The WWE Studios short-run series called Evil, co-produced by John Cena, Vince McMahon, and Kevin Dunn and available on Peacock, offers a lot of descriptions regarding the dubious list of eight villains they’ve chosen to present as exemplifying “evil” in wrestling. There are words like arrogant, obnoxious, conniving, cowardly — and while these are all fine words to describe an effective wrestling heel, they’re simply not evil.
All in all, the show struggles to find its tone and direction, and ends up presenting what are essentially timeline biographies of eight wrestlers (they gloss over Kane’s history, completely ignoring his turns as Isaac Yankem and Fake Diesel in the WWF). At a couple of points it offers some very interesting commentary on what it means to be a heel in the ring while keeping that out of your life as a real person, but those moments are fleeting.
With that being said, it would all make sense if we were going to focus on eight truly heinous, evil villains from the wrestling world — that would at least fit with the theme. Instead, we get the story of The Miz, to pick on one episode, from his days in MTV to “Must See TV.” The Miz is a tremendous performer, and is great at what he does … but he’s not evil. We learn all about the tough time Roman Reigns had through his run as top star in the WWE while being treated as anything but by the fans … but there’s nothing evil about what Reigns has become. In some ways, he’s barely been a heel over his latest, lengthy championship run with Paul Heyman by his side.
The whole role call is: Hulk Hogan, The Miz, Sasha Banks, The Brothers of Destruction, Randy Orton, Stephanie McMahon, Ric Flair, and Roman Reigns. There’s no escaping the fact that when a promotion like WWE puts out a list of the “Most Whatever,” there will be calls for this person to rank better or worse, or to be included or removed. That’s the nature of the beast with a show like this. However, this list of eight evil wrestlers is not even close to what it could be, which again begs the question: what’s the theme, and what’s the point?
If they’d called it almost anything else (even “Villains” would have been better than “Evil”), then this list is at least passable. Obviously, I know why people like Jake Roberts and Bray Wyatt aren’t included, and I also recognize that how the WWE lauds or vilifies wrestlers at any given time depends on the wind (for example: was The Ultimate Warrior a self-destructive egomaniac or an inspirational champion?), but if you aren’t going to include those types of prototypically evil characters, then why choose that as your theme?
That big issue aside, rest assured that you will get the reliably top-notch production that WWE brings to its shows. The footage looks great, and there are lots of dramatic moments made from documentary tropes. If you’re anything more than a casual fan, I doubt you’ll learn anything new from watching these, but if you want to kick back for about 45 minutes and hear about the formation of the NWO one more time, then you know where to go.
If not, don’t worry: I watched all eight episodes so that you don’t have to. Here’s the gist of each them:
Let me start by suggesting this as it relates to the episode’s detailing of the fall from grace by the once-beloved Hulk Hogan to the sneering, nefarious Hollywood Hulk Hogan: good ol’ red & yellow Hogan was never much a good guy either. He often took cheap shots, raked the eyes, scratched the back, dragged his boot across the face, all in the name of fighting the good fight. Even one of the clips they use when describing the days of Hulkamania shows him attacking The Iron Sheik before he’d taken his garb off, and attacking him with his own robe. Then, of course, there was the time in WCW when he tried wearing all black before joining forces with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash.
I digress. One of the first guest speakers in this docu-series shows up early: it’s WWE superfan Mario Lopez, who admits that he was a big Hulkamaniac as a kid. Bruce Prichard, who gets quite a bit of screen time over all of the episodes, discusses the time when Hogan’s act was getting stale and he was starting to get more boos (no mention is made of the Coliseum Video copy of the 1992 Royal Rumble where they layered boos over top of the clearly cheering crowd when Sid Justice eliminated Hogan).
Hogan, of course, took his stale act to WCW where he enjoyed a brief uptick in his popularity again before Eric Bischoff noticed the same waning enthusiasm and approached Hogan about turning heel. Hulk was hesitant, but by the time Nash and Hall had arrived as The Outsiders he saw the opportunity to make a heel turn that worked for him. Peter Rosenberg, frequent contributor to WWE pre-shows, pronounces that at this point “Hulk Hogan was evil.” Again, was he though?
Booker T talks about how people liked what The Outsiders were doing, and that fans of all sorts of entertainment often gravitate to the bad guys. We get Dr. Phil (!) on-screen for the first of a few times talking about how viewers can identify with someone who exhibits flaws. Others like Jimmy Hart and Corey Taylor of Slipknot just think that the NWO were “cool” bad guys.
That’s about it for the psychology of Hulk Hogan’s heel turn, as the rest of the show walks us through his battles with Vince Russo and his return to the red and yellow after fighting The Rock at WrestleMania X8. Oh, and of course in between we learn about how Vince McMahon won the Monday Night War and bought WCW.
Evil-o-meter: Not really.
I’ll admit that, right off the bat, this episode has an uphill battle of convincing me that The Miz is evil. What it turns into is more of an acknowledgement of the trials that Mike Mizanin endured as he strove to establish himself in the WWE. In that way, this felt more like the A&E Biography that The Miz never got (at least not yet).
The Miz opens by suggesting that “Some people don’t like being the bad guy” — I’m sure that’s true, but it’s not what we usually hear. The vast majority of wrestlers that speak on the subject talk about the freeing nature of playing the villain, and that is what is most evident in The Miz’s story: that his wrestling persona is his way of doing and saying what he wouldn’t in real life.
Or, should I say by way of fashioning a segue, in The Real World? The show takes us all the way back to the origins of The Miz, which was a wrestling character introduced by Mizanin on MTV’s reality show The Real World because he was having a hard time getting along with his housemates as himself. Instead, he became the brash, mouthy Miz that casting director for the show Sasha Alpert believes was somewhere in Mizanin’s mind the whole time, just waiting to emerge. She also acknowledged that it seemed people liked The Miz more than they liked Mike.
This led to The Miz appearing on WWE’s Tough Enough, trying to win his way into a wrestling career. It didn’t quite pan out the way he wanted to at first, but he does find himself as the hype man for SmackDown. As he worked to move his way up the ladder and earn more screen time, and still intent on getting into the ring, he details a story that spiraled into a rumor of him making a mess of the locker room and he was subsequently banned from changing in there for six months.
So, at this point he’s disliked by the fans and apparently the wrestlers. He finds a breath of fresh air in being teamed with John Morrison, and the two exhibit a chemistry together than culminates in their popular YouTube series The Dirt Sheet. Once The Miz moved on he takes on John Cena, wins Money in the Bank, takes the championship from Randy Orton, and in a description of pure hyperbole, commits “one of the most diabolical acts of fraud in WWE history” when he impersonates The Rock on Monday Night Raw.
Obviously that’s not true, and the most diabolical act of fraud in WWE history was when one of the members of Demolition would take the other’s place, because it was impossible to tell them apart.
The Miz reinvents himself as a conceited self-billed movie star, citing Andy Kaufman as an inspiration, and we close out the episode by watching Daniel Bryan and The Miz confront one another on Talking Smack. Maryse says that it was Mike, not The Miz, that lost his cool and lashed out at Bryan for calling him a cowardly worker — because Mizanin was really hurting and pushing back against everyone who never respected him.
Evil-o-meter: Not at all.
The big focus on Banks is about what she says more than what she does — Rey Mysterio appears early on to suggest he would always be waiting to hear what heinous thing she’d suggest next. Banks’ uncle Snoop Dogg claims that her evil nature comes from her desire to win, and that she would go to any extreme for victory. With Banks herself on camera, she takes us back to the young days of Mercedes Vernado where she happened upon WWE wrestling on TV.
Notably, and this is nothing new to Banks’ fans, she was riveted by watching Eddie Guerrero (he’s still not what I’d call evil, but he’s closer to it than Banks has been). She had no other plans but to become a wrestler, and undertook training at Chaotic Wrestling as Mercedes K.V. before making it to the WWE Performance Center.
There, she struggled to stand out as someone who, as described by entertainment journalist Latoya Ferguson, as someone with no wrestling persona — and Banks agrees. In search of inspiration to build a character, she cites boxer Floyd Mayweather (who she’d seen fight Big Show at WrestleMania XXIV in person), Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, and even the Bratz series of figurines. From her uncle, she adopted Snoop’s old nickname of “The Boss,” and now she was ready to go.
Backstage, Bayley talks about loving the change in her friend, but we don’t hear quite the same reaction from Charlotte Flair. Somehow, Charlotte’s contribution to this episode ends up being about how people think that having Flair as her last name doesn’t mean everything’s handed to her. We get a review of the rivalry between Banks and Flair through NXT and up to the main roster, where we watch Banks do some mean things like famously stealing a headband from a young girl in the front row.
The episode finishes up with Banks facing off against Bianca Belair at WrestleMania (with a slightly edited call by Michael Cole that sounds a lot cleaner than the one he did live on that night).
Evil-o-meter: Sure, she works the crowd well, but she’s not evil.
Brothers of Destruction
Here, it seems, we have a set of characters that truly fit the bill of being evil. As Mark Calaway takes us back to his time ending in WCW and getting the call from the WWF to become The Undertaker, he draws inspiration from Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers for their creepy ways, while Glenn Jacobs reveals a surprising inspiration for one of Kane’s mannerisms: the way his cat would tilt its head from side to side.
Bruce Prichard, who always seems giddy to talk about the creation of The Undertaker, leads us through the gothic and evil doings of Taker in his early years: the coffins, the urn, his seemingly supernatural powers. Kane, meanwhile, entered piggybacking off of much of the mystique that The Undertaker had already built, aided by his namesake from the biblical Cain, who had in that book’s telling committed the first ever murder.
Dave LaGreca of the Busted Open podcast makes sure to use the magic word in saying that Kane and The Undertaker always seemed to go to another level of evil every time they faced off. Eventually, as Hogan had discussed in his episode, there came a point for Calaway where he felt his character was falling behind a new generation of wrestlers such as The Rock and Kurt Angle, and that he felt a change was in order. In becoming Big Evil, he was intent on adapting to the times but still maintaining some of the characteristics he had built into his persona.
Meanwhile, as Jacobs was contemplating removing his mask, Undertaker didn’t think that was a very good idea – citing “theatre of the mind” horror movies such as Psycho and The Birds as examples of where what was unseen was as scary as any in-your-face terror — but the fact that The Undertaker was now riding around on a motorbike probably meant that he couldn’t complain too loudly. Jacobs does some real acrobatic retcon work to explain how Kane only thought he’d been disfigured in the fire and had internalized that truth.
The episode really does focus much more on The Undertaker than on both brothers and, interestingly, there’s a big piece of Taker’s story missing here because it’s used in a later episode of the series.
Evil-o-meter: Now we’re talking — these two are evil. They’re demonic, murdering, seemingly unkillable monsters, but the episode is still just a timeline story of their careers.
By far the most interesting part of the entire series is watching Orton right off the bat transform into The Viper for the camera and then calm himself down again. As he’s sitting there huffing, fuming, and forcing out his aggressive persona, I have a new appreciation for the over-used commentary line of Orton “going to that place.”
Sports reporter Michelle Beadle explains the eternal appeal of the “bad guy” perfectly when she says “I love Randy Orton — every dude I’ve ever dated hated Randy Orton.” Shawn Michaels, who I’m sure has dealt with that kind of thing himself, describes Orton as conniving, smarmy, and slimy; Orton’s current partner Matt Riddle suggests that Orton may be crazy “for real.”
As Exhibit A of Orton belonging on this list, we review that time he lit The Fiend on fire. So, yeah, murder is a good reason to include him (it’s also still a little jarring to see clips of action in the ThunderDome).
As with the other episodes, we are transported back to the beginning of Orton’s fresh-faced career through his arrival in OVW after his father Bob Orton Jr. appealed to Bruce Prichard that he would like for his son to get a tryout. Prichard’s response: “Great, when you’re ready to go, we’re ready for him. Sight unseen.” That, of course, doesn’t quite jibe with what Charlotte was saying about how her last name didn’t make things any easier for her … but once again I digress.
Actually, we go back even further in time to see Randy as a young, insecure, polite child without a lot of friends, as described by himself and his father. Orton retells how amateur wrestling put his aggressive nature to good use, and when he later realized that he did not want to go to college he enlisted in the Marines, though he did not get what he thought he would from that, either. He left, going AWOL and eventually serving time in military prison for his transgression.
Stacy Kaiser, a psychotherapist, chimes in on how military service affects people differently, and causes some to feel like they’re losing control of their own thoughts. From afar, that’s what she thinks led to the creation of Orton’s wrestling character — someone struggling against the voices in their head and their destructive instincts.
While that sounds pretty heavy, there is something to be said for how wrestlers are not quite actors playing roles, but they’re also not quite themselves when performing. A popular way to describe wrestling personas is that it’s the person’s actual personality with the volume turned up, and this look into how Randy Orton admits to his worst tendencies as a person and that he uses “The Viper” character as an outlet for them is fascinating.
Dave Bautista doesn’t mince words when he says that Orton was not mature enough for the position he quickly achieved within the company, and Orton readily concurs. We see clips of Orton berating a reporter for daring to suggest that he was “fragile,” slapping another interviewer, and confessing that the fame went straight to his head. Substance abuse, hospitalization, even bombing his father’s Hall of Fame introduction speech because he’d stayed out the night before and wasn’t clear in the head — all of that relates to what Kaiser says is the key: managing the character and knowing what’s important to you as a person.
Nowadays, Orton seems to have mastered that balance and gets his kicks from his in-ring work. “There’s no better drug in the world than being in that ring and everything going right,” he concludes.
Evil-o-meter: Yes, at least so far as there is evil in losing sight of who you are.
Spoiled, rotten, abusive with her power, entitled … these are the first descriptors given for Stephanie McMahon before Nikki Bella goes a little over the top: “Stephanie is the ultimate villain.”
I suppose what feels strangest about this entry in the series is that while you can come up with somebody more evil for pretty well everyone else on here, Stephanie isn’t even the most evil person in her own family (on screen, that is).
Stephanie recalls the story of her introduction to the duplicitous world of wrestling, in which nice people can play monsters (and vice versa, of course) when she ran into her father’s arms while being chased by George “The Animal” Steele at five years old, only for her father to have a laugh about it.
Moving forward, a good chunk of the episode is actually spent showcasing Vince as a heel (which again only begs the question of why he isn’t the focus of the whole story), including when Vince was revealed as being the mastermind behind the Ministry of Darkness’ kidnapping of Stephanie. I mean, that’s a high score on the evil scale right there.
After that, though, we are told that this experience is what changed Stephanie and she started following in her father’s footsteps, through her phony wedding to Test and her alignment with Triple H as she joined forces with him against Vince (this is referred to as “one of the greatest heel turns of all time” in another bold statement of the show).
From there, Stephanie starts learning more about the business, making her mark both behind the curtain and getting into the ring. This is purely biographical storytelling here, though Evan T. Mack, former co-host of The Bump on the WWE Network, tries to bring it back to the nature of evil with an alarming statement: “The scariest villain is a beautiful, strong woman who has power.” Not exactly the tagline of the WWE’s women’s revolution, there.
The march through time continues with the rest of Stephanie’s history with Triple H, the formation of The Authority versus Daniel Bryan and Ronda Rousey, and it wraps up with the family drama surrounding the GM roles that Stephanie and Shane took on in competition with each other.
Evil-o-meter: Yes, but not this McMahon.
I’m trying hard not to be a broken record in these mini-reviews, but once again we are presented with a character who is all sorts of bad, but it’s a big stretch to say that Ric Flair is evil. Sure, he was the self-appointed “dirtiest player in the game,” he was full of himself and at times cowardly, but as more and more voices in this episode talk about how he really exemplified the kind of lifestyle many of the fans yearned to live for themselves it goes farther and farther from somebody truly evil.
Shawn Michaels talks about how there was no pretending in Flair’s act, though of course he wasn’t around him in the early days that the episode focuses on. From Flair’s being sent to boarding school to his early, not very spectacular days in the ring, and finally to the plane crash in 1975 that served as the reboot for Flair’s life and wrestling career, we see the early development of “The Nature Boy.”
With the main focus of his wrestling days on his feuds with Dusty Rhodes and Ricky Steamboat, Flair’s dirty tactics come to the fore, but again and again wrestlers and fans like rapper Killer Mike (who created a song entitled “Ric Flair” in tribute to him and his lifestyle) keep on gushing over how cool he was and how much people wanted to be like him and have what he had.
It does select a particularly heinous moment from Flair’s career where, after fighting Nikita Koloff, he was aided by Dusty Rhodes only to quickly turn his aggression right back on his old nemesis. That was cold, for sure, and hinted at a more potentially evil side than someone who simply has it all and flaunts it.
The episode covers the 1992 Royal Rumble and Flair leaving for WCW again, so this is naturally an opportunity to talk once more about the NWO, Vince’s takeover of WCW and Flair’s return to the WWE. We see him join up with Evolution and go off into (temporary) retirement at the hands of Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV.
There are clips galore of sports teams doing the Ric Flair strut and the “Woo!”, Flair’s meeting with superfan Post Malone, and, of course there’s a little promotional consideration for Charlotte and her burgeoning career.
Evil-o-meter: Only slightly more evil than The Miz, and that’s a pretty low bar.
As mentioned off the top, I don’t think that Reigns is evil at the time of this production, and that he’s barely a heel. He was a babyface that was roundly booed at the height of his success, and now he’s a heel that’s being cheered and acknowledged, so in both cases he’s threading the needle between hero and villain. All the time, he’s making impassioned speeches about he’s doing what he’s doing to provide for his family and, while that might be a little but of twisted logic, they’re hardly the words of a scary villain.
Even one of the first guest speakers, wrestling author David Shoemaker, opens with the statement “He’s not purely evil,” which is a funny statement to include in this project. As with the other wrestlers featured, there are plenty more unsavory attributes of Roman Reigns pointed out: disrespectful, cocky, absurd, ruthless, etc.
The most interesting perspective comes from Jimmy and Jey Uso who say that, in truth, Joe Anoa’i has always been a heel, and it was only when the WWE was trying to package him as the white meat babyface Roman Reigns after the break-up of The Shield that they were forcing a character upon him. He has always been, in their estimation, competitive and hungry for the spotlight.
It was The Usos who got into wrestling first, though, as Reigns chased football dreams until his first diagnosis with leukemia turned his world upside down. His cousins convinced him to come try out for the WWE, and once he joined OVW he quickly made an impression.
Former WWE writer Ed Koskey describes Reigns as someone seemingly created in a factory to fit the mold of Vince McMahon’s ideal superstar. He soon joined the main roster alongside Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose and enjoyed the success that defined him for many years, but Jey Uso speaks further to the misstep in trying to turn him right into a top fan favorite.
The fans famously turned on Reigns — especially at the 2017 Royal Rumble. He kept winning matches but seemed to keep losing fans and becoming less popular.
“When you’re transitioning from a villain to a good guy it has to come naturally,” Jey explains. “You just can’t go ‘here’s a good guy.'” Mind you, that exactly what happened when Reigns returned from his time away during COVID-19 and he returned in full heel mode without actually showing the turn.
This leads to the formation of The Bloodline with The Usos and Paul Heyman, and the show very interestingly concludes with what seems like a clear promise of a match against The Rock to come. Imagine, it proposes, if Reigns can beat Dwayne Johnson as a villain, that nobody would be able to deny that Roman Reigns is the greatest villain of all time.
Well, I for one would quite easily deny that. Reigns has an inspirational story, and his work as a semi-heel has been entertaining, but I’ll say it just one more time in this review: that doesn’t make him evil.
Evil-o-meter: No, I can’t acknowledge Reigns as being evil
This series had the potential to really dig into the heart of what it means to be a heel, and it touches on some of that ground in the episode featuring Orton, but the rest feels like an all-too-familiar slick, well-crafted show meant to focus on whomever the WWE wishes to focus on at this particular time, rather than focusing on the people that would truly belong here.