Saturday, August 22, 2020

Smackdown (August 21st, 2020): TUNDAH-DUMM!

Hey, look. I watched an actual Smackdown show... kinda, sorta...

This episode featured the first appearance of WWE's new THUNDERDOME gimmick, which was built in a bigger arena that isn't the Performance Center or Full Sail studios. Apparently, WWE payed Florida some pocket change to rent out an arena for a couple months with the caveat that there'd be no fans. So here's the crazy concept where they have "virtual fans" watch the show and give the show that "much needed" vibe and energy it's been lacking.

Or at least, that's the theory.

The Thunderdome itself is an eyesore. An elaborate setpiece where in place of live audience members, you have more of those super bright LED screens that flash random images to make the wrestler entrances somewhat more spectacular to go along with the pyro, the laser shows, and the completely atrocious CGI images that pop up and make me wonder why I watch this show. And during the matches, you have rows upon rows of facecam fans who stare endlessly into the void while something happens before them. Maybe once in a while, you'll get someone reacting to... something. But it's just blank faces and piped in crowd noise.

As for the actual content of the show... well, we start off with 783 year old Vince McMahon, who manages a couple lines out before the lights go out and out walks Bray Wyatt in his silly mask and red lights... and Bray has beat the Undertaker in taking the longest time to make his way to the ring, which makes me think about how much I prefer his old music as well as his old Waylon Mercy inspred gimmick. He threatens Vince by standing there and keeping him from moving or something... and then Braun Strawman comes out with a bald head and to meet with Bray while Vince bails... then some geeks in black show up to surround the ring while the blank stares of the audience look on. Then the lights go out, then go back on and Bray is gone. Then the geeks beat up on Braun (who happens to be the Blue Belt Champion of Smackdown or whatever) before the rest of the roster show up to run them off and...

And then I turned the show off.

I lasted about fifteen minutes before I turned the show off... and for once, it had nothing to do with the actual content of the show - though to be fair, I'm not giving that shit a pass, either. All those screens, all those lights, all those facecams... it doesn't make for the most appealing visual. Honestly, I figured you'd have a bunch of facecams reacting to the action on screen, but it looked like most of them were just having a Skype call or Zoom call or whatever the fuck they use these days than reacting to the action. The crowd noise that was obviously piped in never matched the faces of the audience.

(On retrospect, I may have been generous in calling it "obvious" crowd noise, as upon a second listen, you could barely make it out.)

It's really sad, actually, because this is supposed to bring back the fan experience and the liveliness of a live audience, but it doesn't work. If anything, it makes those sterile empty arena shows that they were putting out at the start of this pandemic look BETTER.

I'll give WWE credit for trying something different in an effort to bring back the spectacle of the big time shows during this pandemic era. Hey, it took them a global pandemic to come up with something new and different for their set design, so I can't be too unhappy... however, all this Thunderdome stuff, even when done well, is just shiny varnish over a turd and the television product itself is still shit no matter how many bright lights you put on it. The spectacle is fine for a bump or two, but people eventually see through that shit and realize how horrid this crap is.

I'm slightly miffed that this Braun/Bray feud is still going on because it's been shit and I say that without having seen that much maligned Swamp Fight they had a month or so ago. Just as an aside, I decided to tune back to the show towards the end because there was supposed to be a match between Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles (that Jeff won) and I ended up seeing Braun toss Bray over the hill in the docking area. The whole scene with the ambulance and stuff was supposed to be scary, but I just laughed at the whole thing. This was so fucking stupid and the fact that they're trying to put this over as deathly serious only accentuate the ridiculousness of the premise. At least with the other show, when something comes across as silly, they play it as such and when they need to treat something seriously, it actually works because it's a nice little surprise.

I didn't see much of the show. Apparently, there was a really good Sheamus/Big E match that took place and honestly, I hope they do go with Big E because he's a guy who never got a fair shake to show us what he's truly capable of and hopefully, he turns out better than Kofi did during his pancake phase. There was a Sonya Deville promo hyping up a match with Mandy Rose where it went from hair vs. hair to a Loser Leaves Town match. And the AJ/Jeff match was supposedly fun too.

But this is the future of WWE for the foreseeable future; more crappy lightshows and zombie facecams to cover up the fact that the product underneath is not good. And if the product underneath is not good, then it becomes a chore to watch no matter how many shiny lights you stick on there. There's sizzle, but there's no soul. And that last part is ultimately the one thing WWE has been unable to fix.

So I won't be watching Summerslam tomorrow... maybe down the road, but not anytime soon. Not with this set-up.

I tried... and I tap.


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