Young Rock - Iron Sheik

In episode 3 of Young Rock, we dive back to 1982 and see ten-year-old Dwayne Johnson, as he travels with his mother and father, as Rocky Johnson starts to wrestle for the then WWF and a young Vince McMahon. Although Johnson’s family is seemingly on the up and up, they begin to see changes that are sweeping the wrestling business as Johnson’s grandmother, Lia Maivia, struggles to keep her scheduled show together. It’s an episode that dives deeper into the wild world of professional wrestling and its characters in the ‘80s, all the while providing some of the most relatable human experiences for audiences. Also, Nahnatchka Khan and co add some clever tweaks and fresh elements to keep the series fun for audiences.

The episode kicks off with Randall Park setting up an exclusive look at Johnson’s presidential strategy meeting in 2032. Here we see Chelsey Crisp (another former Fresh Off the Boat star) playing the role of his campaign manager, Casey Walker. The exchange between Crisp and Johnson is entertaining; Johnson explains he can relate to America’s fear of job security/change, seemingly setting up the flashback to his younger self, but instead, Crisp’s character Casey humorously highlights how Johnson will change from The Scorpion King to the president. It’s a little different from the interviewer-interviewee dynamic of Park and Johnson. But it still ultimately serves its purpose while allowing the show to not feel stagnant with the same old formulaic opening.

Young Rock - ep 3 - gym scene

The episode is consistent in regards to its excellent presentation of wrestling. The exploration of the changing landscape of wrestling in the early ‘80s is used as a wonderful tool to not only serve as a symbol for how we’ve all reacted to change in our lives, be it professionally or personally. It also provides wrestling fans with a bucket load of nostalgia. Some of wrestling’s iconic characters are in this episode, like Andre The Giant, Iron Sheik, Macho Man Randy Savage, and even The Rock’s grandfather, Peter Maivia. The look and mannerisms of all the icons are almost spot on, and this is exemplified by Brett Azar’s incredible portrayal of Iron Sheik. Not only is he almost a spitting image of Sheik in his prime, but he brings the laughs to this episode on more than one occasion. He delivers Sheiky Baby’s famous lines like “jabroni” (now you know where The Rock got it from) and shows Sheik’s famously eccentric personality, like in the scene where he runs down the list of cuss words he cannot say at the family barbeque.

On the flip side, while seeing some of the challenging sides of wrestling’s evolution, audiences get a strong attachment to the story thanks to seeing very strong and relatable human emotions. We see Rocky Johnson’s jealousy at Andre The Giant being McMahon’s number one star and getting all the perks. Wrestlers are giving into bribery to ditch Lia’s show, and Johnson’s mother, Ata, is still trying to come to grips with the loss of her father, Peter Maivia. All of this provides an emotional hook that intelligently makes you forget you’re immersed in a world full of gigantic wrestling stars and allows all the elements of the story to come together nicely.

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As mentioned earlier, episode 3 of Young Rock does add and tweak parts to keep the series feeling fresh. Whether it’s adding a fantastical visual of wrestlers bursting out of a poster to capture the fun energy of the time or hearing present-day Johnson more as opposed to seeing him, there are small yet effective changes to the show. However, episode 3 does lack the spark and energy of last week’s episode, as the closing moments do not leave you with that same heart-warming and uplifting feeling. 

Although episode 3 doesn’t quite match episode 2, it’s still another strong outing for the sitcom. Similar to Fighting with My Family, it ties together real human experiences with the particularly madcap world of professional wrestling in the early ‘80s, and even if non-wrestling fans don’t get as much out of this episode, wrestling fans should no doubt have a ball watching some of their favourite characters come to life in such a fun and truthful way in Young Rock.

Young Rock airs on Tuesdays on NBC.

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