Thursday, January 19, 2017

Learning to Live with Smackdown

What are they even fighting over?
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There were only three matches on this week's episode of Smackdown, one of which ended in a no-contest and the other two of which heavily featured interference. That's not to say the wrestling or the show as a whole was terrible, but it didn't make things any easier to live with. That being said, this week on Smackdown I'm learning to live with:

Heel on Heel Action
A heel versus heel match is a rare and beautiful thing in WWE, and I personally wish they'd do it more often. Seeing two bad guys try to out-dastardly deed each other can be entertaining as hell. Miz going up against AJ Styles was a lot of fun. I thought the match was really good and that the two men played off each other well. The match ended due to outside interference, but I enjoyed it while it lasted, and given that the show started off with around 15 minutes of people standing around the ring having a chat and slinging terrible insults, I really needed the pick-me-up.

Last week's decision to advance the Natalya/Nikki Bella story with a brawl and no dialogue was good. This week's decision to have another brawl but with dialogue was...not so good. Nothing new was added except that Natalya is sounding increasingly unhinged, this week going so far as to declare that both Bella and Bret Hart are going to die alone. Frankly, unless you're going to top “I wish you DIED in the WOMB,” let's leave the completely banana-pants statements alone, shall we? I've completely lost track of what this is even supposed to be about. Natalya attacked Bella because she was jealous of her spot on the Survivor Series team? Because Nikki Bella is just so gosh darn beautiful? Because she has more merch? Because Bret Hart likes her better? I'm pretty sure this entire thing is solely for the benefit of Total Divas, but can we pull it together, please?

A Fresh Unfresh Match-Up
Dean Ambrose taking on the Wyatt Family is as stale as old bread, but Dean Ambrose taking on Randy Orton one-on-one is actually something we haven't seen for quite a while. When Randy Orton actually, you know, wrestles a match and doesn't just hang around waiting to hit his signature spots he can put on a really good show, and that's what we got with this match. The flimsy impetus for it was the Wyatts attacking Ambrose, like, a month ago, but that was good enough for me. Ambrose ended up stealing a win due to the continued implosion of the Wyatts, which leads us to...

The Martyrdom of Luke Harper
The Wyatt Family being destroyed from the inside is still weirdly compelling to me. Bray Wyatt once again had to prevent Luke Harper from going after Orton, which resulted in Harper literally glaring at him from a corner. That was already enough drama for me, but Harper had apparently reached his breaking point, throwing off his fancy vest (when the aggressive disrobing starts, you know things are getting serious) and tearing into Orton. Wyatt viciously slugging his faithful swamp brother in response actually made me gasp aloud. It helps that Luke Harper has such expressive eyes, and his look of stunned betrayal was perfection, followed by his half threatening/half plaintive delivery of “HE did this!” referring to Orton tearing them apart. Poor, crushed Luke Harper ended up leaving and I just wanted to give him a hug, while Bray Wyatt later announced that Harper and Orton will be fighting for his affection next week.

Whatever Dolph Ziggler Is Doing
So apparently Dolph Ziggler ISN'T fighting with some inner conflicts or whatever, as I surmised last week. He's just a bad dude with a bad 'tude, but I'm really not sold on whatever he's trying to convey. If he's being an edgy lone-wolf, I mean, we've already got one of those and he's way more hilarious effective, albeit with slightly worse hair. Ziggler's also kind of got a Best in the World-era Jericho thing going on with the flat delivery and drawing out every syllable and attacking old dudes, but that's not working for me either. Ziggler has always been better as a heel, but as a flamboyant, cocky heel, not this sullen, silent, sneering stuff. I am absolutely not saying he should never try anything new, and it's entirely possible I'm just being one of those people who immediately dislikes anything unfamiliar, but am I wrong?

A Mystifying Main Event
I was so excited for Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch's cage match. It was the main event of the show, there was a nice video package at the beginning to hype everyone up, the announce team wouldn't shut up about how “historical” it was in that annoying, would-be momentous way that WWE has had lately. This should have been a barn burner. It was not.

Now, it was also not terrible. Not by any means. I still enjoyed it! I would say that I'm more baffled than annoyed about the decisions that were made. For one thing, the match should have had more time – twenty minutes, easily, especially on a show that only had three matches – but I'm pretty sure they only got just over ten minutes. Thus everything felt rushed and there was no chance for a sense of desperation to win to build up.

Then there was the character stuff. It totally made sense for Bliss to try and escape the cage rather than fight. Her story all along has been trying to get out of actually wrestling Lynch, but when you back her into a corner she's still dangerous. Lynch, though? All she's wanted for weeks is to prove that she can beat Bliss so she could face her for the title one-on-one, and here she was trying to escape the cage just as constantly as Bliss. That's not our plucky, fight-to-the-end heroine! Yeah, it made for some nice dramatic moments that looked great, but that's all they were: moments. With the constant breaks for the door or the cage walls, there was no chance for a real narrative for the match to build. There was no ebb and flow to bolster and highlight those individual moments.

Finally, there was the end of the match itself, which saw La Luchadora (unmasked as a returning Mickie James) enable Bliss to keep her title. You will remember, of course, that Daniel Bryan made this a cage match in order to prevent just that sort of interference. Good managing as usual, D-Bry. I hold out hope that this is not the end of the line for this feud and that we ARE going to get the showstopping match these women deserve to have and that I want to see. I super believe in you, Smackdown!