Monday, July 14, 2014

Smackdown: Friendship is Magic

This was a big deal, and yet the announcers blew it off like it was nothing
Photo Credit:
Worst Friends Forever—Michael Cole and JBL
I don't know what it was with this episode — maybe it was the glut of distraction finishes and no-contests, maybe it was the lack of the ongoing Sheamus/Cesaro saga — but the commentary on this episode just ruined it for me. Now, normally I either let the commentary wash over me like an obnoxious, ignorant wave, or I just mute it. But they got to me this week, and they got to me good. There were friendship facts aplenty to cover, but my sheer annoyance with Cole and JBL even managed to cancel out my usual enthusiasm. Thus I am going to devote this review to them, get it out of my system, and hopefully by next week I'll be back in fine friendship form.

The badness started with the AJ Lee vs. Cameron match, wherein it was revealed that the latter's latest attempts at character work are simply going to be reduced to “she's crazy.” JBL, with support from Cole, continually referred to the match as a “psychologist's dream” and also referred to the women as “two cuckoos.”

Now, let's break this down. How, exactly, was Cameron “crazy” here? Because she has an attitude? Because she's now using make-up application as a stalling tactic and as a weapon? Because she tries to win matches? The announcers are the ones who made no sense. Cameron's character is image-obsessed and entitled and everything she did was perfectly in sync with this. Furthermore, her trajectory is perfectly plausible and is, in fact, an epic tale of friendship gone horribly wrong.

The Funkadactyls danced in the shadows of Brodus Clay, Sweet T, and (briefly) Xavier Woods, but they've now been seemingly abandoned by all three men. While the WWE never saw fit to give us ANY sort of Funkdactyl reaction to these successive desertions, one can only assume that it might make an insecure sort, such as Cameron, determined to never again be the one left behind. After she and Naomi were left on their own, she had to start wondering where this was headed. It's not like there's a women's tag division wherein they could win titles together. No, it's solo shots or nothing, and Naomi is clearly the better performer. Instead of asking her partner for advice on how to improve, Cameron gave in to the Dark Side, growing bitter and frustrated, yet attempting to mask the ugliness within through an ever-growing obsession with her beauty regimen. Thus, her selfish nature is now on full display. So, while in some ways Cameron's actions are understandable, she's also completely wrong and a terrible person. Pretty basic heeling, actually.

But, yeah, sure, let's just keep calling her “crazy” and make it seem like the ladies are completely out of control. There's a STORY here, you assholes, if you would bother to tell it.

Also, is AJ Lee a face now? I mean, to me she has always been a face, but she was audibly cheered when she returned and nobody has seemed to paint her defeat of Paige as an act of evil. Also, she was facing Cameron, who is clearly a heel. I ask because, along with refusing to acknowledge Cameron's character work, the announcers are still referring to Lee as crazy, too. However, if she's the person we're cheering for, shouldn't you NOT be constantly running her down? Just a thought.

In other female-centric news, the Fandango/Layla/Summer Rae quagmire resolved itself in the best possible, yet least expected fashion. Layla and Summer joining forces to attack Fandango and then dancing enthusiastically together should have been a moment of triumph. Instead, it was quickly swept under the rug and dismissed by JBL and Cole.

The Adam Rose vs. Fandango match earlier in the show reinforced the norm of centering the narrative around Fandango, and not the two women. The announcers remarked that Fandango was having difficulty making up his mind, and that either way he couldn't lose, because women are simply props one can choose from. They don't have feelings of their own! There was absolutely no discussion of Summer or Layla's motives or thoughts. And when they finally pursued their surprisingly progressive course of action, the announcers merely cackled over Fandango's plight, again making it all about him, and talked about how weird the women's actions were. Women: They sure are crazy!

Summer and Layla both did a fantastic job with their facial expressions throughout: from the slow realization that Fandango had only ever cared about himself, the resulting fury, uncertainty about each other afterwards, the cautious extension of an olive branch, all the way to joyous dancing in friendship and solidarity. Awesome, awesome stuff, yet disappointingly overshadowed by commentary's refusal to acknowledge anything positive associated with women.

Speaking of possible blossoming friendships, Heath Slater and Titus O'Neil gave it a go against the Usos. However, this mostly resulted in JBL hollering “Slater and the Gator” every few seconds (STOP TRYING TO MAKE IT HAPPEN), with nary a word about what these two could actually offer each other.

My breaking point arrived during the Goldust vs. Curtis Axel match. At the appearance of Stardust accompanying his brother, Cole once again started in with “This is weird, he's so weird, ugh all this weirdness is dumb and I don't get it.”

Just what is he even trying to accomplish here? First of all, if he hates weird stuff so much, why would he EVER work in professional wrestling? Secondly, as JBL (in a rare moment of clarity) pointed out, putting your opponents off-balance is a smart tactic and one that Goldust has been employing for years. Thirdly, Stardust IS weird, but he's also awesome. The Dust Brothers are weird and awesome. Why hate on the weird and awesome? Fourthly, Goldust and Stardust are good guys. We are supposed to support them. People already love Goldust and they WANT to love Stardust, so why in the fuck is Cole acting like he can't believe these guys have jobs? Is he just incapable of saying anything nice about anyone?

Honestly, for all that I've been giving both of the commentary chowderheads shit, I truly believe that Cole is worse than JBL. He's the one who's supposed to be a journalist, yet he can't seem to grasp the basic fact that word choice matters. When he talks about Stardust “babbling,” when he scoffs that Stardust is a “nutjob”--THESE WORDS MATTER. These words tell us that Stardust sucks and that he isn't worth our time. With his poorly chosen words and tone, Michael Cole can ruin any number of promising characters and developments.

I was pretty done with the rest of the show. I should have enjoyed Bo Dallas showing remorse for decimating El Torito, and then just decimating him some more. I should have enjoyed Randy Orton vs. My Beloved Chris Jericho (ruined by some particularly out-of-place shilling of the WWE Network. “Remember the groundbreaking '80s Saturday Night Main Event?” Um, DO YOU REMEMBER THERE'S A MATCH GOING ON?). I should have enjoyed Rusev vs. Roman Reigns, complete with the SHOCKING TWIST of Lana calling off Rusev in deference to Orton (possible secret friendship? I hope so!). However, I couldn't get into any of it.

Never underestimate the power of terrible commentary to take you right out of the moment, my friends. Sometimes even the power of friendship isn't enough.