Thursday, August 11, 2016

Learning To Live With Smackdown

No, Viperville should not be a thing
Photo Credit:
We're trying something new here at Smackdown: Friendship Was Formerly Magic. For one thing, the brand split has introduced a lot of changes and things to process. For another, though WWE rightfully gets a lot of flack for being so darn samey all the time, the truth is that there's a lot thrown at us every week, and there's generally something new to adjust to. Lastly, I just felt like switching things up and I DO WHAT I WANT (with TH's graceful blessing). So from now on I'm going to focus on reconciling the highs and lows of Smackdown, learning to live with both things that I love and things that make me scratch my head, and hopefully the magic of friendship can still be a beautiful thread running through it all.

With that introduction out of the way, this week on Smackdown I am learning to live with:

The Structure of Smackdown
Remember how positive I was about those 10-second talking head segments that would zoom from location to location at the start of the show? Yeah, apparently we're just never going to do that again. Instead it's back to the 20-minute waits for the first match to start with ensuing unnecessary backstage segments throughout the show. And for some reason Renee Young has a giant desk fort from which to issue interviews and recaps. I can definitely learn to live with Fort Desk because, along with the pop-up infographics that accompany the wrestlers, it could give Smackdown a more "Real Sports"-feel to differentiate it from RAW. Everything else, though, is exactly what the show should have been moving away from.

Basically, there is entirely too much apparatus – two authority figures, three men in the announce booth, one roving interviewer, and one stationary interviewer – and not enough room for wrestling. Neither John Cena nor AJ Styles appeared on the show, because Smackdown is definitely an important place where important people hang out. The Intercontinental Title scene was only referenced through two Miz segments (which were honestly pretty great) and Baron Corbinius threatening Kalisto, while Apollo Crews didn't show up at all. I need more of these guys and less of Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan acting like jerks to their employees. Seriously, they're supposed to be the guys who want to make their show all about rewarding good wrestling, but then they were weirdly combative to Dolph Ziggler and didn't care at all about Heath Slater and his two to seven children. I guess I can learn to live with this better if Daniel Bryan, bless his heart, can also learn to live with an acting class.

Positive Feelings About Dolph Ziggler
Over the years my feelings about Dolph Ziggler have ranged from mild interest to indifference to outright loathing. I was certainly never invested in him as the hero of any story. Now, though? I'm kind of digging him. Last week's fiery tirade against Dean Ambrose got me to sit up and take notice. This week, while Ambrose was waffling about whether he should run into a ring inhabited by Bray Wyatt and Erick Rowan, Ziggler strolled in and unhesitatingly jumped into the fray with a “watch this” glance Ambrose's way when he passed him. He looked like a complete badass, and I loved it. I also loved his almost manic efforts during the main event match that put him and Ambrose against Wyatt and Rowan. Dolph Ziggler is just putting everything on the line right now, and he's doing such a great job of conveying that this is his last shot at the big time and if doesn't make it now he never will.

I also really liked Ambrose grudgingly running to Ziggler's rescue at the start of the show. Here he is finally learning to not take Bray Wyatt's bait and be a responsibly champion and it means nothing because apparently people love dumb heroes.

The Tag Division
American Alpha continued to be one of the most exciting aspects of the new Smackdown. They dispatched some local talent with the same enthusiasm that we saw last week, and I can absolutely live with them dominating the tag division...what little of it there is. The Ascension, the Vaudevillains, and the Hype Bros all came out to assess the competition, and instead of getting me, well, hype, it mostly just revealed how kind of sad this division is. The Vaudevillains would probably have been considered the top of the heap, but Jordan and Gable already took care of them last week what? It would help immensely if they had something to fight for. We keep hearing that there is going to be a tag championship and a women's championship for Smackdown, but until that happens everyone is kind of just treading water.

The Women's Division
The women's division is also suffering from lack of direction, but this week improved on both of last week's segments. Eva Marie managed to bow out of competing again, which I would have appreciated more if it hadn't taken forever to get to a damn match on this show. Once Alexa Bliss came out to face Becky Lynch instead, I was able to contain my rage and appreciate that this is making Eva Marie look like an evil genius and Becky Lynch like the hardworking, passionate hero that we love. She's so genuine when she talks and so much fun to watch in the ring, and it kills me that she keeps being pushed into the background. Meanwhile Bliss, our tiny demonic pixie, got her first win on the main roster.

The Natalya/Carmella feud, which frankly hasn't got much going for it, got to progress to an actual match, too, and it was fine. Carmella's victory legitimately surprised me, so good job there, Smackdown. There is nothing preventing this women's division from being great and I really want to love it.

Guys, can we not make “Viperville” a thing? It's a pretty terrible thing. It's's not cool, okay? It is not cool. On the other hand, it DOES conjure images of, like, a tiny snake village and snakes wearing tiny snakey suits and hats and playing snake games. Viperville is only acceptable to me if it involves Randy Orton doing a documentary about snakes wearing snake hats in their snake village.

Honestly, though, for someone who doesn't have much use for Randy Orton as a rule and who groaned audibly at his being drafted to Smackdown, I quite enjoyed his match against Alberto del Rio. Maybe it was actually really good, maybe I was just desperate to watch a decently long match, but it was one of the highlights of the night.