Thursday, August 18, 2016

Learning to Live with Smackdown

Poor Heath Slater
Photo Credit:
First of all, it has come to my notice that RAW this week featured Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens being best friends, and it is unacceptable that this is not taking place on Smackdown. What did I do to merit this heartless taunting, WWE? First you take them away from me and then you repair their broken friendship where I won't see it? Or this is just a feeble attempt to lure me into watching RAW again? Well, it won't work. SMACKDOWN 4 LYFE! I CANNOT BE BOUGHT! *sobs forever*

In addition to existing apart from the things I most love, this week on Smackdown I am also learning to live with:

The Ups and Downs of Randy Orton
Randy Orton has surprisingly good comic instincts. Who knew? Smackdown began YET AGAIN with a backstage talky segment followed by an in-ring talky segment (Smackdown, I am PLEADING with you to try a different format; one that includes wrestling right off the bat), but it was saved through the expected efforts of Heath Slater and the unexpected efforts of Randy Orton. The latter stonily refused to catch an apple tossed to him by Slater, only to end up with it cradled in his arm, and then he slooowly picked it up and started polishing it. He capped it off by declaring that he had an idea of how to solve Slater's unemployment problem...but then just took a bit of apple. And paused. And chewed. And chewed. And then we cut to the opening theme without hearing his idea. It was hilarious. Given some of the questionable production choices Smackdown made, it is entirely possible that someone just forgot to cut when they were supposed to. However, I choose to believe that Smackdown has just become the show where we plumb the heretofore unappreciated comic talents of wrestlers.

It turned out that Orton's big idea was to have a match against Slater, and if Slater won then he would be given a contract. So delighted was I by the earlier segment that I naively hoped that Orton would just throw the match in a random burst of good will toward his fellow man. Not so. Instead he decided it would be super fun to basically just kill Slater in the middle of the ring to “send a message” to Brock Lesnar, like Brock Lesnar watches this show or cares even a little bit what Randy Orton does. I think I've said before that this is one of my least favourite wrestling tropes, and it was made even worse by the people chanting for him to RKO Slater after the match had already been ended due to unnecessary roughness. How bloodthirsty and awful a person do you have to be? Badly done, Newly Funny Randy Orton. Time to rethink your material.

Genuinely Awful Leadership
Speaking of Heath Slater, his woes really crossed a line this week with Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon revealing themselves to be terrible, terrible people. Slater won his match due to Orton's disqualification. He earned his contract and McMahon took it away because Slater was so severely beaten that he confused Bryan and McMahon for their RAW counterparts. That's so petty and mean! I was actually legitimately distressed to see this shitty behaviour played for laughs. In-story, Slater hasn't done anything to merit this treatment other than be tenacious and mildly annoying. And while the misadventures of Heath Slater, hapless weirdo, have a valuable place, I really don't enjoy seeing him being beaten to a pulp and then screwed over yet again. Unpleasant business all around.

Flashes of Friendship
At the risk of this series becoming Smackdown: The Heath Slater Show, I forgot to mention last week that David Otunga totally brought up his Nexus history with Heath Slater and it made me happy. This week during the Vipering of Heath Slater (that...sounds dirtier now than I meant it to be) Randy Orton threw Slater directly into Otunga (according to Mauro Ranallo's narration) and I choose to believe that Otunga tried to catch and save him. FOR FRIENDSHIP.

Dolph Ziggler's ACTING
I said last week that I'm happy to find myself caring about Dolph Ziggler for once and I think he's doing a really good job with the material he's given. That's still true, but this week I could see him straining to act his little heart out (like, literally straining. Did you see how red his face was?) and I found it less stirring and more unintentionally hilarious. I get that we're trying to contrast Dean Ambrose's assured nonchalance with Ziggler's unrestrained passion, but maybe just tone down the earnest yelling a smidge? There's getting caught up in the moment and then there's acting so dang hard that you vow to kick someone's head right off their face.

Baffling Use of Time
Here's the last bit of build Apollo Crews and the Miz got before Summer Slam: Crews came out DURING A COMMERCIAL BREAK to hassle Miz and we got brief HIGHLIGHTS of it. That's it. Lots of time for Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar's history, time for a lacklustre John Cena/Alberto del Rio main event match, time for Dean Ambrose versus the Worst Wyatt, no time for an up-and-coming could-be star in a title match against a dude everyone loves to hate. Slow clap for Smackdown, here.

A Beautiful Potpourri of Nothing
I could pretty much copy and paste here what I wrote last week about the tag and women's divisions. This week we saw the return of the Usos to the mix in a 12-man tag that quickly devolved into a brawl. And let me tell you, nothing showcases individual teams' characters and strengths like tossing them into a tag team soup that's over before you know what's happening. American Alpha are still being positioned as the frontrunners for the stakes that do not exist, and that's totally fine, but if you want a vibrant division then everyone needs time to shine.

The women's division, too, added a new element in the form of Naomi, who now glows in the dark and is apparently a face again. When did that happen? Who knows! I'm not even that mad because I love Naomi and I hope that her willingness to constantly add to her gimmick finally pays off. Eva Marie's antics continued, and while Announcer Voice's delivery of “Eva Marie...has been delayed in traffic,” was hilarious, they need to balance these shenanigans with, you know, actual wrestling so that I don't end up typing in all-caps out of frustration. Anyway, after the women's tag match that we DID get, the women were all lined up according to alignment just like the tag teams, all ready to fight for... nothing.

There are the ingredients for a great mix here. Give them something meaningful to do!

WWE Patting Itself On the Back
So we all saw that promo for the upcoming special on the Divas Revolution, yes? And we all upset our mugs of tea in our thrashings of rage, yes? Show me, don't tell me, WWE. Give me a match longer than two or three minutes (hell, give me a match AT ALL some nights). Give me time to register and care about what's going on with the women before swooping back to the men again (hey, Naomi, how did it feel to be stood up by Eva Marie? WHOOPS WE DON'T CARE HERE'S JOHN CENA).


As frustrating as it is to see Stephanie McMahon smugly congratulate herself on gifting us with a Revolution and graciously allowing the women to be called Superstars (yay, sexism is over now!), it is better now, right? I feel like it's better. I feel like steps have been taken. Of course, if WWE would stop resting on its fucking laurels and wrench itself forward some more that would be even better, but until then I guess I'll just give WWE the cookie that it so desperately wants.

A Gem At the End
I clearly did not think this episode was a standout, though I tried to look for bright spots where I could. One of them came at the end of the show when I was thoroughly angry at the entire world and hating myself for watching this. AJ Styles jumped in the ring to deliver an elbow and some speechifyng John Cena's way, and one of the things he said was, “I'm going to make your passion your prison.” That's a shockingly good line, right? I really liked it. Whoever wrote it should get a raise. Everyone else should be fired. Including me.