Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?
The TV sitcom “Young Rock,” centering on the early life of Dwayne Johnson, the wrestling superstar turned action movie superhero, returns for a second season on NBC next March.
While I find it one of the best family TV shows in years, as a wrestling fan, I’m having a hard time suspending my disbelief.
While the show is more than just wrestling — it tells the life story and lessons of Johnson growing up — its historical accuracy is “rock bottom.”
Three Stages of the Rock
Debuting last February, the premise of season one is Dwayne Johnson running for president in 2032, and recounting stories of his life growing up. This leads to “flashback” and “flash forward” segments, similar to the NBC drama “This Is Us.”
The overlapping storylines focus on 10-year old Dewey, as he was known in his youth, living with his family in Hawaii in 1982; as a 15-year awkward teen in 1987 Bethlehem, PA; and a frustrated benchwarmer on the University of Miami football team in the early 1990s. All “Rocks” are played by different actors.
As was well promoted during his WWE career, The Rock was a third-generation pro wrestler. His grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia, was considered the patriarch of wrestling’s Samoan dynasty. Rock’s father, Rocky Johnson, was a main eventer in the 1970s and early 1980s.
His grandmother Lia Maivia really did operate the wrestling promotion on the islands, taking over for her late husband, Peter.
It is natural that pro wrestling is a major part of the storylines, especially in the 1982 Hawaii scenes. But, it can leave a wrestling purist with a raised eyebrow of confusion.
Wrestling Accuracy? It Doesn’t Matter
In the Christmas special that aired last week, we find a colorful cast of familiar wrestling names competing in a “Mistletoe Battle Royal,” where the goal is to climb a ladder to present Miss Elizabeth the kissable plant. A match like that would never have happened then.
Recurring characters supposedly wrestling on the island include Andre the Giant, the Iron Sheik, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and the Wild Samoans.
The only problem is, none of them wrestled regularly, if at all, in Hawaii. And, certainly not in the 1982 timeframe. Lia Maivia’s Polynesian Pro Wrestling did not operate a full-time schedule either.
Of the wrestling characters, Andre was the only one who semi-regularly competed on the islands, and that would be maybe once or twice a year. Wrestling results database Cagematch finds no Andre matches in Hawaii in 1982.
Iron Sheik and the Samoans were regulars with Georgia Championship Wrestling in 1982 (all would make their way to the WWF, as it was known then, less than a year later). Savage operated his family’s International Championship Wrestling in the Kentucky/Tennessee area.
The show’s main supporting character, Rocky Johnson (played by Joseph Lee Anderson), would wrestle for his mother-in-law’s group once in a while. But by Christmas 1982, he was already in the WWF.
In fact, on the Dec. 28, 1982, WWF show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, not only is Johnson wrestling, but Mrs. Maivia is seen in the crowd.
While not accurate, I give the show a pass. It is produced in association with WWE.
Andre, Savage, and Sheik were the most recognizable wrestlers of the 1980s and certainly the most interesting personalities.
If the show did retain historical accuracy, the wrestling characters would be Ripper Collins, Superfly Tui, and Farmer Boy Ipo. Who? Exactly.
At Least the Actors Look the Part
Admittedly, the actors really do look like the wrestling legends they portray. Matthew Willig, a 14-year retired NFL veteran, does bear some resemblance to Andre the Giant, whom he portrays on the show. Willig is listed as 6’7″. Andre was billed at 7’4″.
Willig displays Andre’s tenderheartedness and vulnerability, traits Andre was known for among friends. He would often call those wrestlers he respected, “Boss.” Alternately, the real Giant was downright nasty with those who he did not like.
Brett Azar really does look like the Iron Sheik, with his bald head and trademark mustache. Azar has a background in bodybuilding. Kevin Makely must have gone to Macho Man school, as he has Randy Savage’s moves down.
Ditto to the actors who play the Wild Samoans (John Tui and Fasitua Amosa).
A Family Sitcom at Heart
“Young Rock” is one of the few current TV shows I can feel comfortable watching with my children. It harkens back to the classic family sitcoms that are funny and have a moral message, but keep it relatively clean.
Father Rocky struggles to keep his family fed after his mainstream wrestling career nosedives in the mid-1980s. Mother Ata (played by Stacey Leilua) has traits of other classic TV moms — balancing keeping her family sane, while pursuing her own dreams.
Grandma Lia (Ana Tuisila) loves her family, but has a dark side when it comes to the wrestling business. A storyline in season 1 sees Lia get into a wrestling promotional war on the islands. This was true in reality and led to criminal charges against Lia and her business partner.
Behind the camera, Chavo Guerrero Jr., the former pro wrestling star, serves as wrestling coordinator for the show. He also helped with another wrestling-based show, “GLOW” on Netflix.