In last night's Raw review, I mentioned that the show's need to build to the Greatest Royal Rumble immediately following WrestleMania has led to a strange feeling of stagnation. Sure, the Raw after WrestleMania and the Superstar Shakeup offered up some fun surprises and interesting new storylines, but there's also been the sense that the weekly show hasn't truly reset itself because so much of the Greatest Royal Rumble is a retread, or slight modification of, WrestleMania XXXIV.
SmackDown Live is in a similar tough spot. It's stuck focusing on a handful of feuds that feel familiar, while also largely sidestepping new ones until Friday's "PPV" is all said and done. In other words, we're getting more singles matches from tag team competitors, Charlotte and Carmella essentially biding their time until Backlash, and the women's division in general floating in a void of meaningless tag matches. At the very least, SmackDown Live has a newly invigorated Nakamura, the incoming Andrade Cien Almas, and the start of the payoff to a long-simmering feud between Daniel Bryan and The Miz. The question is, would it be enough to pull SmackDown out of the rut it's been in for months now?
Saudi Arabia, and the Women's division
Before we get to the good of SmackDown Live (there's barely any), let's start with one of its biggest struggles: the women's division. Asuka, The IIconics (that spelling continues to be the only bad thing about them) and Carmella's successful cash-in provided a necessary jolt to the flailing division, but as the Miz says at the top of the episode in relation to Big Cass, this is definitely a "what have you done for me lately?" situation. The women's division is completely devoid of stories. There have been big moments and great debuts, but what has it amounted to? Not a whole lot.
It's difficult to separate the lack of storytelling in the division from the upcoming show in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from performing. That bit of backwards thinking feels like it's influencing the storytelling, as SmackDown Live can't seem to muster up any enthusiasm about any storyline within the division. To be fair, the storytelling here has been stagnating for some time, so it's not just the impending show in Saudi Arabia, but considering how inconsequential this week's women's segments are, it's pretty much impossible to ignore such an idea.
And really, so much of this show just feels like WWE killing time until Friday. This episode of SmackDown Live, despite some brief highlights, is mostly all the worst aspects of a WWE go-home show. Take, for instance, Jimmy Uso facing off against Rowan. Why is this happening? Why is there a need for a singles match between two members of competing tag teams? There's no rhyme or reason to it, it's just what WWE has always done, so they go through the motions again here. Unlike last week, Jimmy gets the win here, meaning that the 50-50 booking is intact.
That kind of booking is the entire show. It's as if SmackDown Live took a look at last week's episode and decided to do exactly the same thing, but with the opposite results. This show is a mirror image of last week's, and it's incredibly frustrating. There's no appearance from Cien Almas to liven things up, no invasion from Sanity. Instead, we get more tag team matches and more meaningless segments.
The United States Championship still doesn't matter
This kind of storytelling is growing old. Again, I think that once we're past the Greatest Royal Rumble things could change, but as of now there's just nothing inspiring about what SmackDown Live is doing. The Miz works a great opening segment because he's the Miz, but that's quickly nuked by Big Cass and his bumbling awkwardness. I'm not ready to write the guy off or anything, but the crowd seems largely indifferent to his presence. It's the same problem Carmella has; everybody knows they should hate her, but they can't muster up any passion one way or the other.
Similarly, the whole United States Championship scene is still on autopilot. Last week Jeff Hardy interrupted Randy Orton's entrance and took his match from him. Guess what happens this week? That's right, Randy Orton interrupts Jeff Hardy and takes his match! Isn't this fun? Isn't this nonstop recycling of the same old stuff just a joy to witness?
At least we have heel Shinsuke
If there's anything promising here, it's that Shinsuke Nakamura still looks like a million bucks. The heel turn has given him an edge that he's been missing, and it's given AJ Styles some of the best stuff to work with ever since he reclaimed the WWE Championship. There's mileage in this angle, even if right now it mostly involves shots to the dick. Nakamura is getting nastier as the weeks go on, and that means Styles will be more desperate. In other words, it's once again up to The Miz and AJ Styles to save SmackDown Live from itself.
- Nothing new here, but The Miz is just a master of crowd control.
- Becky and Asuka are such a great pair, which I guess is my way of saying it's good enough for now, but let's get these women some relevant stories!
- I really think Carmella is doing great work as a heel, but the crowd just doesn't seem to care. You have to think that title is back on Charlotte in no time.
- Rusev Day aren't heels, WWE! Fix this already!
- If I had my way, Jinder would win back his United States Championship at the Greatest Royal Rumble, leaving The Miz free to bring the Intercontinental Championship to SmackDown Live and his feud with Daniel Bryan.
The IIconics defeated Becky Lynch and Asuka; Jimmy Uso defeated Rowan; Shelton Benjamin defeated Randy Orton; Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev Day defeated AJ Styles, Gallows, and Anderson.