Previously on the Vintage Best and Worst of WWF Smackdown: The first-ever Blue Team show was dominated by Shane McMahon, Chyna, and new WWF Champion Triple H. Also, Stephanie McMahon accepted Test’s marriage proposal, and Chris Jericho made his in-ring debut for the WWF. Oh, and the Big Boss Man is still holding a chihuahua hostage. It was a very busy two hours.
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And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WWF Smackdown for September 2, 1999. You might want to try the vegetarian option this week, just saying.
Worst: “Action-Adventure Series”
So, here’s something weird. Within the first five minutes of this episode, both Michael Cole and Jeff Jarrett refer to Smackdown as an “action-adventure series.” Listen, you can put words in any order and say them on television if you like, but Smackdown is not action-adventure unless you put the title on Kevin Sorbo and call it Smackdown: The Legendary Journeys. I guess it was just some buzzword handed down from corporate personnel, not unlike “longest-running weekly episodic whatever,” but it just sounds wrong. When I think of action and/or adventure, I don’t think of Jeff Jarrett on commentary for Chyna versus Billy Gunn.
This is all still revolving around Jarrett’s Intercontinental title, by the way. Jerry Lawler gets downright spastic when he sees Debra and Miss Kitty coming his way, unleashing a barrage of “puppies” and “kitties” talk. Honestly, Lawler talks like a toddler who hasn’t learned the correct words for grown-up body parts yet. He probably asks to go tinkle during the commercial breaks.
Anyway, Triple H is unable to bear the fact that’s there’s been 10 minutes of screen time without him, so he charges the ring and hits Gunn with a Pedigree to give Chyna the win. This was during the time when no one could really figure out what D-Generation X was. It was more a name brand than a group in late 1999. X-Pac still flew the green and black, but he was hanging out with Kane. Meanwhile, Chyna and He of the Ass have had a rough parting of the ways, and Triple H is really just in it for himself. Gotta sell shirts, though.
Worst: Hail Hydra
Remember last week, when Undertaker and The Big Show were tag team champions? Well, not anymore! The Rock and Mankind beat them on Monday Night Raw for the titles, and Big Show isn’t happy about it. Basically, ‘Taker bailed on the match when Paul Bearer went all Manchurian Candidate and whispered something in his ear that was so troubling, it caused him to take off immediately.
Show tries to choke some answers out of Bearer here, which prompts ‘Taker to come to the ring and whisper the same sweet nothings to him. Show responds with kind of an “Oh, my bad” reaction, and Bearer does his best impression of a speed bump. For real, they just leave him there. All we’ve learned here is that there’s some sort of secret knowledge that Undertaker possesses, and we easily could have revealed that backstage.
Maybe it’s a Winter Soldier mind-wipe or something. Can the Undertaker speak Russian?
Worst: That Awkward Moment When …
Speaking of your new tag champs, here they are! Mankind is still pretty sore about losing to Shane McMahon last week, even going so far as to call it his most embarrassing moment since his mom walked in on him playing Coleco Electronic Quarterback while naked. That said, I think we’re setting a pretty low bar for this promo segment, because now we’re all thinking about Mick Foley naked.
Luckily, he got some long-overdue redemption on Monday by striking tag team gold. I double-checked, and yes, that episode of Raw marked the birth of the Rock and Sock Connection. While beloved among nostalgic fans, I think a lot of people forget that their initial tag team championship success lasted less than two months. For something so fondly remembered, it sure went supernova pretty fast. They were on-again, off-again partners after that, but this is when the team reached its peak. Man, remember when they used to give out title changes on free TV? Those were simpler days.
It’s not a great television segment, but I’m not going to dump on Rock and Sock here. I actually liked their dynamic back in the day, even if it was totally one-sided (and kind of abusive at times). In fact, I think it even may have laid some of the groundwork for Team Hell No, albeit with certain character traits mixed and matched. Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s add another item to our running total of Things The Rock Threatens To Turn Sideways And Stick Straight Up Your Candy Ass:
3. His WWF Tag Team Championship
While it’s fresh in my mind, supplemental Best to the fan who yells “WHO GIVES A SH*T” during Mankind’s first portion of the promo. Now, stop thinking about Mick Foley naked. Stop it.
Worst: Howard Finkel’s Bowtie Is As Fake As His Dignity
Look at that thing. It’s the exact fake bowtie I had to wear that one summer I worked as an usher at a movie theater. If you’ve ever announced main events at Madison Square Garden, you shouldn’t share wardrobe options with some dork sweeping Milk Duds out of a Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen matinee.
I’ve saved you the grief of actual wrestling screencaps here, because this is Finkel versus Tony Chimel in a tuxedo match. Here’s what I think happened: After the TV debut of Smackdown last week, some well-meaning parent complained to WWF and UPN about the evening gown match between Ivory and Tori, and Vince McMahon thought the best way to reset the scales was to make the men do something equally degrading. Remember, gender equality is easy as 50/50 booking. Nuance is for long-winded writers on the internet!
Meanwhile, Chris Jericho thoroughly enjoys all of this from the comforts of backstage. And I never thought I’d say this, but geez, Tony Chimel is a stiff worker. He looks like Basil Fawlty trying to start his car.
Best: A Really Good Cruiserweight Matchup
Worst: … That Everyone On The Roster Wants To Interrupt
First of all, God bless X-Pac for being the only employee of WWF actively trying to sell Hansen’s Energy. We had yet to figure out successful energy drink marketing in 1999, so the extent of the sales pitch was just “Let’s give a can of the stuff to X-Pac and he’ll take it everywhere he goes.” Unfortunately, that’s not how it works anymore. If you want to sell energy drinks in 2016, you need dubstep and a Formula 1 team. Or two Usos.
X-Pac versus Chris Jericho was well on its way to being the match of the night before things got derailed. First of all, Ken Shamrock threatens to preemptively cancel the match altogether when he comes gunning for Jericho. Then, Undertaker and Big Show start hanging around the entrance ramp to glare at X-Pac because they’re still sore that he and Kane beat them. Eventually, Big Show decides he’s seen enough and takes out X-Pac, sending Kane to the ring for the save.
Also, Ken Shamrock materializes out of thin air 0.001 seconds after the bell rings to continue his pursuit of Jericho. The arena floor becomes a Benny Hill chase scene, because heaven forbid we get a fun, fast-paced battle between two legit cruiserweights. I don’t know how well you remember ’99 X-Pac, but he was basically The Flash. There was a reason they used to call him the Lightning Kid.
Best: That Time Gillberg Almost Won The WWF Championship
Time for Bait And Switch 101! Earlier in the program, Shane McMahon says he was going to make Triple H defend the WWF Championship against “that bald-headed S.O.B.,” taking care to never put a name at the end of the sentence. Obviously, we’re expecting Stone Cold Steve Austin at this point. What we get instead is WWF Light Heavyweight Champion Gillberg. Gillberg is indeed bald, but I currently have no data on his parentage, so I can’t comment on the S.O.B. thing.
Gillberg is Vince McMahon’s scorn for WCW condensed into one organism. Vince needed some foul homunculus upon which to project his spite for Ted Turner, Eric Bischoff, and the whole lot. He briefly skimmed the Necronomicon, and lo and behold, some kind of botched Hellboy summoning ritual resulted in Duane Gill. To me, this is actually easier to believe than the theory that Gillberg was an actual flesh-and-blood human being.
In any event, Shane is basically giving Triple H the night off at this point. This makes it all the more hilarious when Gillberg nearly spears Triple H out of his boots within four seconds of the match starting. I give all the credit in the world for HHH selling like his job depended on it, because Gillberg just sends him flying a couple of times. I think this is when we all knew that he’d be a company man for life. If you can make Gillberg look dangerous, you deserve to run the developmental system a decade and a half down the line.
Worst: Two Episodes In And I’m Already Hitting Peak Attitude Era
“Hey Lawler, Big Boss Man sent us this footage earlier today. We haven’t pre-screened it or anything, do you think we should show it?”
“Sure, Cole! Two guys alone in a hotel room, what’s the worst we could see?”
Well, here we are. It’s not quite Wham Episode territory, but it’s still got us talking today. In case you’ve somehow missed out on any and all conversations about professional wrestling over the past 16 years, this is the part where Big Boss Man feeds Al Snow his own dog. And here’s the thing: He does it because he can. He’s not trying to leverage Snow into anything with this.
Remember, he already won the Hardcore Championship last week. He’s got the best set of cards at the table here, and he still cooks a chihuahua and feeds it to a man, just for the hell of it. Maybe he’s pulling a Killing Joke on Snow and just trying to completely break his sanity, but that would make Al Snow the Commissioner Gordon of WWF, and I’m not sure I can handle that. I guess the moral is … uh … you can’t break someone who’s already crazy? Is that all they were trying to say?
If you ask me, Boss Man should have been allowed to descend into supervillain territory after this. Tricking someone into eating their own dog is in the same vein of madness that made Jared Leto unbearable on the set of Suicide Squad, so why not let him run with it? Wait … they actually did let him run with it for a while, didn’t they? Just ask The Big Show. How many weeks until we’re talking about that? So yeah, shout-out to Emotional Terrorist Big Boss Man. If he was around today, he’d probably be jacking up the price of cancer drugs or running for president.
By the way … out of all the chefs I’ve seen with giant Confederate flag tattoos, Boss Man has the most flair for presentation. That table setting’s got a floral centerpiece, for crying out loud. What’s up with the noodles, though? I always remembered this as chili when I was young, but is it actually dog lo mein? Did Boss Man manage to slip an under-the-radar racist joke about Asian cuisine into his mental torture of Al Snow? Why are there so many layers to this?
Worst: This A-Hole With The Laser Pointer
Laser pointers are well past their prime here in 2016, but there’s still a good reason your modern WWE live event tickets say “NO LASER POINTERS.” Just look at how distracting this is. Aside from the obvious risk to the vision of the wrestlers, it’s terribly inconvenient on the production end. The Great One looks like he’s trying to avoid getting tagged by a sniper rifle.
Anyway, the person with the laser pointer is attempting to point out (from a great distance) that the following match is pretty much pointless. Shane-O continues his bratty reign of terror by pitting tag team champions Mankind and The Rock against each other to determine a No. 1 contender for Triple H’s title. He then sics Triple H and Chyna on both men, declares outside interference, and rules the match a double DQ. I guess I get the motivation here. Triple H can’t defend the title if there’s no contender, and then he’ll be champion for eternity, sure. But it just ends up making Shane look like a guy who enjoys sabotaging himself. He loves it when a plan doesn’t come together.
Best: Val Venis Finishes In Less Than Two Minutes
It just dawned on me that I have several weeks of Val Venis jokes in my future. My day has come. (And so has Val.)
Yes, it’s time for Val Venis, the man whose porno-sax theme song gave birth to all other porno-sax theme songs of note. Unfortunately, he’s up against Ken Shamrock, who brought his baddest mood and his best pair of Chuck Norris Action Jeans. Shamrock has absolutely no time for Venis tonight, because he’s still so angry at Chris Jericho that his neck veins are threatening to phase through his skin. It’s an embarrassingly limp performance from Venis, who gets caught in an ankle lock and quickly taps out. Shamrock then gets back to his busy schedule of flipping tables and shouting Jericho’s name into thin air. He’s got his priorities, you have to respect that.
Worst: Parents Just Don’t Understand
More Shane! More Triple H! More Chyna! If you’re looking for someone to break this pattern, you’ll have to settle for Linda McMahon. Sorry to disappoint.
Shane tries to send Mankind and The Rock back through the wringer (no doubt to screw them over again), but instead we get The Boring McMahon, flanked by Stephanie and Test. She vetoes Shane and sets up the night’s main event: The Rock and Sock Connection versus Triple H and Shane. I love the reaction from Shane here, by the way. Picture the biggest “BUT MOMMMMM” tantrum you’ve ever thrown, then multiply it by 100 for an idea of his course of action.
Linda was always in way over her head when it came to on-screen angles. I guess someone in the family had to be the wet blanket. Don’t get me wrong, Stephanie started out pretty rough, but eventually she’d grow up to hit her stride and declare that the main event of WrestleMania 32 would be taking place in the Shadow Realm. All of Linda’s promos, on the other hand, sounded like a substitute teacher trying to get a class to quiet down. Wrestling showmanship just wasn’t her strongest suit, I guess. But if we ever need someone to win a John Kerry lookalike contest, we know who to call.
Best: Tag Team Lightning Round
This is the closest we get to something truly thrilling on this admittedly sub-par episode. A tag team gauntlet match is announced to name No. 1 contenders for Mankind and The Rock, and there is SO MUCH going on here. So much, in fact, that I’m going to have to do this in bullet points.
- Please tell me that I’m the first person to notice that Viscera looks like a gender-swapped Missy Elliott from that “The Rain” video. Please tell me this.
- Droz and Prince Albert are proof that Vince McMahon saw exactly one (1) picture of a rave and forever decided what “alternative” looked like in the WWF.
- Even in 1999, Jeff Hardy was out of his damn mind. Also, his foot was totally on the rope when he got pinned.
- Speaking of which, referee Teddy Long being in charge of a tag team gauntlet is PRICELESS.
- There’s a fan with a sign that says “Goldberg had sex with my dad, WHO’S NEXT?” Just thought I’d point that out.
- Edge and Christian, who have just swapped Brood duties with the Hardys, are already two of the most beloved WWF characters at this point.
This comes down to E&C versus the Acolytes, but it kind of gets overshadowed because holy crap, the Dudley Boys out of nowhere! This is just the second WWF television appearance for the Dudleys as full-timers, and they are still verrrrrry ECW at this point. Tie-dye shirts, stuttering Bubba, the whole nine yards. Unfortunately, their interference causes the match to be waved off. In case you’re keeping score at home, that’s now two No. 1 contender matches that fail to name a No. 1 contender. Spectacular stuff.
Best: Knowing When To Keep It Short
You want a lesson in crowd control? Look at the first five rows there. They’re all following The Rock’s elbow pad.
As per the orders of Linda McMahon, the tag team championships are being defended here. You’ve got your standard cluster of main event usual suspects here, but the match is kept refreshingly short. They’re not trying to accomplish anything too complex here. Just show the strained relationship between The Rock and Mankind, prove that Triple H can’t win unless someone’s helping him, and you’re golden. The fact that they don’t stretch that out into an ordeal is kind of nice. Of course, that could just be because they had to fit this match at the end of long promos, Ken Shamrock’s wild goose chase, and Big Boss Man’s worst room service ever.
Maybe Snow/Boss Man should have been the main event, actually. We’re still discussing it 17 years later, aren’t we? In retrospect, that’s gotta be the go-home segment. Wherever you find yourself today, just take a moment to remember an innocent chihuahua named Pepper, who taught us that you never know just how you look through other people’s eyes.
(Yes, I had to end on that. Sue me.)