The potential of pro wrestling to be something else, something freshly entertaining, was on full display during The Final Deletion, TNA Wrestling's free-TV blowoff program between Matt and Jeff Hardy last week.
Half match and half SNL Digital Short, it was pro wrestling at its most hilariously absurd and dissociated from reality. Imagine the cinematic, audience-less presentation of The Rock and Mankind's Halftime Heat match, sprinkle generously with Lucha Underground's magical realism, and you have The Final Deletion.
The name of the program comes from Matt Hardy's Broken Matt character, a villain with the hair of Johnny Depp's Sweeney Todd and the accent of some shitty Capt. Jack Sparrow impersonator. Coveting sole rights to the Hardy name and brand, he's out to "delete" Jeff, whom he droningly calls "Brother Nero."
Of course, this is all thoroughly silly. But Matt is so clearly in on the joke. Reportedly the one booking the feud, along with Jeff, Matt has been able to run with the talent for goofball comedy he showed with his Version 1 character in WWE -- and run pretty far out there. Instead of "Matt Facts" and cruiserweight jokes, he's attacking Jeff with a drone army and sneering atop a riding mower as it ruins Jeff's lawn art.
Having not watched TNA in a few years, I couldn't make as much sense of The Final Deletion as regular viewers probably could. It felt like the sort of feud that needs its own wiki: Who's Señor Benjamin? What's the deal with Jeff alter ego Willow? And what the hell does "Brother Nero" even mean?
Those questions didn't keep me from enjoying the backyard idiocy of The Final Deletion. But something else did.
Much as the program showcased pro wrestling's potential to throw out the McMahon/Dunn playbook and be more fun for it, the match itself slammed into the limits of that potential harder than Jeff tumbled into the open grave where Matt pinned him.
It didn't help that the wrestling was awful. And while Matt vs. Jeff has always been a low-ceiling matchup, cutting it up with tracking shots and adding a budget symphonic metal soundtrack did no favors to their half-speed, half-impact signature spots.
But I'm not sure it'd do favors to any wrestlers -- and that's the important point The Final Deletion proved: The further pro wrestling drifts from live, unadorned presentation, the more of its unique dramatic power it surrenders. Old hat or not, it's not much fun to watch two guys trade pre-taped moves edited together like a movie from its dailies, in the tiki light of some farmland ring, with no witness there but the referee.
The Final Deletion course-corrected as the match moved from the boilerplate to the absurd, from Side Effects and Twists of Fate to dousing each other with fireworks and run-ins from Willow and Reby Sky that transcended the laws of time and space. Matt bellowing "Oh shit!" when he sees Jeff holding the fireworks stick, then scurrying away until he could take cover under a boat, was maybe the funniest moment in wrestling this year.
It wasn't the first time pro wrestling's surface realism has been so manipulated -- this is the same form that brought us The Undertaker, after all. But not until The Final Deletion has pro wrestling so deliberately set out to shatter that realism, and done so to laugh at itself right along with us. It's a fresh way to enjoy an old form of entertainment -- but it comes somewhat at the cost of what made it so entertaining in the first place.
WATCH: The Final Deletion