Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Smackdown! Live gets back on track, and becomes the land of opportunity again

Illustration for article titled Smackdown! Live gets back on track, and becomes the land of opportunity again

Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: The Usos defeated the Hype Bros; Naomi (c) defeated Lana (Smackdown! Live Women’s Championship Match); Baron Corbin defeated Sami Zayn; Carmella won the Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match.
  • This week’s show starts with a really great hype video that establishes just what this show is all about. Phrases like “land of opportunity” get thrown around all the time, and it’s easy enough to get cynical about it or, more understandably, let it become nothing but white noise. This video package uses that phrase in a beautiful way though, setting the table for a night filled with opportunities: the Hype Bros could get a title shot, Lana is getting a Championship rematch, and a second Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match will officially give someone a title shot in the future. That’s a night filled with big stakes, and it’s nice to see Smackdown! Live acknowledging it. Build that excitement, WWE!
  • It’s so refreshing to have Daniel Bryan as an “authority” figure. Where Stephanie or Triple H’s music hitting at the top of the show elicits nothing but groans and a mental search for something to do for the next 20 minutes, Bryan’s presence is wonderfully positive. Yes, it helps that he’s one of the most adored babyfaces of the modern era, but it’s also more than that. He’s just really good at his job. And I don’t mean as Smackdown‘s GM, but rather just playing a role on WWE TV. He controls the crowd, knows how to interact with the talent in meaningful ways, and that quick switch from smile to intensity sure doesn’t hurt. He’s an all-around exceptional talent, and we’re lucky to still have him on our TVs.
  • Look, I didn’t expect the Hype Bros to come back to Smackdown! Live and beat the Usos in order to earn a championship opportunity—though that story totally could have worked as a breather in the New Day feud—but tonight’s re-debut was a bummer. With the relatively quick loss, and then the swift exit from the ring so that the New Day could come out and challenge the Usos to a match at Battleground, Smackdown! Live isn’t exactly getting the Hype Bros off to a good start. Not giving them much of a fighting chance in the match is a strange choice.
  • It should be noted that while the USA Network feed for Smackdown! Live apparently includes picture-in-picture for the matches during the commercial breaks, the Canadian feed doesn’t. So the commercial break during the Usos-Hype Bros match, for me, ended right as one of the Usos hit the frog splash for the win. It was completely disorientating. I don’t think it changes the essence of the point above, but now you know Canada isn’t all maple syrup and universal healthcare. We have problems too.
  • Lana gets her Championship rematch tonight, and it’s much more what I think we were all expecting to happen at Money In The Bank. Lana attacks the champ before the match, but 15 seconds later Naomi is hitting her springboard moonsault and getting the 1-2-3. It’s fine for what it is, but I’ll admit to being weirdly fascinated by what this could signal for Lana’s character. She need a lot more depth and nuance if she’s going to be competing week in and week out. This match, and the one at Money In The Bank, suggest that she cares about the Championship more than anything else. For most superstars, that’s great. It gives them purpose and motivation. But for a rookie like Lana, it costs her. She’s so focused on the end result that she’s forgetting the steps in between. She’s not scouting Naomi or thinking about ways to get one up on her; all she has is a single surprise attack. That’s not enough in this division, and Lana (the character) is learning that the hard way.
  • I am so happy that the “Who Attacked Tyler Breeze?” stuff is still going on, and that The Ascension aren’t the answer. That means more Fashion Vice, a great joke involving Eddie Money, and the ever-persistent potential for Tex Ferguson and Chad 2 Badd will show up as the culprits at some point.
  • That Kevin Owens WWE Supercard commercial is great. That guy can do anything.
  • You have to love that Randy Orton gets all set to lay out why he deserves a rematch with Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship, only to then say “because if I don’t I’ll just follow him around and beat him up.” Nothing quite like WWE creative acknowledging that there needs to be some sort of kayfabe reason for him to get a rematch and then fail to give him one.
  • On the plus side, I’ve come around on Jinder Mahal’s character. He’s still useless in the ring, and the whole “multicultural heel” thing is the worst, but I like what Mahal is doing with the presence and vibe of the character. He’s a unique presence in the title scene, and I genuinely enjoy seeing him and the Singh Brothers cut promos. Or that’s just how tired I am of Randy Orton. It’s hard to tell at this point. On to the Punjabi Prison Match!
  • Sami Zayn interrupting the Kanellis’ with his entrance, and then endlessly apologizing, is everything I love about that man. From the comedic timing to the unabashed earnestness, he’s a beacon of pure good in the world of pro wrestling.
  • Speaking of pure good in the world of pro wrestling, where is Tye Dillinger?
  • Alright, it’s time to get to what this week’s show is really all about: redoing the Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder match after James Ellsworth ruined the last one. Is this match better than the one on the PPV? Maybe. The commercials don’t help, but at least the women are given a lot more time to execute something more compelling. In isolation, it’s a really good match, and the next big step WWE needs in order to really get its Women’s division on par with the Men’s (and I mean in terms of WWE’s treatment of the division, not the talent of the performers. I’d watch Becky Lynch wreck The Miz any day). There are a lot of good spots, from Becky climbing the ladder while Charlotte and Tamina are fighting over it, to every superstar teaming up to lift the ladder and move Carmella, who’s inches away from grabbing the briefcase, away from the victory. On top of that, Becky gets her payback on Ellsworth. This match has a clear narrative arc that wasn’t present in the PPV match, but that, coupled with the ending where Carmella once again wins, leads to a very obvious question: why not just do this match in the first place? I’m on the record as saying that Carmella would get the most out of carrying the Money In The Bank briefcase, so her winning again is in no way a problem. She’s one of the better characters in this division, Charlotte and Becky don’t need the briefcase, and Tamina and Natalya should be as far away from it as possible, so her win makes a lot of sense. But why have the Ellsworth controversy? Why not run the mild interference angle at Money In The Bank? There’s really no reason for prolonging this story and ruining a moment that could have been meaningful; I don’t think Carmella or Elssworth is getting any extra heat from this. At least we’re past it now, and hopefully Smackdown! Live can now focus on using the briefcases as important storytelling tools for the next few months.