Previously on the Best and Worst of Friday Night Smackdown: Jeff Hardy allegedly fell off the wagon, drove drunk, ran over Elias, and was dragged off to jail. Don’t worry, he returned about an hour and a half later to punch one of his co-workers. Plus, a spooky tall man is now the general manager of Smackdown.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Friday Night Smackdown for June 5, 2020.
Worst: Performance Center “Audiences” Are Evolving
The first and most important thing I’d like to talk about this week are the Performance Center “crowds.” It’s a good enough concept on paper; you bring in a bunch of students, developmental types, and lower-level wrestlers who are gonna be at the PC for the tapings anyway and have them stand in a loose formation behind some plexiglass. That “keeps everyone safe” — your definition of that may vary — and gives the action happening in the ring SOME kind of noise and SOME kind of response. Otherwise you’re doing a WWE style of wrestling that’s roughly 65% crowd work in front of nobody, to dead silence. Folks starting slow claps to get a completely empty crowd behind their tag team partner so they can make a hot tag.
AEW’s been putting some of the same types around ringside, but they pepper in some characters who are actually regulars on the show, and have them stay in character. That’s how you get MJF doing little character microaggressions , Britt Baker hitting people with shoes like a jerk, Big Swole getting aggressively hype about everything, Billy Gunn and Billy Sonn acting like jock airheads, and Hikaru Shida sending steely-eyed glares to remind you how THIS character feels about THAT one. It’s also a reminder that these characters are these characters whether they’re important right now or not. WWE, on the other hand, puts an entire crowd of people out there featuring faces we can recognize — Malcolm Bivens, Shotzi Blackheart, Jessamyn Duke, Kayden Carter, and others — and reduces them to a sitcom studio audience, telling them to boo when it’s time to boo and cheer when it’s time to cheer and dance when it’s time to dance. In the simplest of terms, it’s another example of WWE micromanaging even the most basic aspects of their show to make sure everything’s exactly right for one 74-year old man’s idea of how wrestling shows should work. If McMahon could make the same amount of money doing Raw and Smackdown in front of a soulless studio audience, he’d do it. And he wouldn’t even get them chairs.
Look, I’ve enjoyed a few months away from the “what” chants, and it can get annoying when crowds stop having fun and start going into business for themselves, but part of the legitimate fun of going to wrestling shows is being able to freely react to what’s happening in the ring based on your own tastes and preferences. I sincerely and deeply miss honest crowd responses. I’ll get mad at them fairly regularly like anyone paying attention would be expected to, but wrestling shows need the catharsis of live reactions as much as they need a ring and chairs.
Well, as much as they need a ring.
?: Innocent Until Proven Hardy
Last week’s show opened with Renee Young reporting from the scene of a vehicular manslaughter where Elias is getting stretchered off to the Local Medical Facility, a distraught Braun Strowman is the only witness, and Jeff Hardy is concussed and unconscious in the bushes outside of the Performance Center having apparently driven drunkenly in the PC parking lot, crashed his car, and almost killed a guy. This week’s show opens with Hardy explaining himself — he doesn’t remember what happened, but he’s confident he didn’t slip back into addiction — and explaining how he got out of custody so fast. Turns out Braun Strowman wasn’t the only eye witness, which makes sense when you consider Smackdown’s roster includes a hacker who sees everything and half a dozen omnipresent, haunted puppets.
Witnesses saw a man fleeing the scene of the accident and described him as having, and I quote, “red hair and red beard*.” Hearing this, Jeff rushed back to work (presumably in a car, with trauma and a brain injury) to punch Sheamus about it. But that can’t be it, can it? Roman Reigns got some production equipment pushed over onto him with 35 cameras filming from every imaginable angle and it took them like two months to resolve it. Sheamus shows up to dog Hardy for being a junkie some more, which is still in great taste and not an ethical abuse of your independent contractor, and they end up fighting again. Sheamus gets the upper hand here, because he’s almost certainly losing at Backlash.
*Oh God, it’s Sami Zayn, isn’t it? “Oh, you don’t want to come to work during a pandemic? You want to have a conscience? How about we strip you of the only title you’ve ever won in WWE proper and make your next angle, ‘tried to frame Jeff Hardy for drunken murder?'”
Who knows, maybe Erick Rowan grew out whatever hair’s left on his head and HE’S the one behind the attack. Maybe everyone who got released was offered complete emasculation and a severely reduced salary if they wanted to keep their jobs.
Best/Worst: Braun Strowman Drops The Van Hammer
The Universal Championship match at the first Backlash of the “when is Roman Reigns coming back to work” era is a handicap match, with Braun Strowman taking on both The Miz and John Morrison for the title. To give this the kind of exciting, intense storytelling a top championship program heading into an important live event should have, Miz and Morrison hide in an unmarked FBI surveillance van parked suspiciously outside of the Performance Center and do pranks all night. They make Braun’s drink fizz up so it SPILLS ON HIM. It’s basically the Four Horsemen jumping Dusty Rhodes in the parking lot and breaking his hand for people who watch Paw Patrol.
It’s a pretty lame idea, but it works in part due to Miz and Morrison’s easy chemistry, and John Morrison name-dropping Montell Jordan on WWE programming in 2020. First person to reference Johnny Gill on Raw gets a No-Prize.
They also try to “slime” Braun, but accidentally slime Kayla Braxton instead. Miz is 39 and Morrison’s 40, which means they’re part of my generation and should know sliming someone doesn’t work until they say the words, “I don’t know.” This is the kind of shoddy workmanship when you buy your gags from the Dean Ambrose School of Practical Jokes and Hot Dog Cart Maintenance.
Note: every one of these pranks has their own video on WWE’s YouTube page.
Secondary note: If Kayla wants to wash off the slime, she should just say, “wet.”
Obviously the escalation from “fizzy drinks” and “Nickelodeon slime” is, “going out into the parking lot and destroying your co-worker’s windshield with blunt instruments.” I’m going to hope this was Miz and Morrison’s small way of paying tribute to Shad Gaspard, who did the same thing to JBL’s limo back in the day. Same angle and everything. I’m just disappointed nobody spray-painted BRAUN STROWMAN IS POOPY on the side of the car.
As you probably guessed the second you saw a vehicle enter a Braun Strowman story, Braun gets revenge by flipping Miz and Morrison’s creeper van. The very worst thing you can do when pissing off Braun is be inside something heavy he can turn on its side.
I can only get so mad at Miz and Morrison for trashing Braun Strowman’s car when a little over a year ago, Braun Strowman was trashing Braun Strowman’s car. What happens next week? Do they injure Braun and use a forklift to flip over his ambulance? Part of me wants to see that happen to see if Strowman has any self-awareness whatsoever. If not, Miz and Morrison should find a 10-year old to team with them at Backlash to make it 3-on-1.
Serious pitch: John Morrison goes into business for himself at Backlash and pins Strowman, but refuses to share the Universal Championship with Miz. Then he forms the WWE equivalent of Worldwide Underground, Miz makes another attempt to go good now that his life’s biggest bad influence has betrayed him, and they feud for the title through the summer while Braun and Jaxson Ryker have a bunch of matches you can only watch on Fox Nation.
This week, simpleton sex truck Otis steals King Corbin’s crown at the request of his girlfriend. Corbin wanting the crown back makes him a bad guy, because we boo him and cheer Otis. I don’t know if they’re doing it on purpose, but Otis didn’t turn Mandy face. Otis became a heel to be with her. Think about it. Otis was in love with Mandy, so his tag team partner, Tucky, spent like two months trying to reassure him and coach him through the courtship. The second he got a girlfriend, Tucky fucking vanished. Otis hasn’t even mentioned him in passing in weeks. He’s just out here going HOYEEEEEEEHHHHH at the beginning and end of every sentence whether it makes sense or not because that’s the thing he says, sending in meticulously edited fantasy video packages about how he makes out with hot girls in the pool. You could just as easily see Dolph Ziggler abandoning his best friend to hook up with a girl, bragging about it, and stealing another wrestler’s gimmick prop to make fun of him, couldn’t you?
Clearly the issue is that WWE doesn’t know how to end their stories, have never really understood what makes a hero a “hero,” associates cruel popularity with being a winner, can’t seem to portray human romantic relationships (or even friendships) without making them look completely evil, forget to acknowledge the existence of characters they aren’t focusing on right now, and continued doing a popular angle after firing the writer whose work helped make it popular in the first place.
So now Otis is just kind of WWE Superstar who no-sells multiple chair shots to the stomach to hit his attacker with his stomach, and then do a breakdancing elbow drop that requires him to rock up and down on his stomach. Otis is too good of a performer and too funny a personality with too much of a natural connection with real wrestling crowds to use the quarantine era to turn him into the Hodor version of Hulk Hogan.
As for Mandy Rose, here she is showing up on the video screen to distract Sonya Deville and cause her to lose to Lacey Evans as revenge for [checks notes] Sonya pinning her clean back on May 8 and pinning her clean, again, two weeks ago.
This is one of those WWE angles where it starts with the heel doing something that deserves comeuppance, the face getting back at them, and then the face continuing to “get back at them” forever because any single wicked act deserves eternal social humiliation and punishment. Like I said above, this is the kind of storytelling you get when you continue doing a popular angle after firing the writer whose work helped make it popular in the first place. Distraction losses and Lacey Evans pushes forever!
Best: Smackdown Forgot The Forgotten Sons
When Jaxson Ryker’s not on TV, we need to realize how good we have it!
Worst: It’s Been Months Now And Everyone On Smackdown Still Thinks It’s A Mic Drop To Call A Guy Who Named Himself “Shorty G” Short
Every time Michael Cole says “SHORTY G NOW,” an angel loses its wings. Shout-out to Mojo Rawley, though. Rob Gronkowski’s WWE career ends as soon as it began and within the week, WWE’s like, “put Mojo in the semi-main event so three people can kick his ass.”
That’s more of a joke than something I believe happened as written, I’m just worried for Mojo now that the dream of “Rob Gronkowski, WWE Superstar,” isn’t on the table anymore. I like Mojo a lot, really, but he’s always felt a bit like the Brutus Beefcake to Gronk’s Hulkster.
P.S. now that “Lady G” is a thing, can we give Chad Gable his name back?
Best: Daniel Bryan
Surprise! I liked whatever Daniel Bryan did.
It’s real, though. The talking point with WWE used to be that Bryan Danielson was a good wrestler, but he was too small, too pale, didn’t have a personality, couldn’t be “entertaining,” didn’t connect to audiences, and couldn’t talk. His WWE career has disprove [vaguely gestures] all of that, and here he is in the middle of a pandemic in front of a fake crowd in the dog days of the most depressing era of modern pro wrestling cutting an impassioned promo about how he wants to win the Intercontinental Championship because it MEANS SOMETHING and he GIVES A SHIT ABOUT IT and WANTS TO WRESTLE WRESTLING MATCHES that wrestling fans might like. “Seems like a decent person and likes the thing you like for the same reasons you like it” is a really clear, easy character to love, and I can’t imagine anyone doing it at that particular frequency better than Bryan.
Styles is great in his role, too. He’s got a lot of the same things going for him that Bryan has, and yet it’s super easy for him to slip into a heel persona where he seems like he doesn’t think the IC title means anything, doesn’t really give a shit about it, is actively avoiding as many wrestling matches as possible, and only seems to want to win the Intercontinental Championship out of some combination of entitlement and boredom. I guess you can’t expect a complex palette of artistic empathy from a guy who just watched his friends get murdered out of the company and spent the biggest show of the year getting buried alive at the Undertaker’s abandoned fireworks-and-laser-lights shack in the middle of the foggy woods.
To drive all of this home, Styles shit-talks Drew Gulak for his association with Bryan until they end up in a match together, and then loses to him because he’s too busy trying to show off and prove a point. Bryan and Styles are supposed to have the finals of the Intercontinental Championship tournament on next week’s Smackdown to decide the champ, but given that it’s two days before Backlash, it’s almost certainly ending with some bullshit that’ll require a rematch. Don’t be too surprised if Gulak gets an inflated ego about this Styles win and either costs Bryan the championship, or decides to jump him as soon as he wins it to position himself as the first challenger.
Best: DOUBLE GOLD (™ Christian)
Finally, the episode ends with Sasha Banks and Bayley winning back the Women’s Tag Team Championship from Bliss Cross Applesauce, clean as a damn whistle. Banks uses that awesome slingshot horsey-ride transition into the Banks Statement and counters a counter into a crucifix to pin Nikki Cross. If you’re like me, your first thought was, “does this mean the IIconics are going to win them from Banks and Bayley, and finally be the catalyst for them breaking up and feuding into SummerSlam?” Will it be symmetrical to what reportedly happened in the Women’s Tag Team Championship match at WrestleMania 35, about which they seem super ready to remind us?”
Regardless, it’s interesting that the women’s tag team division (of three teams) are divided by levels of friendship. Bliss and Cross are friends who the WWE announce team INSISTED could never be friends, but found success because their personalities are so in contrast that they compliment and teach one another. Bayley and Sasha Banks are eternal blood enemies who are also friends through shared trauma, but who are always on the brink of total collapse and disaster because one of their characters is legitimately opportunistic and self-centered, and the other’s just pretending to be. And then you’ve got the IIconics, who might as well have developed from the same embryo but have been struggling to deal with some harsh realities about how sad and loosey-goosey their careers have been all year.
On a related note, Bayley screaming in Michael Cole’s face about how heavy the title belts are is the best moment of the night. If they want to just stay champs, I’m fine with that, too.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
why didn’t they just drive away
WWE: here’s Jeff Hardy vs Sheamus
Me: Give me a fresh feud I haven’t seen before
WWE: here’s Otis vs Baron Corbin
Me: Not like that.
DANIEL BRYAN is grand Marshal at a NASCAR race?
“Gentlemen, start your engines!
…is what I would say if stock car races weren’t an incredible waste of Earth’s precious resources! You people are disgusting! FIX IT!”
please let Seth Rollins show up and recruit Sonya
Will Cesaro and Nakamura explode if they go without henching for a month?
HHH: We’re going to build a new, powerful stable. Nakamura. Cesaro. And Samoa Joe!
INTERN (while on TikTok): Right. Mojo. Got it.
Baron Von Raschke
Cole: Kofi hurt his knee!
Graves: Just like that referee in the Sonya/Lacey match, Cole!
Cole: I don’t remember that, Corey.
Graves: Can we get an update on him, Cole?
Cole: RAW ROLLS, er,…..SMACKDOWN CONTINUES ON FOX!
Dave M J
MINOR PENALTY SHEAMUS, 2 MINUTES, BOARDING
AJ Styles: “It’s smart to take a bye going into the IC Title finals & Bryan is dumb for having an extra match”
Also AJ Styles: “I’ll wrestle somebody a week before that right now!”
All I want for the Edge & Christian segment is for Orton to try to get an RKO outta nowhere from the crowd but run into the plexiglass like a bird hitting a window
REF BUMP DANGEROUSSSSS!
Was this the weirdest and most hilariously unnecessary ref bump of the year? Are we building to some kind of Scott Dickinson vs. Perry Saturn thing with Sonya and Danilo?
That about does it for this week’s Best and Worst of Smackdown. There’s some good stuff in here, but I still have no idea what vibe they’re going for. It’s like a G-rated Grand Theft Auto in WWE lately.
As always, thanks as always for reading. Your comments, shares, and readership are appreciated tremendously, and we hope you’ll be here again next week for the finals (maybe) of the intercontinental Championship tournament, and again two days later for Backlash. And hey, make sure you’re here for NXT TakeOver: In Your House this Sunday night while you’re at it. It’ll be fun, or at least fun-adjacent. Thanks again! You’re great! Stay safe and strong!