Thursday, February 9, 2017

Learning to Live with Smackdown

A great spotlight for all involved
Photo Credit:
This week on Smackdown I'm learning to live with:

Saving the Best for First
After getting through the “I, too, plan to win the Elimination Chamber match” portion of the evening we got a fatal four-way match featuring AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, the Miz, and Baron Corbin, and it was fantastic. All four men got to shine, and they also all made each other look good, which is always something I appreciate. Styles in particular sold the hell out of all the offence he took. There were a lot of highlights, and I didn't even mind Baron Corbin winning. Everyone came out of the match still looking strong, and despite my antipathy toward John Cena I'm really looking forward to the Chamber match.

The Dolph Ziggler Doldrums
Yes, they actually did run the exact same segment we've seen for the past, what, four weeks now? And, once again, the formula was given the slightest twist in a failed attempt to build a narrative. This time Apollo Crews started things off against Ziggler and he even won! Once again, though, the match was woefully short and Ziggler's after-match actions were the same as he took a chair to Crews and prompted Kalisto to come running only to be beaten down himself. Yawn.

Just...what is this? What is this supposed to be? How is putting Ziggler in a handicap match against Crews and Kalisto supposed to be a punishment? (Also, way to address his terrible behaviour like a month in, D-Bry. A+ management as always) We've already seen him beat up both men pretty handily, Crews' win on this episode notwithstanding. If he takes out both of them at once, he looks like a badass; if it takes TWO men to take him out, he looks like a badass. People are already cheering for him over Crews and Kalisto. I distinctly heard “one more time” chants when he was brandishing the steel chair. So who, exactly, are we supposed to be rooting for here? This is what happens when only a small number of people are allowed to matter and the others simply stagnate. I like Apollo Crews and Kalisto but they have nothing going for them and they are getting nothing out of this feud. Four weeks of matches and run-ins with Dolph Ziggler and STILL no one is behind them because for all of those interactions, they're not given enough time to actually make an impact. Meanwhile, we still don't even know what the deal is with Dolph Ziggler's attitude adjustment or why he seems to be targeting Crews and Kalisto in particular or when, exactly, Crews and Kalisto became BFFs. This whole thing is such a dead end for all three people involved and I don't get it.

Half-Assed History
Okay, WWE. Acknowledging Black History Month is a good thing, and I obviously do not expect a full-on documentary about the figures you choose to highlight, but there's simplification and then there's the breathtaking gall with which you blithely sweep a huge movement and an ongoing struggle out of the way. Summarizing Rosa Parks' life with “one day she wouldn't give up her seat on a bus and single-handedly sparked civil rights the end” is a huge disservice to both her own lifelong activism and the work of others in the civil rights movement who came before and after her. As an historian, this is the kind of lip-service, bare minimum history that just chafes me. Do better.

More Like DUEL Contract Signing
Get it? Because there was fighting? Like a duel? But they kept saying dual? My wordplay is unmatched!

Anyway, Smackdown really wanted to make a big deal of the “first ever dual contract signing” and this whole making history in the women's division thing is really getting out of hand. False fanfare aside, the segment was actually pretty enjoyable, and I'm really looking forward to both of the upcoming matches. Apart from Mickie James' weird drunk mom cadence I liked that she focused more on the idea that SHE was the one who really started the “women's revolution” and as such doesn't like what she sees as Becky Lynch taking credit for it. It's a story that works. I like Lynch being respectful of James' accomplishments while still standing up for herself. Bliss, as usual, had the best delivery when she “forgot” that Naomi was even there and was like, “Meh, I'll just beat you on Sunday.” I felt bad for laughing because I do think Naomi has been unfairly forgotten for most of her career, but Naomi is not going to go quietly as she, smooth as anything, kicked RIGHT THE HELL OVER THE TABLE and nailed Bliss in the head. Frankly, I think we can just retire the whole “contract signing devolves into fight” trope right now because Naomi won forever. Everyone else can go home. As The Glow decrees it, so shall it be done.

The Ascent of the Ascension
All right, Smackdown, so after Elimination Chamber is done we're going to actually put some work into the Tag Division and not just keep dumping everyone into a meaningless tag soup, right? RIGHT?

This week's soup du jour once again featured every team on the roster, this time taking part in a six on six tag match. It was not a terrible match because nothing involving most of these teams could be terrible, but neither was it particularly good or memorable. We had American Alpha throwing out tandem dropkicks and suplexes, the Fashion Police breaking out enziguris in sync, Aiden English actually hanging in there with Chad Gable instead of spontaneously combusting, which is what I've come to expect from the Vaudevillains at this point...and still the crowd just chanted for Rhyno. This is the exact same problem that I talked about earlier. The audience has not been able to connect with most of these teams so they end up cheering for the guy they know. This is not to take anything away from Rhyno, who's been great since teaming up with Heath Slater, but it's frustrating me to see this largely talented division just be thrown away in filler matches.

The end of the match managed to surprise me, though. Konnor taking a gore that was meant for Viktor completely warmed my heart, so when Viktor ended up pinning Rhyno I was actually pretty happy, a feeling I have never in my life associated with the Ascension. Honestly, though, good for them. I certainly wish we'd been allowed to bask in their rare moment of good fortune rather than abruptly switching to fawning over David Otunga's bit part in Criminal Minds.

WWE, you can give me all the John Cena/Randy Orton main even matches you want. You can give me a Wrestle Mania filled with part-timers, old dudes, and celebrities, all of which I have no interest in seeing. You can give me all of that and I won't long as you give me the good, long Luke Harper/Bray Wyatt match that I both need and deserve.

I spent most of John Cena vs. Randy Orton: 2017 Edition thinking about Bray Wyatt's boots (so shiny, such a lovely, deep shade of red, I wonder if they're comfortable, I wonder where I could get a similar pair, what would I wear them with?). It's not that the match was terrible, it's just that it was John Cena vs. Randy Orton: 2017 Edition. Why should I care? And then suddenly I cared VERY MUCH because Luke Harper appeared on the scene right when Bray Wyatt interfered in the match. Wyatt has almost seemed to delight in Harper's attempts to topple Orton lately, clearly enjoying the hold he still has on the outcast. He gets this malevolent twinkle in his eye that I just love. Harper valiantly tried to overcome his reluctance or inability to attack Wyatt, visibly struggling to psych himself up to just do it already. It looked like he was going to back down yet again, to the dismay of the crowd, only to flatten Wyatt with a clothesline. A shaken but triumphant Luke Harper being thunderously cheered is the stuff my dreams are made of. All the same, open warfare between these two former brothers is almost too much for my friendship-loving heart to handle.

The vibe between Wyatt and Harper is electric. I can't take my eyes off the screen when they're staring each other down and I so want this to keep playing out. I don't know when this story became the most compelling thing on the show for me, but all that my heart wants is for the swamp wizard band to get back together again...after beating each other up a lot. Man, Erick Rowan is going to have a lot to catch up on when he comes back.