Thursday, March 30, 2017

Learning To Live With Smackdown

Photo Credit:
Hello again, friends. I'll flatter myself that at least some of you out there have missed my nuanced hot takes about why Luke Harper should win all the things. Not only have I been unable to write about Smackdown for three weeks but I haven't been able to watch it either, and now I've got a bunch of things to learn to live with just as WrestleMania descends upon us. So this week on Smackdown I'm learning to live with:

The Triumphant Return of The Glow (and also Naomi)
The women's match on this episode was very oddly structured. Phase One of the segment gave us Carmella vs. Becky Lynch with Alexa Bliss and Mickie James on commentary. Now, of course we all assumed that the match would end in a chaotic free-for-all, but we didn't even get to see much of the initial match. The camera almost immediately cut to Bliss and James arguing, ignoring what was happening in the ring, and then our two guest commentators just kind of...stumbled into things. Phase Two of the segment paired Lynch with James and Bliss with Carmella in a tag match, which, again, only JUST got started when Natalya's music hit and she strolled out to sit on commentary so that we could basically just repeat what had already happened. Sure enough, Natalya and James Ellsworth's interference combined allowed Carmella to pin Lynch and then the brawl we'd all been expecting finally happened.

Very little about this made sense. Why didn't they just have a tag match to start with, but with Natalya in the match and Bliss on commentary? And why was Becky Lynch apparently totally fine with being paired up with Mickie James? Why did neither phase of the match do anything at all to highlight the competitors? Everyone should have gotten a spotlight moment to hype the WrestleMania match, but there was nothing of the sort. And after the match was done, why didn't they all gang up on Bliss?
HOWEVER, at the end of it all Naomi reappeared, taking out her opponents on her way to the ring, and I was so happy to see her that I'm willing to forgive a lot.

HOWEVER HOWEVER, why on earth would you squander her comeback on the go-home Smackdown show and then relegate the women's match to the WrestleMania kick-off? Even without putting that match on the main card (absolutely nothing about the Raw women's match makes it more compelling than Smackdown's, but whatevs), I can't think of a single reason to not give Naomi that moment in her hometown at WrestleMania. Perhaps WWE is just trying to shield the live audience from The Glow at full strength. That is the only reason I'll accept.

A Short List of Things to Which I Responded, “Fuck You, John Cena”
First of all, if nothing else, Miz and Maryse's Total Bellas parody may have executed the greatest tonal shift in WWE history with the line, “I'm a ghost, and you know why? Because you can't see me...there's nothing here.” I don't even know if I can convey through text how genius that was, but I'm going to try. Now, I personally think the whole segment went on too long, but Miz's impression throughout was hilarious. Cena being so humourless and literal that he would liken himself to an actual ghost makes the first part of the line pretty funny, so you're still kind of smiling when “there's nothing here” drops and suddenly we've moved seamlessly into Miz painting a, frankly, kind of terrifying picture of John Cena as an empty shell of a person who feels nothing. In a moment I went from half paying attention to being riveted, and Miz deserves all the credit in the world for the performances he's been putting into this feud.

And then out came Cena himself, leading us to the above titled List of Lacy:

1. That great promo I just spent a paragraph praising? Cena completely no-sold it. No, he doesn't have to be living in fear of what the Miz says, but to come out grinning and cracking wise is as insulting as it is nonsensical. I mean, OF COURSE Cena gets to eviscerate Miz as much as he wants while brushing off everything said about himself. We expect that from him, don't we? But then...why is this match even happening if Fun Times Cena doesn't give a shit about anything? If he and Nikki Bella are totally cool and don't care about anything that's been said about them, then what are they even fighting for other than for Cena to once again wipe the floor with Miz at WrestleMania and for Bella to beat up someone who hasn't been an active wrestler for years? Without any emotional investment, they come off as huge bullies.

2. This isn't even Cena's fault, but I'm throwing it in here because I do what I want. I loathe the fact that Cena's place in this feud and Miz's resentment stem from Cena's career and his legacy, while with Bella and Maryse it's just, “Haha you aren't married or procreating,” like that's something totally legitimate with which to taunt a woman. I mean, if we're just going to brush shit off then why can't Nikki Bella point out that her relationship can be committed and fulfilling without marriage? Be fearless about defying shitty social norms, Nikki!

3. The accusation that Maryse has never done anything worthwhile or entertaining. MARYSE. She's a two-time Divas Champion (the same as Nikki Bella, by the way) and I for one always remember her time in WWE fondly. Forgettable she most certainly was not. Disguising herself as the Gobbledy Gooker? Making Ted DiBiase halfway interesting? CLIMBING THE LADDER TO TRY AND WIN MONEY IN THE BANK FOR HERSELF? I still get starry-eyed when I think about that. She had personality to spare during a time when WWE had no interest in promoting its female employees, who were expected to smile and be pretty and get out of the ring as quickly as possible. It's great that Nikki Bella decided to get serious about wrestling eventually, but for most of her career her one defining trait was “twin,” and I will not accept her boyfriend talking shit about one of the women who sometimes managed to make the mid-late 2000s WWE women's wrestling scene somewhat bearable.

4. John Cena babbling about the “women's revolution” and Nikki Bella's strengths as a wrestler in particular while NOT ONCE letting Bella speak for herself or even seeming to realize that, yeah, we know about what's been going on. No one has even used the term “women's revolution” in ages because it's, you know, not quite as revolutionary anymore. But please do keep explaining to us about how women can wrestle now, too, dude. Your seal of approval is just what we were missing.

5. The crack about Miz maybe being impotent. Is that really an insult to people with dicks? I honestly have no idea. I mean, it seemed to get the biggest pop out of the crowd. Masculinity is so weird. Anyway, not to get all, “Well, ACTUALLY” about this nonsense, but if you'd been paying attention to your own story, John, you'd know that the talking point isn't simply that you and Nikki Bella don't have kids; it's that Bella wants kids and you don't and you're still together despite apparently wanting totally different things out of this relationship. Pointing out that Miz and Maryse don't have kids isn't really a rebuttal of any kind. Also, as someone who's been married for a couple of years and who also doesn't have (and will never have) kids, I'd to add an extra “fuck you” on behalf of the child-free. The state of our reproductive organs is not up for speculation, you childish fuckweasel.

6. Finally, calling Miz a pussy after having carefully explained the concept of strong women in wrestling to us. This is the point where I just started laughing because it was the only defense mechanism left to me. “Women are great and we should respect let me fling gendered insults all over the place! Hahaha, you're so weak and terrible! Just like people with vaginas!” WOMEN'S REVOLUTION AMIRIGHT.

The State of the Tag Division
I hate that I'm coming back after three weeks of nothing just to complain, but my god it's hard to feel anything but despair when contemplating the Smackdown Tag Division. It's filled with good teams that are being given absolutely nothing to do. Just like with the women, nothing about the Raw Tag Division is more entertaining than Smackdown's, but they get a ladder match at WrestleMania while the likes of American Alpha are being tossed into the pre-show battle royal. The 10-man tag match on this episode wasn't bad at all, but I couldn't enjoy it. It was nice to hear JBL actually praising Tyler Breeze and Fandango, but my enthusiasm is so dampened that I'm not even going to take that as any kind of clue that they might be in line for the titles. Every time I get my hopes up that we're going to build on the foundation that began with the saga of Heath Slater and Rhyno I just get knocked down, so I might as well stay down.

The Wrong Story
My reward for sitting through the show was the main event match featuring Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt and it was delightful. I especially enjoyed Harper coming out with a new black shirt and a new hairstyle. Hell yeah. Luke Harper is a strong, independent swamp wizard who don't need no man, and when life hands you lemons you get a sweet makeover and RUB THE LEMONS INTO THE OPEN WOUNDS OF YOUR ENEMIES. Or maybe that's just me.

Anyway, Harper was all fired up to not only keep gloating about Randy Orton's betrayal but also to punish Wyatt for choosing Orton over him. They didn't have much time, so they immediately turned things up to 11, keeping the match fast-paced and hard-hitting. I think something went awry at the end when Harper was unable to finish Wyatt off. It looked like Wyatt was supposed to be spitting something up, but nothing was really there. The finish worked anyway, and even though Harper lost yet again, I actually liked it. It's not hard to buy that Wyatt still has some hold over him and I like that you can't ever hesitate against Bray Wyatt or you're done for. Harper didn't even struggle while he was being pinned, and his open-eyed expression of both resignation and disbelief was great. Wyatt did some great work, too, as he almost looked surprised at what happened, like until now he wasn't completely sure about his Abigail-assisted powers.

And then we cut to Randy Orton droning on about spooky, scary skeletons or some shit and I once again had to deal with the crushing realization that this is really the story we're going with into WrestleMania and not anything to do with Luke Harper even though that would be a million times more compelling. Every interaction between Harper and Wyatt for the last while has been absolutely electric, but no, we're going with Randy Orton, whose amazing plan to destroy Bray Wyatt actually just ended up making Wyatt stronger, and despite the fact that delving into the supernatural has just backfired on him spectacularly so far, he's still, like, tasering graves or whatever. Is Randy Orton just a terrible strategist or is WWE just terrified of ever actually shaking up the status quo? YOU BE THE JUDGE.

Anyway, enjoy WrestleMania, everyone. Myself, I'll be recovering from having all four of my wisdom teeth removed. I'm sure the pain will be nothing compared to watching AJ Styles be thrown away on Shane “what even is punching” McMahon.