Month: August 2018

This Is Awesome! WWE Smackdown LIVE in Toronto!

 

 

Note: The good folks at WWE hooked me up with tickets to the show. Opinions and thoughts expressed are 100% mine.

There really is nothing like watching wrestling live, especially when it’s a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) show. Having been to a few cards in my life, I can honestly say that they put on a good show, and the events that transpire during them are always interesting, to say the least.

Such was the case of the most recent one that we went to, Smackdown Live, at the recently renamed Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. In a bit of a swerve, my guests for the night were B and one of his friends, who’s a hardcore fan. My perspective on the WWE obviously differs from theirs (mine probably leans more to the “smark” side), so I was curious to see what their reactions would be like.

B has gone to houseshows before, but not to a TV taping. The main differences are the lighting (much brighter) and the breaks in the action (much more frequent, due to commercials).  During the breaks, videos were shown, though, to keep the crowd into things. Not that the crowd needed much help staying involved. The atmosphere was very energetic and loud, which was contagious. It’s hard not to scream “Yes!” and point along with Daniel Bryan, when 15,000 or so people are doing the same thing!

Among my group, the boys were most excited to see the New Day (B), and Randy Orton and AJ Styles (his friend) in action. While the New Day started off the show, Orton and Styles were saved for the non-televised main event, which didn’t happen until after another show took place, 205 Live. In all honesty, if the kids hadn’t been looking forward to the main event (Orton and Samoa Joe versus AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy), I probably would have left after Smackdown finished, as I’m not that into 205 Live (I can only watch so much wrestling in a week). However, I’m glad that we stayed, as 205 Live was great. The boys thought Hideo Itami beating up a local enhancement talent was hilarious. While we all were initially meh about the Kalisto/Buddy Murphy match that followed, the two tore the roof off and had an incredible encounter! By the end, all three of us were chanting “This Is Awesome!” with everyone else there.

The main event also didn’t disappoint, as the four stars did all of their greatest hits (or signature and finishers moves, as my video game playing young guests called them). The good guys won, too, and celebrated with the fans for a long time after, to send the crowd home happy.

Speaking of that, by far the most popular wrestler that night…..was a bad guy. Becky Lynch had ‘turned heel’ a few weeks before, by turning on her best friend, Charlotte Flair. The problem (I think) is that Becky was pretty justified in being mad, in the minds of many of the WWE fans. So instead of hating her, people seem to be liking her more and rallying behind her. I don’t think this is what the WWE intended with this story. At the end of Smackdown, after Charlotte retained her championships in a match with Carmella, Becky ran out and attacked her. Normally this results in boos from the crowd. On this night, though, the place went bananas. The “pop” or reaction or whatever was huge, and the chants for Becky were deafening.  B and his friend were a bit confused by this, and I legit had trouble explaining why the person who is supposed to be hated had the arena going crazy for them. Like I said, it’s always an interesting time when you see a show live!

This was the apparent overwhelming sentiment.

Three more observations then I’ll wrap this up. 1) Our seats were behind former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas.  Really nice guy, and was cool to the steady stream of people who came up to him. 2) The merchandise available wasn’t that impressive. There was a lot of stuff for Raw superstars who weren’t even there. Also, t-shirts were $35, but they kept showing promos during breaks that said you could buy shirts online that night for $10. Needless to say, we didn’t buy any merchandise. 3) In terms of kid demographics, besides the New Day, Styles, and Orton, as mentioned, B and his buddy were most into Samoa Joe (so good at being bad that he’s hard not to cheer for, if that makes sense), Daniel Bryan, and R-Truth.

All in all, it was a phenomenal night. Two solid hours of Smackdown Live, followed by an entertaining 205 Live, and a crowd-pleasing main event.  The boys that I was with weren’t the only kids that I saw there who left with big smiles on their faces!

 

 

On The Set Of Bajillionaires And Why It Might Be Your Kids’ Soon To Be Favorite TV Show

It’s 11:30AM on a picturesque morning in July, and I find myself staring at Drake.

Wait. Let’s back track a bit.

Now, it goes without saying that there is a lot of content available to watch, and lots of ways to consume it. However, quantity doesn’t always equal quality. Some of the content kind of sucks, for real.  J, for example, bless her six year old heart, will start down the YouTube rabbit hole of toy unboxing videos, yet somehow end up watching inappropriately profane Barbie and Ken videos. As a parent, you have no choice but to monitor your childrens’ screens more carefully. And, because I like to go the extra mile for y’all sometimes, I decided do some first-hand monitoring. I went behind the scenes to check out some content being made that I hope will be top notch quality for our children.

I’m sitting in the lobby of DHX Studios, a production company in Toronto, awaiting to meet Joanna, DHX’s communication manager. The popular Degrassi TV franchise is filmed here. Pictures of its well-known alumni are displayed prominently throughout the building, including those of a certain Aubrey Graham in his pre-Drake days, which immediately catch my eye. DHX is clearly very proud of the success of Degrassi,  and I’m sure that they are hoping to repeat that success with its newest series aimed for kids, Bajillionaires.

Bajillionaires is a single camera comedy series about Max Graham (newcomer Ricardo Ortiz) and the start-up, invention-based company that he runs in his parents’ garage with his friends. It’s an intriguing premise, to the point that it compelled two networks, Universal Kids and Family Channel, to pick up the show already, for 20 episodes, starting to air later this year.  It’s also being filmed at DHX Studios, hence my Drake-gazing that July day.

Eventually, Joanna arrives. She has a very friendly, approachable demeanor, and interacts easily with everyone we encounter that day.  As we walk outside towards the set of Bajillionaires, we pass the school set of Degrassi.  Even though the show was on hiatus, Drake’s presence still looms large, as he had filmed a video there recently, for his song I’m Upset. We then come up on a road lined with houses and stores, where we are joined by Adrienne. She has the same kind of demeanor as Joanna, and is there that day to help her out.

Having never been on a scripted TV show set before, I was surprised to learn that even though the street looked real, it wasn’t. The houses and stores are all part of the set. The attention to detail is what makes it work, an aspect which goes unnoticed by the casual viewer, but can’t be stressed enough during the production process.

To wit, Joanna and Adrienne lead me down the street, and to a house with a garage, where filming is taking place. There’s a large number of people on site, mostly cast and crew (while not all were present, over 200 people are involved with the making of the show), along with a plethora of film equipment in use. I duck into the ‘video village’, an almost space station-like area, with TV monitors, computers and soundboards set up in it. The director calls for action on a scene. It only involves a close shot of a laptop being opened up, but three takes are needed, to get it just right.

There’s a break in the filming, so Joanna takes the time to introduce me to the main cast of kids who the show is based around. Sitting around a table inside of Munchies (a coffee shop in the Bajillionaires universe), there’s a playfulness and sense of camaraderie amongst the young leads. As the conversation touches on topics like flossing and Fortnite,  I feel as if I’ve come across a group of friends who are just hanging out. This isn’t a mall or somone’s basement, though; it’s a TV show with some significant, expensive stakes put into it. These kids are professional actors who can work a pretty demanding schedule.  The silliness that you’d probably expect among a group of youngsters isn’t apparent (well, mostly, anyway. Jadian Toros, who plays the Chief Financial Officer Zeke, is a quick-witted ball of energy who lightens the mood with his jokes and funny comments. Not surprisingly, he’s also the youngest member of the cast).  Questions posed are met with honest, thoughtful answers, which is refreshing.  I guess the best thing that I can say is that they carry themselves like stars; Ricardo in particular has a leading-man vibe to him.

There’s a sincere earnestness about the show which is contagious. When Mya Singh, who plays Kaylyn, the head of marketing, tells me that kids will find the characters relatable, I believe it. When her and Arista Arhin (who plays Alicia Windsor) explain the risk taking element of the show, and how it’s nice to see kid characters ‘going for it’, I dig that, too. There’s also an educational aspect, in terms of the designs and concepts of the inventions that get concocted. Joanna shows me one of them later, and it was pretty wild.  The components of a quality show are all apparent here. It really is just a matter of what the finished product ends up looking like,  I think.

Lingering in the background at all times are the cast members’ parents. This probably also partially explains the well-mannered politeness on display. Being underage on a set like this requires parental supervision in close proximity at all times.  Really, the role of a stage parent here is a huge commitment. Having to up and leave your life for weeks at a time, to watch long days of filming, can’t be easy.

One thing that does make the days more palatable, for the palate, is taking a break for lunch. On the way to the lunchroom, we pass the living room set for  the Graham family. Again, I’m drawn to the attention to details, like the family pictures on the walls, and the decor used, to add to the authenticness.  After much hype by Joanna and Adrienne, the food did not disappoint. I join them in partaking in a delicious spread of pastas, chicken, and salads, along with desserts.  The cast all sit together at a table, with their parents dutifully situated at tables nearby. I notice that a couple of the child actors are decked out in  ridiculously over-sized novelty shirts. These are to protect their outfits underneath from possible food stains (unrelated, but I wonder if A-listers like Brad Pitt rock these during meals, when they’re filming stuff).  The mood in the room is upbeat.   At one point, Mya and Arista jump up to lead us in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to Jadian.

After lunch, it’s back to work for everyone on set. Joanna takes me up to the wardrobe area. There’s a ton of clothes and props there, including ones from Degrassi. To the hardcore fans, no, I did not see Drake/Jimmy’s wheelchair.  Finally, it’s time for yours truly to bid adieu to the lights, cameras and action. As Joanna walks with me back towards the lobby, past the Degrassi set, past the photos of the famous alumni, I wonder if I’ve come across the next Degrassi-like success story. Bajillionaires sounds like it’s going to be a cool, high quality show. I know me and my fam are going to peep it now, when it’s on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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