Previously on the Best and Worst of Smackdown: Dookie the Diaper Boy made a literally shitty debut, AJ Styles managed to get past Shinsuke Nakamura without being punched in the balls ONCE, and Jeff Hardy defeated Sheamus to advance in the Intercontinental Championship tournament and definitely not earn himself an elaborate framing and arrest a week later.
One more thing: Hit those share buttons! Spread the word about the column on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else you use. Be sure to leave us a comment in our comment section below as well. I know we always ask this, and that this part is copy and pasted in every week, but we appreciate it every week.
Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Friday Night Smackdown for May 29, 2020.
Me Watching This Week’s Smackdown Open
Worst: Jeff Hardy Falls Off The Wagon And Lands On Elias
In case you missed it, you lucky devil, this week’s Smackdown opens with Renee Young outside of the WWE Performance Center, reporting exclusively for WWE News. Apparently Jeff Hardy has drunk-driven his rental car into Elias and attempted to flee the site of a hit-and-run by jogging off to hide in the bushes. Elias gets taken away to a morgue Local Medical Facility and Jeff is taken away in handcuffs by police, where he’ll rot in jail for almost an hour before being allowed to return to the scene of the crime and try to fight the guy he thinks was behind it. You know, that Shield justice where you’re taken away in cuffs by a pack of cops at like 8 PM, are free to go by 9, and are back to hunting and assaulting your co-workers by 10. The WWE judicial system is a trip.
So, let’s talk about this.
Firstly, some harsh truths. Remember back in the day when the World Wrestling Federation decided to help out known alcoholic and drug addict Road Warrior Hawk by having him pretend to relapse as part of a wrestling story, repeatedly embarrass himself with fictional version of his real-life demons, and then try to commit drunken suicide before being shoved off the TitanTron by a guy who wanted to take his place in a tag team? World Championship Wrestling did a similar thing with Scott Hall. Wrestling’s got a weird, cruel way of thinking their “turn your natural personality up to 11” thing justifies using their performers’ actual, dangerous, real-life struggles as character beats, and not really thinking about what that does to those peoples’ hearts and brains. The performers will regularly declare that they approved it and had some creative input on the matter, and then when they aren’t trying to keep a job their story becomes, “wow, yeah, that was terrible, I wish I hadn’t done that.” The last thing Jeff Hardy needs is another “Jeff Hardy’s a junkie who can’t function at work” angle about drunk driving when he got arrested for that very thing seven damn months ago.
Secondly, WWE has an observable history of being as petty as humanly possible with their performers, particularly [cough cough] “independent contractors” who used their “independence” to “take contracts” somewhere else. “Professionally deciding to work elsewhere and hoping the situation’s better for yourself and your family” is treason in the McMahon Universe. And yeah, admittedly a lot of the conclusions people like you and I might jump to, whether they’re based on facts or patterns or trends or whatever else, are often catastrophic and circumstantial. But it’s hard as even a casual fan to, say, see Matt Hardy leave WWE and look like he’s doing well and having fun again, only for his brother to stick around and immediately end up in an angle about how he’s a dangerous drunk who shows up to work blitzed and gets arrested all the time. One isn’t necessarily the cause of the other, but they haven’t instilled enough good will in the fanbase for anyone who’s paying attention to take it in good faith.
Just to reiterate..
— #BROKEN Matt Hardy (@MATTHARDYBRAND) May 30, 2020
Thirdly, at the risk of turning the comments section into the FACEBOOK comments section, the people putting Smackdown together probably should’ve read the room and realized the last thing “escapist television” needs right now is police angles. Especially when it’s about the cops showing up and arresting the wrong man based on circumstantial evidence and the eye witness testimony of Braun Strowman. Not that wrestling can’t ever use dumb fake cops on the regular like they have for the past 20 years, but maybe they didn’t have to do that right now? I’m not trying to take some kind of weak moral high ground, but it feels pretty tone deaf.
There are a few little things I liked. The police officer sniffing an almost completely full beer to make sure it’s beer was funny, as was him announcing the name “Jeff Hardy” like he’s about to give him an academic achievement award at a middle school assembly. It was good to see Jason Jordan again. Jeff Hardy’s dramatic, “ELIAS!” when he sees Elias being wheeled off to the glue factory was also SUPER funny. Jeff’s never been able to do what Matt does and make bad content so bad it becomes absurdist, pointed, and wonderful.
Ultimately it just feels like one of those moments where after months of no effort and no stories, WWE’s going to do one bad, tone-deaf angle that everyone responds to negatively and then be like, “see, nothing we do makes the fans happy, it’s the fans who are the problem.” And then it’s 3-6 more months of promo parades and tag team main events.
I joke a lot about how things like kidnapping and murder should get wrestlers thrown into actual prison instead of some pay-per-view match, but if it obviously turns out to be a plot from Sheamus (or King Corbin, knowing Smackdown), “frame your opponent for drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter because he’s got a sketchy past and the cops will just believe you, then take his spot in a tournament for a championship that’s only up for grabs because the former champ stopped wanting to come to work during a pandemic” is a pretty high bar for low quality badness. Maybe it’ll turn out to be Braun’s doing all along, and he decided to ruin Hardy’s life because Bray Wyatt actually got to him and the black sheep mask corrupted his soul more than we thought. Or hey, maybe it was those masked guys who’ve been kidnapping cruiserweights in the parking lot.
Thank goodness there’s not some hacker with access to all the security cameras hanging around Smackdown who’d be able to expose you almost immediately. Now’s the PERFECT time to hatch a murder plot! Quick, somebody get Erick Rowan to push over some production equipment!
Where Is Tall Man?
So Jeff gets taken away to wrestler prison, and Wrestler Court argues about who should take Jeff and Elias’ spots in the tournament. Maybe Sheamus was a (green and) red herring all along. Maybe AJ Styles was behind it, and Jeff crashed the car when he was confronted by the ghosts of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Maybe Styles brought back some dark magicks when he died and came back to life. Quick question though: when did Adam Pearce become Smackdown General Manager? And why did they put him in a giant jacket and giant pants and spend most of the segment filming him from the knees up so he looked like a cross between David Byrne and the Tall Man from It Follows?
Again, there’s a little bit of good character work going on here. I like the simple story of Styles and Daniel Bryan both losing their semi-finals opponents and Styles accepting a bye, but Bryan wanting to do the right thing and fight a substitute to earn his spot. That’s a solid plot for the finals. If Styles wins, you can either say he’s an opportunistic coward for taking the easy route into the finals, or you can say he did the smart thing and Daniel Bryan’s a babyface dipshit for making things harder on himself, depending on your point of view. I again wish WWE earned enough good will to make me think they’re going to tell a story about how hard work and fair play pay off, and that their point of view isn’t just “Daniel Bryan’s a babyface dipshit, what a damn idiot.”
Best: A Battle Royal
Smackdown General Manager Adam Pearce (?) decides that since Bryan doesn’t want to accept a bye and more than one person is showing interest in taking Jeff Hardy’s place, EVERYBODY should get an opportunity in an over-the-top-rope battle royal. Oddly enough (and this might just be my personal preference) battles royale appear to be one of the only surefire things WWE does. They’re almost always good, as WWE’s figured out a way to make the match type a showcase for a number of brief confrontations and angle advancements, like writing a collection of short stories instead of a cohesive novel. That plays to their strengths, I think, and they’re almost always able to handle it.
Stories from this battle royal include:
- Shorty G, who appears to have stopped dressing like a toddler basketball player but is sadly still being called “Shorty G,” makes a strong run to the end and eliminates both members of Sami Zayn’s Losers Club. Cesaro gets back into the ring behind the referee’s back (which he didn’t have to, because it’s no disqualification) and eliminates Tiny Chad, setting up a singles match for later. Things that are good: Cesaro, Chad Gable, Cesaro or Chad Gable getting pushed, Cesaro and Chad Gable wrestling each other 1-2 times per episode.
- Dolph Ziggler befriends King Corbin only to immediately try to betray him, fail, and get thrown out of the match. Ziggler’s doing a lot of really on-brand work lately.
- A Jey Uso singles run! He makes it to the final two and almost eliminates Sheamus before getting shoved into the ring post and kicked off the apron. I could be into an Uce singles run. Let’s just hope next week’s show doesn’t open with Sheamus framing him for drunk driving and trying to get him thrown in jail for inconveniencing him during a wrestling match.
Sheamus wins, which is super predictable but at least gives us more constructive content than just announcing, “Sheamus is in the match now.” And we let multiple people talk without having to do a promo parade*! I’m proud of you, Smackdown!
*They do one later, don’t worry, the world’s not so crazy that Smackdown isn’t following the one Smackdown script somebody wrote three years ago.
A Shameful Thing
As mentioned, Sheamus eventually loses the title tournament rebirth he earned in the battle royal when Jeff Hardy is released from (escapes from?) police custody and returns to work, shirtless, to fight about it. They couldn’t let “one of the wrestlers drove drunk in the middle of the day and almost killed another wrestler, but it’s a super secret heel plot to discredit him” breathe for a SINGLE EPISODE, could they? Jeff gets put into a completely unwinnable and terrifying situation and is already completely freed from it and out of the woods an hour-45 later. Episodic storytelling, guys. I know we’re all psychos who jump to conclusions and assume the worst of you, but if you really want to prove we’re the problem, start telling better stories and be confident enough in them to actually tell them in their own time. The way WWE TV’s written these days, Seth Rollins could set Drew McIntyre’s home on fire at 8 PM and by 11 Drew would be moving into the new house he built from the ground up.
The lesson here: opportunities are easy to come by in WWE. You just have to get in people’s faces about it and ask for them. You don’t have to orchestrate Machiavellian killings in the Performance Center parking lot.
Worst: A Real Live Fanboy
Speaking of tone deaf angles that would play better in some other time or decade, the Forgotten Sons still want to kill you for not loving the troops enough. In a world where the WWE Hall of Famer President is implying he’ll send in the military to kill disobedient American citizens in the streets, it’s super fun for this escapist television show that’s already featured an innocent man being arrested to have a couple of Marines tell us our blood is going to be on their hands.
As a fun aside, though, “love me how I want you to love me or I’ll kill you” is some pitch-perfect crazy white person dialogue. Steve Cutler should start painting his face like a clown and cut promos while dancing down a flight of stairs. Also, LOL so hard at Wesley Blake’s character being that he’s the one man in America who loves the troops enough to hang out with them. Are “real live cowboys” the only true patriots? Maybe Tyrus will have more thoughts on this on Fox Nation.
Best: Kofi Kingston And Big E, A Couple Of Has-Beans
The “Tag Team Championship Summit” on A Moment Of Bliss devolves into the same promo parade you’ll see on the year’s 51 other episodes of Smackdown. New Day’s talking to Bliss Cross Applesauce, Bayley and Sasha Banks interrupt, an argument ensues, and Bayley ends up volunteering for Sasha for a match against Alexa Bliss. The good news though is that before that the segment was just Bliss and Cross hanging out with Kofi Kingston and Big E, and that was DELIGHTFUL.
- New Day sneaking up on Bliss and Cross backstage like silent movie villains (pictured)
- Nikki Cross being a huge New Day fan girl, making them authentic Scottish pancakes as a gift, and dancing. Nikki Cross dancing (without “dancing” suddenly being her whole gimmick) is something we need more of
- New Day wearing Shad Gaspard tribute armbands, and Sasha wearing one for Hana Kimura. I wish neither of those armbands had to exist, but love, communal experience, and human connection are all things we need to see more of on TV right now, even in small gestures
- New Day attempting to make a cup of coffee with a bottle of water, a wooden spoon, and a bunch of loose beans Big E’s been carrying around in his singlet
- Nikkis’ polite attempt to deal with that
- Kofi attempting to hug Bayley as she entered the ring and being ignored, which is both funny AND sad
Bayley Feels Like Chicken Tonight
The match between Banks and Bliss is pretty good — Bayley keeps throwing Sasha to the wolves every week, so the least she could do is help her win the matches she didn’t even agree to be in — but I don’t know how to rate it, as all I can remember is the finish. That’s the finish’s fault, not the match. In case you missed it, Bayley distracted Bliss by … doing the Chicken Dance?
In a world where DUI hit-and-runs are orchestrated to get people out of scab title tournaments and homemade Scottish pancakes are exchanged for underpants cold brew, I guess I should EMBRACE barnyard distractions. Keep having Bayley distract people like this until her wig falls off and we find out she’s been Chicken Boo all along.
Best: Take A Seat, Karen
This match between Sonya Deville and Lacey Evans got a little cartoonish at times, but I’m giving it a Best for three reasons: (1) Sonya fought someone other than Mandy and Lacey fought someone other than Sasha and Bayley, (2) it was worked with a sense of urgency, with the wrestlers actually looking like they wanted to beat the other in a fight, whether they were successful about that or not, and (3) this moment when Sonya gets Lacey’s dandy plantation sweatrag thrown in her face and responds by calmly knocking her on her ass. Sonya is great, and every episode of Smackdown should include a moment where a wrestler we like punches Lacey Evans in the face.
It’s not like it’s Kandori vs. Hokuto in its intensity or anything, but wrestlers fighting and looking like they give a shit is a good step. Sonya’s really killing it right now in every way she can. The post-match stuff with Lacey Evans gaining the high ground a la Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sonya suddenly backing away even though she’d in control of the night until a second ago was lame, but at least it looks like they might be doing something with it. Nobody let Sonya try to jump over her from the floor.
Also On This Episode
I’m not happy we’re still calling him “Shorty G” and think surprise upsets work a lot better when the guy getting upset doesn’t already lose 90% of this matches, but as mentioned I’m up for anything that gets me a Chad Gable vs. Cesaro feud. I just wish it was happening in NXT, and that it was still the summer of 2016. For a lot of reasons.
Nope. That’s it. It jumped the shark. Between the graphic poolside make-outs and Otis turning into a Pokémon called “Ohyeah” that can only say its name, I’m more than ready for Evil Tucky to return to Smackdown and start beating Otis’ ass for abandoning their goal of being blue-collar construction equipment. Macho Man and Elizabeth reuniting at WrestleMania would’ve gone in a bad direction too if they’d spent the next month Frenching each other in slow motion and doing Vaseline-lens close-ups of Randy’s dick print.
Kurt Angle, who’s not supposed to be here, announces that The Original King of Bros Abel Matt Riddle will soon be making his debut on Friday Night Smackdown. Kurt knew Matt was something special after refereeing Wednesday night’s NXT Fight Pit match and personally witnessing him get choked out like a punk by Timothy Thatcher.
This gets Riddle one step closer to his destiny of retiring both Goldberg and Brock Lesnar at the same time in a triple threat match at WrestleMania, but sadly closes the book on any future Broserweights reunions. Are Stallion Matt and Stallion Pete the best tag team in history to have to break up three months after they formed?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Having Xia Li wear a Lacey Evans shirt is the most 2020 WWE on Fox thing I can imagine
“Ma’am stay back it’s a crime scene… the refs and agents can come though.” – totally real cop
Here’s what we do: we quarantine the entire roster at Disney, run a play-in round for Cesaro, Gulak, Corbin, Ali, Gable, and Sheamus. Then you re-seed the remaining competitors, break them into World Cup-style regions, and the winner of each block makes it to the finals for the IC championship. Then we turn that into a tag team match, playa.
Baron Von Raschke
I refuse to believe that A.) any rental car company would rent to Jeff Hardy and B.) If they did that Jeff Hardy would rent a car that tasteful.
The Real Birdman
Oh, so THAT is why we have on-screen authority figures.
Somebody get Paige back in here, stat.
Nikki Cross on commentary is approaching Asuka levels of entertainment. She’s not there yet (because nobody is), but there’s an adorability to her madness
Big E: Do you want any cream?
Dave M J
Sonya Deville just did Lacey’s finisher better than Lacey has ever done it.
They were gonna arrest Sheamus for framing Jeff Hardy, but then they realized he was far too white to do so.
That’s it for this week’s Best and Worst of Smackdown. The show continues to improve in tiny, tiny incriments, as long as you ignore the really piss-poor idea at the beginning. Maybe Jason Jordan was behind it all along. Maybe Elias crashed the car and pretended he got hit, Big Cass-style.
Anyway, thanks as always for reading. Your comments, shares, and readership are appreciated tremendously, and we hope you’ll be here again next week when Petyr ‘Sheamus’ Baelish gets ahead of the hacker by announcing he framed Jeff Hardy so he’d get fired and AEW’s roster could have the Young Bucks, the Hardy Boyz, and The Revival all at the same time. Sheamus is a hero, actually. Or there’s a promo parade to set up a tag team main event. Or both! See you then!