Cast: Dwayne Johnson (“Skyscraper,” “Rampage”) Joseph Lee Anderson (“Harriet”), Bradley Constant (“Following Phil”), Uli Latukefu (“Next Goal Wins”), Stacey Leilua (“The Factory”) Adrian Groulx (“The Christmas Cure”)
Airs: The series premieres Tuesday on NBC.
The premise: “Young Rock” focuses on different chapters of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s life. From growing up surrounded by the wild characters of his professional wrestling family, to playing football at the University of Miami, the series will explore the funny, odd and special journey that has shaped Johnson into the person he is today.
Highs: It’s hard to believe now because it seems like Dwayne Johnson has been a Hollywood A-lister for decades, but the world’s most famous eyebrow raiser wasn’t always The Rock.
In 1982, he was Dewey, a scrawny 10-year-old who idolized his dad. In 1987, he was an awkward teenager who was poor but wanted to look good to impress girls so he shoplifted. Flash forward to 1990 and Johnson was a college football player who had to overcome a father who meant well but put him in uncomfortable situations. These are the three versions of Dwayne Johnson viewers will see in the pilot for “Young Rock.”
The premiere is set in 2032, with the real Johnson playing himself as he’s running for president. He’s being interviewed and reflecting on his life, sharing stories he’s never told before. I’ve followed Johnson’s career for years, and some of the tales he shares are expected, others made my jaw drop.
Most people know that Johnson’s father was professional wrestler, Rocky Johnson. But seeing pre-teen Johnson hanging out with Andre the Giant, The Iron Sheik and other well-known wrestlers of the day who were integrated as part of his family is a crazy sight.
While Johnson clearly has fond memories of his youth, his view into the past isn’t sugarcoated. Rocky Johnson was on the road frequently and often lived paycheck to paycheck to maintain his image, which created hardships for Dwayne and his mother. “Working the gimmick” is a lesson Dwayne learned from his father early in his life. It would be a phrase that meant one thing to Rocky — projecting an image to live up to his in-ring persona. But it would turn into something different for Dwayne, who would turn the mantra into a tool he could use to his advantage.
Like many parent/child relationships, Dwayne’s interactions with his father have levels of complexity. It’s obvious he loves his dad, he’s his hero. But Dwayne also isn’t afraid to show the flaws of the man he idolizes. It makes for an honest and refreshing father-son dynamic not often scene in a network sitcom.
The Rock’s troubled youth isn’t glossed over either. In a recent Television Critics Association panel for the show, Johnson recalled, “13 is when I started to veer off the tracks do a lot of things that I shouldn’t have been doing.” His rollercoaster teen years will also be shown throughout the series.
While Dwayne Johnson’s life will be on display, warts and all, this show is committed to maintaining its sitcom sensibilities. The premiere episode is laugh-out-loud funny and due to its honesty, creates a sincerity that makes this series feel like “The Rock Wonder Years.”
Lows: It is hard to predict the potential of a TV series based on its pilot episode. Because every series wants to get off to a strong start, it’s typically the episode that has been given the most attention and consideration. Will “Young Rock” live up to the considerable potential of its first episode? Only time will tell.
Grade: (A-): Risk-taking and sitcoms are two things that normally don’t go hand-in-hand. The average network sitcom is safe and predictable, making most of them a bore. Not “Young Rock.” With this honest and humorous show, full of mostly unknown actors, Dwayne Johnson is truly taking a risk. Clever dialogue and solid acting, both infused with Johnson’s trademark charisma, makes for a great recipe. Make sure you smell what The Rock is cooking and give this series the attention it deserves.
Gazette TV critic Terry Terrones is a member of the Television Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @terryterrones.