Thursday, April 27, 2017

Learning to Live with Smackdown

Nakamura doesn't need to talk, and Ziggler never should talk ever again
Photo Credit:
I haven't watched Smackdown since before the shake-up, which means I've got more than usual to learn to live with. So here's what I'm learning to live with post-The Shakening:

Things That Never Change
I guess it should be weirdly comforting that no matter how much Smackdown is both shaken and stirred, Dolph Ziggler will still be around to ruin things. Of course he's the one to rain on the Shinsuke Nakamura parade. Of course he is. Even by Ziggler standards, though, this episode's particular ruination was pretty bad. It started off with Ziggler just being a standard prick, which, fine, he's supposed to be a jerk in this situation, but then he spiraled into this bizarre spiel about how Nakamura is literally Michael Jackson and therefore a freak. Michael Jackson jokes! That's what will appeal to the youth! It went on way too long and then instead of just dropping Ziggler (as he should have done the minute Ziggler opened his smarmy mouth) poor Nakamura was tasked with delivering a standard sassy WWE face comeback, but his English isn't good enough, and the crowd started “What?” chanting him and my heart just sank and sank.

Damn it, Smackdown, can't I trust you to do anything right while I'm gone? Learn from this experience. First of all, Dolph Ziggler vs. Shinsuke Nakamura does not need any kind of drawn out build-up. Ziggler thinks Nakamura is nothing but a flashy entrance, so they fight. That's literally all you need. This “you're just a freak!” thing is as unnecessary as it is nonsensical. Like, why does Ziggler think Nakamura is a big weirdo? Because of his big entrance? Oh no, not theatrics in professional wrestling. So out of the ordinary! There are also some dog-whistly “look at this foreign guy who can't speak English” things going on, and don't think I'm not keeping a close eye on that shit, too.

Speaking of which, I cannot emphasize enough how much Shinsuke Nakamura does not need to speak. His body language and stage presence are such that he can communicate volumes and make a huge impact without saying anything. Just keep things physical and spare us from any further iterations of the Dolph Ziggler Comedy Special.

Questionable Commentary Decisions
Kevin Owens sat in on commentary during AJ Styles and Baron Corbin's match, and I'm not really sure why. Yes, Owens might (probably will) face Styles at the Backlash pay-per-view, but he's still not finished with Chris Jericho. In fact, most of the match's commentary was taken up with talking about Owens' upcoming match at Payback, which has nothing to do with either Styles or Corbin. Owens trying to cost Styles a win near the end of the match came out of pretty much nowhere. That and the subsequent involvement of Sami Zayn during the post-match shenanigans all took away from what was a pretty good match and a decent story.

I mean, here's what we've got: Baron Corbin is huge and brutal, but he's not polished or unstoppable yet and his confidence doesn't always match his abilities. AJ Styles is small, but he's quick and smart and knows how to take care of business. Putting these two men together right now makes an instant narrative that doesn't need much else. Also, Styles makes everyone he faces look great and Corbin is no exception. Even if this isn't going to be the next big feud, sometimes just watching a wrestling match is totally fine without tying it to anything huge. Small stories are okay! I still enjoyed the match, and I guess if there are going to be any extraneous guest commentators, they might as well be Kevin Owens.

And since my heading for this section is about commentary I might as well throw in here how disappointed I am with how the Mauro Ranallo situation turned out. I liked him a lot and will miss his voice. I obviously don't know what truly happened, but I certainly hope WWE is prompted to take a long, hard look at how it deals with employees (lol). At least JBL seemed marginally subdued on this episode. Here's hoping he continues to shut the fuck up. Byron Saxton, meanwhile, seems to have picked up what I call “Michael Cole cadence” while on Raw, which I hope he unlearns real fast. His responses just sound canned and artificial. He even does the “Oh no! N-n-n-n-no!” thing when something big is about to happen. I fucking hate that.

A Functional Tag Division
For a long time my fondest wish has been for Smackdown to pay some attention to its Tag Division. Now, I'm not going to call my wish fulfilled just yet. There were two Tag matches on this show, but they were both short due to participating in a stipulation designed to reward those who wrestle the least (does anyone actually like Beat the Clock challenges?). BUT, the fact that there WAS a certain amount of attention paid to declaring new number one contenders for the titles says a lot, as does the restoration of Primo and Epic's dignity. This is a division to be taken seriously and seriously good things can happen in it.

I liked American Alpha's match against the Colons a lot, largely because the novelty of Primo and Epico actually getting to wrestle gimmick-free is not going to wear off any time soon. It was a fun match and I was of course thrilled that American Alpha won and would have been more than happy if they'd faced the Usos again.

Instead, one of my wilder dreams came true, and Fandango and Tyler Breeze have a title shot! I can't accurately gauge whether I actually enjoyed their match against the Ascension since it was so short, but I'm enormously happy with the result. I love team FaBreeze with my whole heart, but I didn't really think they'd get a chance like this. I don't think I've ever seen Fandango break character, and his huge, genuine smile after the win was completely adorable. Time for the Usos to have their fashion policed!

My Best Friend Rusev
I don't like Shane McMahon or Daniel Bryan either! Give Handsome Rusev what he wants!

Collide and Prejudice
In the middle of the show, with very little fanfare, was a no disqualification match that should have been hard-hitting and physical. Instead, I could not have cared less about Randy Orton facing poor, abandoned Erick Rowan, who I guess we're supposed to believe is still attached to Bray Wyatt. Maybe they keep in touch over spooky Skype? At any rate, Wyatt didn't lend Rowan any long-distance swamp wizard powers, so Rowan was left to fend for himself, and the results were underwhelming. I encourage you to take my opinion here with a large grain of salt because I'm sure it was entirely possible to enjoy this match. I tried to enjoy it, I really did! Mostly I was bored, though. I have always found Randy Orton to be monstrously boring, and while I have a certain fondness for Erick Rowan as a member of the Wyatt Family, as a singles performer he's not the most exciting. I was relieved when the match was over. Meanwhile, Luke Harper was nowhere to be seen this week. I hope he's out building a bigger, better Wyatt Family clubhouse that will have Bray Wyatt begging for his forgiveness.

And then there was the Jinder Mahal thing. Oh boy. You should probably read the venerable TH's piece on Mahal's sudden appearance in the title scene. Myself, I think everything about Mahal's elevation has been sloppily handled. I am not at all opposed to a surprise superstar shaking up the title scene, but Jinder Mahal? If it's true that WWE is trying utilize him for Indian market purposes, fine, but you need to lay some groundwork for that shit. Mahal has done nothing but lose during both his current and previous runs with the company, so why we should we take him seriously as a competitor? Admittedly, I haven't seen him wrestle for a long time, but I remember him being okay. Based on this episode of Smackdown, though, his non-wrestling performance is just awful. His face is constantly twisted into a permanent scowl and he growls and grits out every. Single. Word. It's so off-putting.

All of that aside, it's Mahal's characterization as a heel that's the most disappointing. This is his entire schtick: he's proud of his Indian heritage. That's literally it. That's what makes him a bad guy. During his bit on this episode he was angry that he doesn't feel accepted and that he hasn't been shown tolerance and the crowd just reinforced that lack of acceptance and tolerance. He spoke in Punjabi and he got booed. He entered to a chorus of “USA! USA!” chants. Because the way to increase international marketability is to stoke American xenophobia, I guess. To end the segment, Mahal straight up stole Orton's title (or he “absconded” with it, as the commentary team insisted on putting it. The fact that they were clearly scrambling for synonyms tells me that they knew exactly the kind of racist comments this would invite). “Foreign guys stealing our stuff” is literally what we're dealing here. It's not good, it's not creative, and, frankly, it's downright irresponsible given the current political climate. Fuck this entirely.

The B Team
Apparently Natalya, Tamina, Carmella, and James Ellsworth are their own little group now, and while I'm down with the idea of Natalya as the sparkly, evil boss of a stable, this particular one is just...the least badass thing ever. They're so nonthreatening I actually laughed when they tried to intimidate Becky Lynch backstage.

Anyway, Natalya's ne'er-do-wells are apparently opposed to Charlotte Flair, who had a main event title match against Naomi. I enjoyed the match a lot, and while I was disappointed to lose both Alexa Bliss and Mickie James in the shake-up, I like Flair, and I think she and Naomi played off each other really well. They were pretty evenly matched and things could have ended either way...until the B Team showed up to put a stop to it. The crowd kept chanting for Becky Lynch to come out, but I saw no reason why Flair and Naomi couldn't have dispatched all four of them by themselves. It's interesting that Lynch DIDN'T run in with the assist, and I think it's cool that we've got a division-wide story happening (as long as it doesn't devolve into a pointless string of three-on-three matches). My mockery aside, I think this could be a lot of fun. All praise The Glow!

Alas, it's going to be yet another few weeks before I can watch Smackdown again, but I'm glad I was able to drop in on this one, even with all my griping.