DARK SIDE OF THE RING S1E2
THE MONTREAL SCREWJOB
Starring: Dutch Mantell (Narrator), Bret Hart, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Bruce Prichard, Jim Cornette, Vince Russo, Earl Hebner
Producer: Ed Hatton
The Montreal Screwjob. A phrase that anyone who was following wrestling in the late ’90s to early 2000s knows without a second thought. Over the years, the circumstances as to what happened leading up to and after the actual match have become bigger than the match itself. It is all of the events surrounding the match that made The Montreal Screwjob the perfect second episode for Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring.
Just like the first episode, the second episode of Dark Side of the Ring is made up of several talking heads discussing what happened. The Montreal Screwjob starts with a history lesson as Calgary Stampede wrestling, the early career of Bret Hart, and the eventual purchase of both the company and Hart’s contract by the WWF are covered. Jim Cornette is the main talking head through this part of the show. It’s one that makes sense as Cornette is a self-proclaimed wrestling collector and historian. Since becoming a fan, Cornette has been meticulous with fact-checking events and keeping highly accurate records of everything in his own career. It is something to keep in mind for later.
While time is spent covering Hart’s early career and the start of his singles career, virtually no time is spent on Michaels’s career. Instead, Michaels’s career is picked up during a time period where he was going through some physical and personal problems. This combined with the fact that neither Michaels nor any of his known associates were interviewed for The Montreal Screwjob made it obvious that the episode was going to focus more on Bret’s part in the story than Shawn’s. Despite the fact that the story focuses on one side more than the other, the producers do an excellent job presenting the story in a way that does not pass judgment on one of the wrestlers more than the other.
Much like the first episode, the second episode of Dark Side of the Ring is not going to surprise any long-time wrestling fans who have spent any time digging into the in-ring and real-life rivalry and hatred that Hart and Michaels had, and, in some cases, may still have for each other. All the usual talking points are covered from Bret’s refusal to drop the title to Shawn, to what happened in the ring, to the backstage fallout after, and finally, the subsequent way the WWE followed up on the controversy.
For people who have never read the “dirt sheets” or have no idea what the Montreal Screwjob is, this is the perfect cliff notes version with enough juicy parts to bring them back for more. It makes it obvious after the first two episodes of Dark Side of the Ring that the primary target is not long-time fans who are looking for a new twist. Instead, it is perfect for people who are looking for a bit of nostalgia. Or those who enjoy stories that are character-driven and involve plenty of backstabbing.
As someone who is a long-time wrestling fan, the last 10 minutes of the show were the most interesting. During that time, we had two different people claim responsibility for coming up with the idea of the screwjob ending. While not uncommon for several people to claim they had a hand in something they might not have, the ferocity with which these two attacked each other is one that hearkens back to the old-school wrestling days. Both of the talking heads are very passionate about their role in events leading up to the Montreal Screwjob. However, one of them delivers a line for the ages to end the show.
The choice to not argue for or against either version of the events and let the viewers decide is a smart one. Russo and Cornette are two polarizing figures when it comes to the pro-wrestling community. Any choosing of sides would have led to half of the audience immediately tuning out the discussion moving forward. In a similar manner, the producers present the idea, however brief, as if the last 20 years have been at work and everyone was in on the screwjob, including Hart and Michaels themselves.
For some, it is the only answer that makes sense, especially when Hart has worked with the WWE since then. For many who claim they were in the room, a very small group of people knew what was going to happen, thus confirming that the Montreal Screw job was truly just that. Again, the producers do not present a right or wrong answer. Instead, they let the evidence and the stories from the talking heads speak for themselves, thus allowing people to draw their own conclusions.
While the first episode dealt with the more personal side of performers, the second episode of Dark Side of the Ring focuses on the backstage politics. What they both have in common is they are events and people that even the most casual of fans are going to recognize. Moving forward, the subjects are ones that are going to be more familiar to more hardcore fans. It will be interesting how ratings shake out over the next four episodes. In the meantime, I personally wish the episodes were a bit longer and dug a bit deeper. Yet, they do an adequate job presenting stories that appeal to a wider audience.