimately trivial drama that plagues most of E’s reality series and plagued the aforementioned promotional clips (both of which were from Sunday’s premiere episode).

But for all its faults, it was surprisingly fascinating in its exploration of the backstage WWE environment and surprisingly beneficial in showcasing the often-overlooked personalities of its Divas.

Set in the build to WrestleMania 29, the episode explores elements rarely in the forefront of WWE’s public presentation.

It addressed backstage politics, including Natalya’s frustration with losing key wrestling opportunities and television time to less experienced workers and the stern, distant extent to which talent relations head Jane Geddes manages. It chronicled the fallout from a WrestleMania “dress rehearsal” in which Brodus Clay called out Funkadactyl Cameron (going by her real first name Ariane) for a botched spot. And it captured the tense atmosphere backstage at the WrestleMania pay-per-view, which was exacerbated by the last-second decision to pull the mixed tag match between Tons of Funk and Team Rhodes Scholars with the Bella Twins.

It is not as if WWE were not in complete control of the lockerroom it was showcasing. And insofar as the Divas play a minor role in the WWE product, it is doubtful the episode’s look behind the curtain satiated anyone’s desire for a complete window into how WWE’s talent operates when not on RAW, SmackDown! or pay-per-view.

But for a company previously known for its opposition to providing any such glimpse, the look “Total Divas” did offer viewers was surely of interest and value to those watching. It provided context and illustration for the backstage environment about which WWE’s fans could previously only read.

Viewed from this context–a behind-the-scenes look at WWE talent–even the show’s sensationalized reality cliches were easy to swallow.

Save for Daniel Bryan’s pot-stirring remark about John Cena’s willingness to buy girlfriend Nikki Bella a new Range Rover before an engagement ring, there was little intrigue to the Superstar-Diva relationships, which came across as bland at best and awkward at worst.

But exciting or not, there was intrigue in the very fact that such relationships exist. Seeing WWE’s resident Super Man playing the role of dutiful boyfriend, especially with a heel character, added an element to his image not easily replicated in the universe of WWE’s storylines.

Even more intriguing was the spotlight on the relationship between Ariane and her boyfriend Vincent, who is not involved in the pro wrestling industry. While the common assumption is that Divas and Superstars end up dating due to convenience and road temptation, Sunday’s “Total Divas” explicitly showcased the difficulty of dating an outsider.

Marred by the fact that WWE did not show the initial incident between Brodus Clay and Ariane, a pivotal episode scene still scored by focusing on Vincent’s infuriated desire to confront Clay. On the one hand, he had just learned another man had disrespected his girlfriend, which makes a desire to throw hands anything but abnormal. On the other hand, acting on that desire would have had far-reaching–and very negative–ramifications.

Given that the WWE lockerroom is filled with tough, athletic, large men, that an outsider boyfriend–who is not himself an elite team sports athlete, wrestler or mixed martial artist–would successfully handle himself in such an encounter is remote. But regardless of the actual outcome, allowing emotion to spillover into an incident could prove fatal to the career of both his girlfriend and anyone affiliated with her (Trinity, in this case).

That political element renders an outsider boyfriend ineffective as a line of defense and thus greatly complicates the relationship.

Beyond relationships, “Total Divas” also focuses on the dynamic and interplay between its female cast members.

Always overblown, rarely sincere and seldomly captivating, such scenes were nonetheless aided by the show’s rapidfire editing, which kept everything moving at a watchable pace. The Divas themselves also enhanced such scenes, displaying levels of personality and poise they rarely showcase on WWE’s signature television shows.

Natalya, in particular, emerged as an instantly-likable, immensely-sympathetic character. Chronicling her unfortunate political situation, in which less-talented, less-experienced but perhaps more marketable women receive more opportunities, Natalya instantly connected with anyone who feels his or her workplace talent goes unappreciated. And yet because Natalya did seem paranoid and bitter at times, she did not come across as the type of martyr that alienates a flawed audience.

Though some of her line delivery was as stilted as it was on Monday’s RAW, Eva Marie seems relatively comfortable in the E! environment. Her tremendous look and sassy personality establish her as a great foil for the Bella Twins.

With JoJo serving as a non-factor in this episode and the Funkadactyls playing their parts competently, it was those twins, interestingly enough, who represented one of the premiere’s greatest disappointments.

They were not necessarily bad–and, in fact, showed far more personality and charisma than they do on RAW–but they fell far short of the lofty standard required of those carrying a show. Neither larger-than-life nor convincingly evil, the Bellas came across as good-looking, reasonably-confident girls rather than Queen Bees who own the female element of WWE.

Every cast member was, to some extent, “acting” on Sunday’s premiere. But only the Bellas came across like they were desperately trying (and failing) to play unfamiliar characters.

Legitimate or not, one wouldn’t have a hard time believing that someone with Eva Marie’s personality would object to dying her hair blonde or running drink orders for the Bellas. But given how Nikki and Brie came across throughout the episode, one would have a hard time believing the Bellas’ animosity towards the other girls was anything but manufactured.

Whether that changes in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but thus far, the Bellas are more valuable for their ability to loop Daniel Bryan and John Cena into the action than they are as the chief drivers of the show’s entertainment.

Written by Brian Cantor

Brian Cantor is the editor-in-chief for Headline Planet. He has been a leading reporter in the music, movie, television and sporting spaces since 2002.

Brian's reporting has been cited by major websites like BuzzFeed, Billboard, the New Yorker and The Fader -- and shared by celebrities like Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj.

Contact Brian at brian.cantor[at]


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