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

SmackDown promises to make history, yet still can’t help but repeat it

Image for article titled SmackDown promises to make history, yet still can’t help but repeat it

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: Shinsuke Nakamura & Sami Zayn defeated Kevin Owens & Baron Corbin; Breezango defeated The Colóns; Dolph Ziggler defeated AJ Styles
  • Yes, there were only three matches, but every storyline got a good amount of time, including the women. More on that soon.
  • Given these past two weeks of tag matches, I’m assuming neither Nakamura nor Owens will win the Money In The Bank Ladder match and basing that only on a belief that they’ll instead feud over the United States Championship. Not that you can’t do both, but the briefcase wouldn’t really be a focus in that feud. Before, the best excuse for Kevin Owens even being in MITB was that he was still feuding with AJ Styles, but the actual build-up to Money In The Bank has pretty much nipped that feud in the bud, so it doesn’t look like they’re going back to that. Of course Owens and Styles still hate each other, but the competition right now is clearly between Owens and Nakamura (as well as Corbin and Zayn). (I wrote this before the announcement of Owens versus Nakamura next week, so we shall see.)
  • I brought up Corbin’s lack of experience in ladder matches last week, so this week, I’m bringing up his “hothead” attitude. Specifically how it’s gotten to a point where it’s more like irrational tantrum (Christian-like, at times) than it is the behavior of a scary, angry wolf guy. Think of it this way: There’s a difference between the Corbin who tried to murder Dean Ambrose with a forklift and the Corbin who’s on his way to starting a mini-feud with Mike Chioda over his in-ring blow-ups. And the fact that Baron Corbin has a babyface (remember his attempt at a mustache?) doesn’t help at all with the perception of his behavior.
  • I alternate between simply joking about how bad of an authority figure Shane is and actively criticizing how bad of an authority figure he is, and this week, we’re dealing with the latter and some messy storytelling. Though I could definitely joke about how bad he is when it comes to apparently telling New Day they have a title match at Money In The Bank but not telling the champs. But the women’s five-way “match” segment is a mess from the beginning. First of all, the referee technically could’ve just rang the bell as soon as they were all in the ring; it wasn’t a tag match, so he didn’t need them in corners. Second of all, considering Shane’s eventual rationale for booking the women’s MITB match (the competitive spirit between all the women), he could’ve already booked it last week. And he probably should have done it then, because the way he announces it here—literally seconds after it achieves peak chaos of Charlotte powerbombing Natalya through the announce table—is… I can’t even begin to explain it. He comes out to his music, which makes sense… and then he makes sure to slap hands with fans on the way out. There are multiple referees trying to gain control, and all Shane can do is cheap pop “Hotlanta” and ask the crowd if they think what they’re seeing is “amazing.” The crowd is into it, but at the same time, this is technically a scenario that just screwed over the women’s title match at the pay-per-view. From Shane’s perspective, imagine if one or more of the women were injured in the process. You know, the way an authority figure should be thinking. This isn’t an instance of the women taking that “opportunity” the show is always talking about. Instead, it comes across more like Shane would approve even if Tamina tried to kill everyone with a forklift, Baron Corbin style.
  • Then with the MITB announcement, every one of the women is happy, except for Natalya, who’s still knocked out cold. That includes Carmella, who actually deserves a one-on-one title match after pinning Naomi twice, and Tamina, who I’m not even sure can climb a ladder. The weirdest moment of the segment is when Charlotte and Natalya duke it out in the middle of the ring early on… and Tamina is just “selling” the beating in the corner, instead of outside the ring, waiting for the longest time before she finally steps in. It was not stealthy. It was just very Tamina.
  • Pure joy is the realization (especially after the sublime New Day/Usos segment) that Breezango is not disappearing into obscurity. Actually, no: Pure joy is Summer Rae’s silhouette doubling as Tyler Breeze’s silhouette in this week’s noir-tinged Fashion Files. Also, how great is it that WWE actually waited until the right moment to go with the noir approach to Breezango? Then they have a match against The Colóns because of the one clue left at the scene of the crime: a bottle of cologne. “The Men Who Knew Too Little,” indeed. Meanwhile, The Colóns are also on take five of “characters with no direction or reaction from the crowd”—and yet they have the audacity to laugh at Breezango—but luckily the live crowds love Breezango enough right now to pop for everything they do, wrestling and prop-wise. Now for the reveal that it was American Alpha (or Big Cass) that trashed Breezango’s HQ, please.
  • I’ve been writing for years (sadly, WWE makes it so I have to) that xenophobic promos aren’t my jam. (Maybe it’s the result of being the daughter of an immigrant. Maybe it’s just not seeing “different birthplace” as a reason—on top of actual heel behavior—to hate a character.) At best, they’re lazy, and a character that is solely based on evoking that reaction is even lazier. Yes, you can say it works for Jinder Mahal, but that ignores just how dead the crowd and segments become as soon as the “USA” chants are over. It also ignores how SmackDown! goes back to its pre-brand split roots with a recap of last week’s Punjabi Celebration, because there’s only so much you can actually do with Jinder Mahal on a regular basis. But Randy Orton’s actual promo is soclose to him saying he’s going to “Make SmackDown! Great Again,” it honestly made me very uneasy. His talk of his grandfather’s “silent generation,” how the same grandfather would be disgusted by “someone like Jinder” as champ, “the American way.” I don’t know if I could ever even say it’s coded language. And all in a promo that also acknowledges Orton tremendous amount of privilege coming from a wrestling family, so… I’m supposed to cheer that? Randy Orton—the character, as addressing the actual person is even more loaded—has always been a problematic (in the least buzzwordy use of the phrase) character on one level or another, because he’s a piece of shit, even when he’s the good guy. That’s actually part of the character’s charm most of the time. But no one needed this. No one but the India narrative of Jinder Mahal being the good guy. Character Randy Orton doesn’t care about defending America. Funnily enough, Talking Smack brings up that winning at Money In The Bank will make Randy’s 14th world title reign. Now that is something Randy Orton cares about.
  • WWE can’t get enough of having a Superstar lose in their hometown (or at least “hometown adjacent”), which is why Ziggler beats Styles in this week’s main event. Ziggler even talks about how great such a scenario is on Talking Smack. (As for the actual match, it’s nothing special, but just the story of Styles constantly trying to go for the Styles Clash—and Ziggler realizing he does not want that to happen—is pretty good.) Sure, you can say the win is a way to build momentum for Ziggler, as WWE keeps acknowledging that he’s the only participant in this year’s match with relevant MITB experience. But WWE really does love having Superstars lose in their hometown, almost as much as it loves having feuding Superstars wrestle each other every week to build to a match where they wrestle each other. Plus, what better way to officially kill the crowd for 205 Live than to have the guy who (sadly, honestly) got no reaction during his entrance pin the guy they were chanting for in the opening segment (even though he wasn’t even a topic of conversation).
  • But in an even smarter decision—no sarcasm—the first segment/match of 205 Live featured Sasha Banks in a prominent role, and that was actually a good way to get the crowd back.
  • Renee Young (on Talking Smack): “You never give me predictions!” That’s because Shane doesn’t watch the product, Renee. There we go, back to jokes.