As it churns through its second season, I think its safe to say that Lucha Underground has the most passionate fan following in American pro graps. You can read the reviews here every week, where the comments range from the positive to the wanting to name their first born sons after the performers. The comments are overwhelmingly positive.
This is a good thing. Its fun to see people actually care about the product they watch. Almost all of WWE's fans right now are apathetic. Even those who like a lot of what is going on wouldn't say the company is in a great spot right now. Yet as the praise for the show has grown, something funny has happened: ratings have absolutely tanked.
The seventh episode brought in a season-low* 136,000, continuing a relative downward trend of the past several weeks. Why is this happening, when, if you read the reviews, you'd find almost universal praise and acclaim? (Not just from cSs, but from across the board.)
I want to make clear before we continue: I am not telling you what to like. If you like season two of Lucha Underground, that's awesome. I viewed season one as maybe the best single year run for a promotion since the Monday Night Wars (from a quality standpoint), and probably the best debut year ever. I wrote two posts singing LU's praise.
Yet I believe the very things I praised Lucha Underground for in season one are things they are missing the mark on in season two. Not only are they missing, they are missing badly. I think that might be a reason why ratings have been so lackluster this season.
Let's look back at some of those reasons I laid out, and what we see in season two.
1.) Almost no Dario Cueto
One of the big reasons season one was such a cult hit was Dario Cueto. He took the tired authority figure trope and turned it on its head. He was a logical villain, constantly pitting everyone (face or heel) against each other so he could keep them from uniting against him, and making a huge profit in the process. He carried segment after segment with a lot of Mexican wrestlers who couldn't speak English, and lacked Pentagon's incredible physical charisma.
The first season ended with Dario on the run, as he and Black Lotus have unleashed an on-see-ent (in Dario's dialect) blood feud. Season two has given us a few glimpses of being on the run (including feeding random
people snacks to Matanza!), but hasn't really shown much of him.
Boy does it show. Catrina was an incredible supporting piece of the puzzle in season one, as the herald of the force of nature that was Mil Muertes. As now proprietor of the temple in Dario's absence (more on that later), she can't even come close to carrying segments the way Cueto could. The only segments where she has shown off the charts chemistry in the backstage shots are with Ivelisse and Team Dysfunction. She's really not meant for the role of carrying lesser talents to Mount Olympus the way Cueto did. (Given that the person playing Cueto is a professional actor, this isn't surprising.)
2.) Reinventing the Wheel
Season one had the satisfying (but accidental) story of Pentagon Junior struggling to become someone, and then tapping into his inner rage to go through the roster, hoping it would please his dark master, who could take him to bigger and better things. That concluded at the end of Ultima Lucha, where Vampiro, now revealed as Pentagon's master, has promised to take Pentagon "some place dark."
We are now into season two and Pentagon is..... struggling to become someone, and being told to tap into his inner rage to go through the roster, hoping it would please his dark master, who could take him to bigger and better things. Except now, Vampiro is once again just regular announce dude Vampiro, now on anti-psychotic medication so he can't be the master!
Why are we repeating this story again?
Far from being a force of nature, Pentagon has been clearly defined as inferior to Prince Puma, and after this week, Mil Muertes and Fenix by association. Without seeing spoilers, maybe they fix this down the road, but why didn't they just do this from the beginning? This isn't put on your snide fantasy booker hats: people want to see Pentagon Junior, and they want to see him wreck anything that moves. They don't want to see him being constantly outsmarted and outclassed, all in the hopes of paying off a storyline that was already paid off last year.
Speaking of reinventing the wheel, let's talk about Fenix.
Fenix had the bossest of boss matches last year at Grave Consequences. Outside of that, he has also struggled to connect with fans. His Gift of the Gods title win didn't really set the world on fire, because it was so obvious he was winning. Furthermore, compared to Mil Muertes, Mil is just way more badass and interesting. He's a human wrecking ball in the ring, has the most unique offense in the ring, looks dapper as shit in a suit, has the best looking girl (and scariest manager!) in the place, etc. What's Fenix got? He's a talented performer, but people aren't given a huge reason to like him.
It was likely for this reason season two begins with Fenix losing the Gift of the Gods championship to King Cuerno, the perennially underrated and overlooked wrestler of the temple. They teased an intriguing angle where Cuerno should be protecting Mil from a title shot, but was clearly preparing for his own. This was a way more interesting storyline...... they abandoned right away. Cuerno lost in LMS match to Fenix, and then two weeks later lost the GOTG title in a ladder match to Fenix. So in five weeks, they had Fenix lose the title, beat Cuerno, and then beat him again to win the title.
He's now cashing in next week. If he loses, what was the point of all of this? And if he wins, doesn't that kinda undo how badass and unstoppable Mil Muertes has been?
3.) They no longer show their work
Lucha Underground worked so well in season one because they showed their work. You seldom had to ask questions about a plot point, because it was often addressed. Whether it was the Gift of the Gods title (why would a promoter interested in making money allow you to cash in a title shot with zero buildup?) to the nature of feuds (how Mil Muertes takes out what is important to Puma, leaving him at a disadvantage for their climatic showdown), LU had amazing depth to their storylines.
Sometimes this is still there in season two. (The origins of Cueto and Matanza, Aerostar's journey, the identity of El Dragon Azteca, Castro as an undercover cop, etc.) In many instances, it isn't.
Let's start with Vampiro. Why is he back to ordinary commentator Vampiro? He isn't on the meds anymore. Why hasn't the Dark Master persona re-emerged? Why is Pentagon not even acknowledging this? Why haven't we had a scene where Pentagon confronts him and goes "hey, what the hell are you doing at an announce table, I need your guidance!"
Why did Catrina take over the temple, and how does everyone feel about it? Why aren't people angling to remove her from power?
How did Sexy Star escape, and why did Marty the Moth and his sister not seem to care for quite some time?
Several of their major angles have more holes than Swiss cheese. This was one of their greatest strengths, and it isn't in season two.
4.) New Stars have been very underwhelming in debuts
Outside of Kobra Moon, none of the new debuts have managed to pick up a win yet in the temple. I know you need a hierarchy, and not everyone can be winners, but this is why you have jobbers. You can't bring back some of the scrubs from season one to eat some pins for the newcomers?
5.) The vignettes are jumping the shark
While the Famous B ones are great, what purpose did Texano or PJ Black's do? What did they tell us about the character in introducing them, or reintroducing them? Why is everyone wearing masks?
I'm actually okay with the campy kung fu, but why are random people wearing masks in broad daylight, while the performers aren't? It really is just "let's have a bunch of boring exposition followed by lucha kung fu, followed by the graphic of the individual."
This is a serious step down from previous vignettes of Pentagon's increasing sadism, Mil's embrace of death, Drago being a dragon, and Cuerno's redneck lucha persona.
None of this is to say everything is wrong in the temple.
Dario's limited scenes are still amazing, and the idea of Matanza is still a real intriguing story. The Mysyerio/Dragon Azteca story is coming along nicely, and Ivelisse is rapidly becoming the breakout star of this season. She's shown incredible growth as a performer from her pre-injury self in season one.
Cage's spotfests and intentionally bad promos (he's always a bad promo, but now he's basically winking about it at the camera and everyone is calling him on it) are still loads of fun,. Drago is still a badass nunchuck wielding individual who emulates Lui Kang by turning into a dragon when shit gets real, etc.
Yet all is not well with season two, and these five reasons might give some explanation as to why the show has been a huge miss in ratings after the first 3 episodes.
Note: Here are the viewership numbers
Episode 1: 216,000
Episode 2: 190,000
Episode 3: 217,000
Episode 4: 204,000
Episode 5: 161,000
Episode 6: 187,000
Episode 7: 136,000
Agree? Disagree? Sound of in the comments, Cagesiders!