Thursday, November 17, 2016

Learning to Live with Smackdown

I haven't been able to write about or even watch Smackdown for the past two weeks, so let's see what I've missed and what I have to learn to live with.

Playing the role of The Gipper for Team Smackdown...
Photo Credit:
Utter Nonsense
Soooo when exactly did anyone apart from Shane and Stephanie McMahon start having a stake in RAW and Smackdown trying to outdo each other? The brands have only been split for, what, almost four months now? How has that been enough time for the wrestlers to decide they have a blood feud with those on the opposite show? There's been absolutely no friction coming from anyone other than the authority figures, and even that's been vague as hell. If their visions for WWE are so different that they need separate shows, why don't they just ignore each other? If they're competing for supremacy, who decides who wins? If they're trying to win over Vince, why not have him evaluate each brand's wrestlers at Survivor Series? (and yes, I would hate that, but at least it would give some substance to this narrative)

And what do the wrestlers get out of it? It's been pointed out elsewhere, but I'll just reiterate that there is literally nothing at stake here other than the Intercontinental Championship going to RAW or the Cruiserweight division coming to Smackdown. For the grand prize of Nothing everyone is supposed to drop their current grievances and alliances and work together just for kicks? Not buying it. We'll get into that more later on, but for now, in spite of all my griping, I'll toss out some kudos for...

Starting Things Off Right
I groaned when Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan came out at the start of the show as I fully expected 20 minutes or so of blathering and posturing. It was a pleasant surprise when they just said what they had to and let us get on with the show. The opening match was also a great way to start things off. Unlike the rest of the show, there were actual stakes involved, since it was a title match. The Miz and Dolph Ziggler's storied feud also lent extra weight, and it was fitting to have two long-time foes face each other once again on an anniversary show. The match gave us plenty of drama and I enjoyed it a lot. I don't mind that Miz won and I don't even mind that it was due to interference from Maryse (though I'm heartily sick of the Spirit Squad); I just hope we'll be able to move on from him and Ziggler. In fact, pretty much every feud on Smackdown has been the same since the brand split, and it's time for some change. It is my greatest wish that, whatever the outcome at Survivor Series, Sami Zayn winds up on Smackdown, but I'll just have to cross my fingers and wait.

Four Men in a Boat
Multiple-man announce teams are never going to work as long as one of those men is JBL because he'll just shout all the louder with every new face. I personally have never even liked the three-man booth because things just get too cacophonous, especially when you start adding in guest commenters, and the odd man out always feels unnecessary. I like Tom Phillips, so his sudden appearance on Smackdown isn't wholly unwelcome, but I'm really curious to know why he's there.

More Like Paperweights Amirite
Kalisto versus Oney Lorcan was over so quickly I thought I imagined it, and for those of us hoping that a move to Smackdown might help the Cruiserweights gain some footing, that's not a good omen. On Sunday Kalisto will be competing for the fate of an entire division and nobody really seems to care. The Cruiserweights are still being inexplicably grounded during their matches when they should be flying. Like ornamental paperweights, WWE insists on keeping them around with no real use for them. They just kind of pick them up and idly shift them around every now and then.

Surviving the Women's Division
Alexa Bliss had the right idea when she was berating Daniel Bryan about getting a rematch against Becky Lynch. There's no earthly reason why she should care what happens at Survivor Series. Instead, she's focused on the only thing that matters – winning the title. Unfortunately, instead of anyone at all acknowledging that Bliss had a point, it was all swept away later in the show.

The women's match of the night featured Carmella against Nikki Bella, which is another feud that hasn't inched forward much since its inception and needs to either amp things up or end. The match mostly consisted of Bella taking a tonne of offense and looking mildly perturbed about it, and I was starting to get bored when Charlotte Flair showed up. The whole thing eventually devolved into a brawl with the RAW team attacking Bella and the Smackdown team, including Carmella, running in to help.

The questions will not stop asking themselves. We just saw Carmella devote every ounce of her tiny frame to destroying Nikki Bella, as she has been doing for months now, but I'm supposed to believe she'd turn around and come to Bella's rescue due to nonexistant brand loyalty? Alexa Bliss suddenly discovered her team spirit? Sasha Banks is totally fine with following Flair's lead and doing her bidding? BAYLEY is fine with participating in a five on one sneak attack? Nope, nope, nope.

You can absolutely do the Foes United In Common Cause story and it can be really good, but I cannot stop emphasizing how much there IS NO COMMON CAUSE HERE, and no reason for so many people to be acting wildly out of character. Absolutely no foundation has been laid for this, and now WWE apparently wants all the pay-off without doing any of the work. This is not how you tell a story.

Surviving the Tag Team Division
On the other side of the bad storytelling spectrum, there are Smackdown's Survivor Series tag teams. Where every other Series team is being forced to fight each other while also being lectured about how they have to stick together, Smackdown's tag teams were tasked with showing off their teamwork on this episode. Such an obvious idea, yet apparently one so hard to grasp. And, again, a good idea but one with massive holes in it. Okay, the tag teams are all on the same page, but how on earth did American Alpha and the Usos find it in their hearts to work together (assuming I didn't miss some sort of grand reconciliation in the last two weeks)? There was some friction between Jimmy Uso and Jason Jordan during the match against the remnants of the Tag Division, but other than that the two teams were totally cool hanging out together. That being said, I can't complain too hard about this. King Booker's pep talk was a short and sweet nostalgia interlude, Tyler Breeze and Fandango are back on my TV, and the massive tag match was fun. Chad Gable holding down the ropes for the Usos' dive over the top was super cool, and I guess in this one instance I'm willing to believe allegiance to Smackdown triumphed over bad blood.

Surviving the Men's Division
Edge popped by to interview the last Survivor Series team, and I have to give Smackdown some more props for all the anniversary cameos on this episode. They all involved getting everyone geared up for the pay-per-view, so they actually served a purpose in addition to being nods to the show's history. I also appreciated Edge reminding us of Team RKO and questioning Randy Orton about his newfound love of cults. I kind of wish the Cutting Edge had been devoted to talking about who other than Shane McMahon could have taken Baron Corbin's place on the team, though. Luke Harper? Apollo Crews? Jack Swagger (lol)? Whoever lost the Intercontinental Championship match? I'm giving McMahon some serious side-eye for this. For all his talk about how important Survivor Series is (to no one but him) and how everyone has to pull together (why?) because they're a TEAM, damn it, he apparently never considered that he, a non-wrestler, will be more of a hindrance than a help. However, no one else pointed this out, and instead he just got praise from the Undertaker, who also showed up to be everyone's undead cheerleader.

And that's where we stand before Survivor Series. Time to win one for the 'Taker!