Episode 9 of Young Rock is titled “A Lady Named Star Search,” and it takes us back to 1982 as we rejoin the life of 10-year-old Dwayne Johnson, or “Dewey.” As fans may be able to tell from the title, part of this episode’s story focuses on Ata Johnson’s preparation for her Star Search audition, while Rocky Johnson takes over parenting duties for a change. Also, after the success of her battle royal event, Lia Maivia wants to stamp down on her position as the leading promoter in Hawaii, which means upping the ante in her battle against sneaky rival promoter Greg Yao. This week’s Young Rock showcases the fighting spirit of Johnson’s family with a particularly entertaining from performance Ana Tuisila as Lia Maivia.
Young Rock kicked off with a refreshing opening this week, one that not only saw present-day Johnson in a debate with his political rival, but it also provided long-time Rock fans with a nice dose of nostalgia, as well as putting Johnson on the silly side of the conversation. In the lead-up to the debate, we see his campaign manager Casey Walker advising him on what he should say, and in response, the former WWE Champion asks if he should refer to his enemies as “candy asses” and that he will “lay the smackdown” on them. The throwback to his classic wrestling catchphrases humorously draws a concerned look from Casey, who suggests she sticks to coming up with the ideas. It’s a great exchange that’s not only funny and somewhat nostalgic, but it humanises Johnson even more by allowing us to laugh at him. Also, the star diving into his flashback during the debate sets up a great conclusion.
As touched on earlier, Tuisila is a superstar in this particular episode, as she leads her scenes with a commanding presence that’s perfect for the tough woman Johnson’s grandmother was. However, she also showcases brilliant comedic timing while maintaining Lia’s stern side. Her two scenes at the café showcase this, as she threatens an aspiring promoter and later Greg Yao. Although she fires off a series of warnings and threats, she hilariously shifts gears at the drop of a dime, such as when her tone changes from stern to incredibly pleasant when talking to the waitress. Also, when her assistant fails to intimidate a rival due to his inability to crush a watermelon with a bat, Lia excuses herself to slowly make her way out and do the job herself. Tuisila effectively intimidates you and makes you burst out laughing, all the while maintaining Lia Maivia’s tough fighting spirit.
Ata and Rocky Johnson’s sides of the episode beautifully highlight the unique and different relationships Johnson had with his parents. In the case of his relationship with his father, we see ‘The Soulman’ come to his son’s aid using his muscle when he’s bullied by a group of boys. But when Johnson gets his boogie board back and asks his father if he wants to go in the water, Rocky Johnson responds with his trademark ego on display by explaining how he doesn’t like to get his hair wet. On the flipside, Ata has a touching and powerful realisation that if she succeeds in her audition, it could potentially take her away from her son for long periods of time, something she is not willing to do. So as Joseph Lee Anderson’s Rocky Johnson often does, he brought the humour while Stacey Leilua’s Ata Johnson brought the heart.
The episode is also well-constructed and impressively shows off Nahnatchka Khan’s ability to tie the various storylines together, despite Young Rock not following a traditional linear structure. Whether it’s tying up Lia’s fractured relationship with Rocky Johnson post-episode 6 or even providing audiences with an insight into how Johnson’s grandmother is ultimately deported, “A Lady Named Star Search” effectively brings a lot of the Young Rock pieces together.
The episode concludes by returning to the debate, where the show then gives the audience a subtle wink when Johnson’s political foe states that Johnson’s “short story” lasted twenty minutes (the duration of the episode). Ultimately, it’s another very strong outing for Young Rock and one that really puts a spotlight on the unique relationships in his family but also showcases his entire family’s willingness to fight for what was most important to them. No doubt, The Rock and Young Rock “lay the smackdown” this week.
Young Rock is created by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Nahnatchka Khan, and it airs on Tuesdays on NBC.