Dwayne Johnson had a rough upbringing as a young Rock but his parents faced some adversity too. We saw last week how hard Ata worked to make ends meet and Rocky still grasping at his glory days as he performs at a flea market. In “Forward Together,” we visit the year 1982 and witness the rise of Rocky as a WWF superstar.
Before the flashback though, we listen in on an insider look between Dwayne and his campaign manager, Casey Walker. As they prepare to hit the trail, they zero in on the number one issue Americans have: job security. This leads to the presidential hopeful recalling about his own father’s issues managing the unpredictable wrestling industry. In a nice change of pace, it’s Ms. Walker that Johnson opens up to instead of reporter, Randall Park.
Through the power of syndication, a young Rock can watch his dad wrestle on television while sitting right next to him. The new exposure raises Rocky’s profile and popularity, which in turn benefits Polynesian Pro Wrestling (PPW), the local territory he also performs in. The success also brings a little more cash and the Johnson family upgrades into a nicer hotel and dines at fancier restaurants. Although there is still a glass ceiling as the Soul Man realizes where he stands in Vince McMahon’s pecking order and the ever-evolving business sees a new rival to PPW.
Rocky’s experiences in the early 80s serve as a good backdrop to explore the fear of change and being left behind. Despite thriving, the Johnson patriarch sees the opportunities his peers receive and fears being complacent with the status quo. It’s an issue many Americans struggle with and the episode demonstrates how connected the Rock is to people’s concerns.
From the three different time periods covered in Dwayne’s life, 1982 is the one I am most interested in because it involves many of the wrestlers I grew up with. We see a more personable side to these superstars away from their giant-sized characters. They have their own ambitions and can succumb to jealousy like regular people. Except for the Iron Sheik. He seems just as inappropriate and hilarious in real life as he is in the ring.
The largest persona of them all might be Lia Maivia. Ana Tuisila portrays her character as a woman not to be trifled with. She can just as easily intimidate her waitress as she can the Junk Yard Dog. One of the pleasures of Young Rock is learning more about this revolutionary figure in professional wrestling; one of the first woman promoters in the industry. Tuisila walks a fine line coming off as both fierce and funny. I would totally watch a buddy cop comedy featuring Rocky and Lia, especially if she wears her slap gloves.
The episode also leaves the main storylines unresolved generating more intrigue in the future. Rocky is approached by Lia’s rival and didn’t totally deny the request setting up some potential drama with his mother-in-law. Meanwhile, Ata considers turning her passion and hobby into a career and looks to audition for Star Search, a nostalgic nod to the era. Though we know how it ends up, it should be an inspiring ride to follow as she pursues her dream.
The message of “Forward Together” seems to be undermined a bit by the fake campaign commercial in the end. It’s supposed to reinforce how in touch Candidate Johnson is with the people but the whole fake election is starting to get tiring. It’s tricky to fit this narrative device into the show without it making the Rock look egotistical and in this instance it fails.
Ana Tuisila shines in the third episode of Young Rock that effectively addresses the growing reservations and doubts with change using the pro wrestling industry as a metaphor.
Young Rock airs Tuesday nights on NBC.
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