Thursday, September 29, 2016

Learning To Live With Smackdown

Cena is an entitled brat
Photo Credit:
This week on Smackdown I'm learning to live with:

A Three-Match Show Being Pretty Darn Good
Normally if I only got to see three wrestling matches on a two-hour wrestling show I would be annoyed, but such is the magic that Smackdown can wield that I didn't even notice until the main event and had to ask myself, “Wait, is this only the third match?” That's some good show structuring right there, and note that it did not involve either Daniel Bryan or Shane McMahon muddying things up. However, it DID involve...

Viper Theatre
In a little bit I'm going to praise the hell out of the Miz and Dolph Ziggler's acting, which shone even more because it contrasted so sharply with Randy Orton delivering the most Randy Orton performance to start the show and Bray Wyatt clearly not even trying anymore. I'm actually kind of surprised that the apparently-still-not-over feud between these two was our thread throughout the episode. We followed Orton through the dullest escape room ever created as he tried to find Wyatt... for some reason. It featured hapless Erick Rowan getting locked in a room and a cut-out of Orton that did NOT explode the way I was expecting it to. The whole thing ended on a bizarre cliffhanger that I actually enjoyed for being so wonderfully weird. Has Orton triumphed or fallen? Was it The Glow that made everything go wonky?

Communication Breakdown
Of course, this whole thing has come about because Orton and Wyatt never, ever actually listen to each other. Orton is convinced that Wyatt is afraid of him, and vice versa, when neither has ever indicated anything of the sort. Mostly they both seem bored. I mean, Orton even went so far as to call Wyatt out to the ring “if he's a man,” and haven't you been listening AT ALL, dude? He's a GOD, not a MAN! Meanwhile Wyatt took “come down to the ring” to mean “monologue ominously.” And at the very end, Wyatt didn't hear Orton sneaking up on him when he was, like, inches away. Maybe Randy Orton is the sneakiest snake in all the land, or maybe these two need to stop tuning each other out.

Luke Harper should come back and teach them how to hear each other's words.

The Odd Men Out
The eight-man tag on this episode featured Heat Slater and Rhyno, American Alpha, the Usos and... the Ascension. Our improbable, underdog champs; a couple of high-energy, pure-hearted heroes; the villains of the piece; and... the Ascension. Okay then. It's not that the Ascension are even that terrible. I actually think they acquitted themselves pretty well in the match, which hit all the notes you would expect it to hit: Everyone loves Slater and Rhyno but they probably won't hold onto the titles! Chad Gable still has a FATAL KNEE! The Usos will exploit your weaknesses! The Ascension... are also there!

I really liked the Usos taking out Slater via the knee as well. They don't hate other tag teams, they just hate JOINTS.

Also, I very rarely get annoyed with Mauro Ranallo, but I swear he was referring to Slater and Rhyno as “Beauty and the Man Beast” every two seconds. I heard it the first time! It's not that clever!

Small Quibbles With the Women's Division
It was nice that we got to see the tag match that ended so abruptly last week, but the women's division is quickly settling into this weird pattern where Becky Lynch only deals with Alexa Bliss, the contender to her title, and the other four women only interact with each other. Why not mix it up? Instead of just having Bliss attack Lynch in a 10-second rehash of their segment last week, why not feature each of them in a match against someone else? Otherwise we're going to get into a stagnant rotation of Champ vs. Contender matches and Everyone Else matches rather than having a dynamic division. Currently we're seeing the easiest and laziest way to work with a six-person division, and I'd like Smackdown to be more creative. All six women are great in their own ways, and I'd like to see them all play off against each other.

Other notes: The tag match was fine, though. I really like how much Carmella wants to fight Nikki Bella ALL THE TIME and keeps getting these surprise wins, while Bella can't believe how hard it is for her to put this tiny woman away.

I really, really hate the “Yaaaaaaay” thing Natalya does. Like, I really hate it. I know she's a heel and I'm not supposed to like what she does, but what is she even trying to convey with it? Is it sarcasm? Is it bravado? Is it The Glow? Ugh.

Remember back when Naomi was a bad guy and Jimmy Uso was asked about it and even sat in on guest commentary to talk about it? How come no one has asked Naomi about her husband and brother-in-law's newfound evil ways? Did The Glow make her sever ties with them?

A Lengthy Talking Segment Featuring Dolph Ziggler Being the Best Part of the Show
I don't know why they haven't played up the fact that the Miz and Dolph Ziggler have roots in the same city before. Probably because Mr. “How dare you insult my city” is billed from Hollywood, Florida. Take several seats on that front, sir.

That aside, the final confrontation between Miz and Ziggler was just amazing. When Miz came out for his celebration I kind of sighed and settled in for the Miz being great at being slimy and Ziggler interrupting and asking for yet another match. Same old, same old. Yet by the end of it I had tears in my eyes. Fucking tears in my eyes over Dolph Ziggler.

The symmetry, you guys. THE SYMMETRY. I loved that both sets of parents were there (“Mr. and Mrs. Ziggler” lol) And this story! Ziggler and Miz come from the same city and they both love wrestling so much they did whatever they had to to break into the business. But, suggests the narrative, it turns out that the Miz loves the spotlight more than he loves wrestling. He loves being in movies and having titles and not necessarily defending them and it has 100 per cent paid off. Meanwhile, Dolph Ziggler only loves wrestling, has nothing to show for it, and has to face the painful truth that he's done nothing but lose lately.

The acting was top notch. Miz was at his awful best, equal parts triumphant and savage. His vehement berating of Ziggler actually made me flinch. Ziggler's raw, ragged delivery of “sometimes the things you love don't love you back” just broke my god damn heart. And that quiet plea for one more match, only this time with his career on the line, conveyed so much. He knows how pathetic he looks, he knows there's no reason why this time should be any different, but he can't help it. And then Miz responded with the most sinister glee I've ever had the joy to witness. It was so great. A+, Smackdown. 500 points to the Hogwarts house of your choice.

John Cena, Entitled Dick
Okay, we are SUPPOSED to think he's kind of a dick, right? Because “yeah, I've lost to both these guys but I deserve to be here because I'm John Cena and literally no other reason” is a pretty dick thing to say. I mostly liked Cena on commentary, though. He's acting like his character SHOULD act. He's not an underdog, he's not at a disadvantage, and he IS John Cena. I liked his straightforward determination to be a 16-time champion. I liked his confidence that he CAN have it all. I even liked his catty criticisms of Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles, and I appreciated that he also made sure to highlight each man's areas of strengths. Calm, confident John Cena is such a massive improvement over shouty, masculinity-obsessed John Cena. More of this, please.

Meanwhile, AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose were having an excellent title match, which saw Styles retain the title. I enjoyed it a lot and I feel like Ambrose in particular has really picked up the pace. I especially loved that neither man could resist jumping out of the ring to slug Cena. They're so in sync! I hope that at No Mercy they team up to take out Cena and then share the title between them.