A&E presented their Biography on D-Generation X this week. I was ready for a tame and overly flattering look at the faction that is largely credited with saving the WWF in the late 90s, but it does itself a favour by focusing less on a walk-through of matches and promos and more on the backstage genesis and inner workings of the group.
With their fratboy antics explained away with a “boys will be boys” shrug (plus, of course, Chyna), and a muddled introduction saying that they were counter-culture but were also a big part of 90s culture (Bruce Prichard goes a bridge too far and says the group was like The Beatles with the crowds awaiting them wherever they went), we’re off and running.
Journalist/historian David Shoemaker introduces the times of the WWF in the 90s: stale and stagnant, and ready for a shake-up initiated in part by Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearts Helmsley (not quite yet Triple H, of course) as they lay the groundwork for DX. Michaels has already received the Biography treatment, so tonight Triple H gets a mini-version to even things up. He talks about catching Chief Jay Strongbow on TV and becoming fascinated by wrestling, taking up weightlifting at the age of 14, and finding an in to the business with the help of Ted Arcidi.
Well, “help” is relative. Helmsley recalls how Arcidi continually discouraged him from entering the business, until finally relenting and giving him the contact info for Walter “Killer” Kowalski’s training school. He catches the eye of the WWF and Jim Ross talks about what a great acquisition he was. The show still gives us the fast-forward story of Shawn Michaels’ career anyway, from Midnight Rocker, to Barbershop attacker, to the Heartbreak Kid.
It was as HBK that, as Triple H, The Undertaker, and Bret Hart all attest to, Michaels became as obnoxious as his character, with Shawn admitting the only people he really got along with her Helmsley, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman. That group made up, of course, The Kliq.
The members of the Kliq talk about how they were trying to push an edgier product well ahead of the eventual Attitude Era, but that Vince McMahon told them the time wasn’t right. After Nash and Hall left for WCW, Michaels says that he and Hunter only had each other until they each agreed it would be great to bring Joanie “Chyna” Laurer in as Triple H’s bodyguard.
Vince, once more, was against the idea, but Michaels and Helmsley won him over and the trio was born. Jan Laque, Laurer’s mother, looks back on her daughter’s youth, which became troubled in her teenaged years to the point that when Jan confronted her about drug usage, Joanie left to live with her father and didn’t talk to her mom again for another 27 years.
In the WWF, though, she found a home and made her mark as Chyna. Meanwhile, Michaels is struggling as WWF Champion at a time when WCW was doing big business, and Helmsley has the notion that he and Michaels might as well do whatever they want to do because what was happening at the time wasn’t working anyway.
DX started feuding with The Hart Foundation (from which, Prichard acknowledges, the faction got their name after Bret labelled them as degenerates a few times) and were doing well for ratings, while not, according to Hart, Undertaker, and Ross, endearing themselves at all to the rest of the wrestlers.
Even the USA Network, according to Michaels and Helmsley, were sending notices to McMahon to tone down some of DX’s antics, but Vince was starting to feel the rush of attitude and helped to push back a bit with what Shoemaker called a smart response with the Bill Clinton-inspired presidential promo by DX (and the network loved it).
We follow the inclusion of Mike Tyson into the WrestleMania XIV main event, with everyone knowing that Michaels was going to leave wrestling, potentially for good, after that match to heal his back and address his addictions. When that happened, Helmsley took DX for his own and expanded the roster with the returning Waltman as X-Pac and The New Age Outlaws, Billy Gunn and Road Dogg.
Road Dogg, or Brian James, gets a lightning-fast segment about his entry into wrestling, preceeded by a look at his time in the Marine Corps for six years. Same treatment goes for Billy Gunn, who talks about going to college on a rodeo scholarship before being brought into the wrestling business as one of The Smoking Gunns in the WWF. Together, they ended up forming The New Age Outlaws.
We watch the invasion of WCW by the new DX (again, as it was presented just last week in an episode of WWE Rivals on A&E), then hear about the tough side of being rich, famous, and, as Gunn calls it: unfireable. He and James especially note that their behaviour was out of control and they were buying wholesale into the rock star lifestyle.
While that was transpiring, Triple H was also surveying the landscape and saw an opportunity for him to break out on his own and become a top heel. He turned on DX, which didn’t sit all that well backstage with the others in the group that were still enjoying the ride. Chyna, however, also saw her own opportunity and pushed for more. According to Triple H and Ross, she pushed for too much, too soon, and is summarily dismissed, and soon too are James and Gunn. Waltman quits, and that’s that for DX.
Gunn, James, and Waltman talk about dark days after their departure from WWE (with Gunn and James talking specifically about their bitter time in TNA badmouthing the WWE). James reveals having had suicidal thoughts, whereas Waltman actually made an attempt at hanging himself. Gunn also cleaned up in rehab and all three found their way back to some peace.
Michaels’ rehabilitation and return to wrestling is presented (again, it was already done in his own Biography episode), as is the reunion of most of the DX crew on WWE TV in 2012. Only most, because Chyna was not in the ring, and it makes for a glaring absence as Shoemaker calls it. Gunn says that nobody knew where she was.
Jan reveals that she spoke to Chyna not long before she was found dead in California, and the rest of the team reflect on her legacy before the episode concludes with the Hall of Fame celebration for DX.
All in all, this was another surprising entry in the second season of the Biography series in that it offered more than the connect-the-dots kind of timeline history than most of the first season’s worth of episodes did. The one area where the show stayed distant was with Chyna, as none of her real-life relationship with Helmsley was addressed and her youth was glossed over moreso than everybody else’s. That’s an unfortunate downside to an otherwise engaging episode.
- Aug. 1, 2010: DX book a quick read
- Mar. 25, 2007: DX DVD definitely disappoints
- Shawn Michaels story archive
- Triple H (Paul Levesque) story archive
- Slam Wrestling’s A&E/Biography archive