This week's episode of SmackDown Live, a go-home show for Sunday's Hell in a Cell PPV, should easily succeed. All the pieces are in place for a good show, with Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens imbuing their feud with some serious hatred, New Day and The Usos boasting one of the best ongoing feuds in recent memory, and Shinsuke Nakamura perhaps closing in on his first main roster championship, and WWE's top prize. For the most part the show has done a great job building to Hell in a Cell. In fact, there's a chance it's been too good, because it would seem that SmackDown Live has nothing left to say this week.
Jinder Mahal is still here
Pretty much every single segment tonight feels like filler, or an unnecessary addition to heated segments we've seen in previous weeks. It's almost as if SmackDown Live hit its peak when Kevin Owens made Vince McMahon bleed, and they've been unsure of what to do ever since. There's still some good stuff tonight, namely with Owens and McMahon, and New Day and The Usos, but this is largely an underwhelming, often boring two hours that doesn't do anything to make Hell in a Cell feel like a must-see event.
Take the first hour of the show for instance, right up until New Day and The Usos trade some barbs in the ring. In that first hour is a bunch of rudderless, scattered, meaningless filler that kills the show's momentum before it even has a chance of getting started. The show starts with a segment that we've seen many times over at this point. Renee Young is interviewing Shinsuke Nakamura about his match with Jinder Mahal on Sunday, and before he can even get two lines out, the Singh Brothers interrupt him and Jinder jumps him from behind.
The three of them beat Nakamura down and…what is accomplished exactly? There's absolutely no heat to this feud. Neither Jinder nor Nakamura are strong enough on the mic to build some genuine hatred between the two of them, and the repetitive segments—from the painful photo-based "comedy" bits to the usual "everybody fights" ones—don’t offer up anything new from week to week. This is the hell we've been subjected to with Jinder as WWE Champion. We get the exact same thing week in and week out, and there's seemingly no end in sight.
Doing nothing with talented women
But, it's not like Jinder Mahal is solely responsible for this week's SmackDown Live being a slog to sit through. In fact, the paint-by-numbers approach to his segments is repeated throughout the night, and more specifically, within the first hour. After Jinder beats up Nakamura, Carmella, Natalya, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte all have a tag team match because that's the only match these women are allowed to have these days. Natalya gets the win by making Charlotte tap out, and while that's a better outcome than "so-and-so has pinned the champion!" there's still a complete lack of storytelling here. It legitimately took me a minute to remember who Natalya was defending her title against on Sunday, and that would suggest SmackDown Live isn't really using the women's division in a way that's worthy of the talent it contains.
Nobody likes Dolph Ziggler
But hey, at least the women's division isn't Dolph Ziggler, who's doing some of the most unbearable work of his career at the moment. After Bobby Roode squashes Mike Kanellis, Ziggler comes out with a marching band drum, some shakers, and confetti, screaming "do you like me now!" The answer is no, and there's good reason. Namely, the whole shtick just doesn't make a lot of sense. On paper there's something to the idea of running down the over-the-top spectacle of certain wrestlers, but his points don't hit home with Roode. That's largely because 1. Roode hasn't even been on the main roster long, so there isn't much connection with the audience yet, meaning there's no reason for the crowd to feel too insulted by what Ziggler is saying, and 2. Roode is a former NXT champion and seasoned veteran. He's hardly all show, unlike the dude literally nicknamed The Show Off.
WWE killed Baron Corbin
I wish I could say that the show gets better from there, but there just isn't much to latch on to. Tye Dillinger actually gets a clean win against Baron Corbin, which makes my Canadian heart swell with pride, but then he's immediately ushered to the back so that SmackDown Live can continue the stale feud between Corbin and AJ Styles. Corbin has never been a big star, but he was an integral piece for a while there, used wonderfully in multi-man matches and as a despicable heel with believable presence. WWE killed that though when they had him unsuccessfully cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase.
Kevin Owens, as always, is the lone highlight
Other than the very good main event, where Kevin Owens beats the hell out of Shane McMahon, powerbombing him through a merch table and then demolishing him back in the ring, this week's SmackDown Live is defined by segments like Corbin's, where nothing really happens and no feuds are explored with any nuance. Randy Orton continues to hate Rusev despite how delightful "Happy Rusev Day" seems to be, and WWE continues to partner with a problematic charity while glossing over the troubling legacy of the Ultimate Warrior.
There are admirable touches throughout the night, like Sami Zayn telling Shane that he has no idea what he's getting into, and the Usos and New Day injecting their feud with the right balance of hatred and respect. But it's not enough to make this week's episode anything other than a sluggish pit stop on the way to Hell in a Cell.
- I'm honestly not sure I have any 'Quick Hits' this week. This is a dull, meandering show that struggled to keep my attention from the very first minute. Let's just get to Sunday. At the very least the two Hell in a Cell matches should bring the house down.
Natalya and Carmella defeated Charlotte and Becky Lynch; Bobby Roode defeated Mike Kanellis; Tye Dillinger defeated Baron Corbin; Randy Orton defeated Aiden English.