Dwayne Johnson Is Semi-Hysterical in Semi-Historical Young Rock
Kenan, meanwhile, is a stale as sitcoms get.
- Young Rock. NBC. Tuesday, February 16, 8 p.m.
- Kenan. NBC. Tuesday, February 16, 8 p.m.
NBC, for the most part, has been out of the family comedy business for a long time, and out of the Tuesday comedy business practically since the invention of Tuesday. So proceed with caution at the network's foray into the forbidden. At least one of these sitcoms is apt not to be with us when April showers bring May flowers.
The likely, or at least possible, survivor is the peculiarly funny Young Rock, a mock documentary on the 2032 presidential race of wrestler-actor-football player Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson. (You think that seems like a ludicrous premise? How much would you have bet six years ago that the star of The Apprentice would be getting impeached for the second time in 2021?)
Johnson—who else?—plays himself, getting interviewed for a 60 Minutes-type show, his every answer triggering a memory of some sort of the bonehead misadventures of his past, going back to his threadbare childhood (don't worry, consoles his dad; "Soon our house will be as nice as our car!") in a family of pro wrestlers before the WWE was big business. Many of the characters are fictionalized versions of real wrestlers from the pioneering days of the sport, if we can use the term loosely. (Except for Johnson, they're played by actors, not themselves; guys like Haystack Calhoun and Buddy Rogers have mostly passed on to that that great ring in the sky.)
So we get to see Andre the Giant rather firmly instruct a 6-year-old Rock never to use the "F-word"—that is, "fake." Pro wrestlers don't fake anything, they work the gimmick. Similar rough-hewn lessons in etiquette are administered by the Iranian wrestler The Iron Shiek, who happily does not resort to his dread Camel Clutch ("you can't escape!") to make his points. Then there are ordinary—well, sort of—teenage blunders, like a 16-year Rock buying a $103 car that turns out to be infested with homeless people.
Young Rock's amiable goofiness draws heavily, and successfully, on the personality of its pleasantly flaky star and subject. Johnson, looking slightly more portly than in his wrestling days, has a deft comic touch when talking about himself. And he's aided immeasurably by the guy asking the questions in the 60 Minutes framing story: Randall Park, who played a sanguinarily loopy version of third-generation North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in the little seen 2014 film The Interview. Park plays a smirky future version of himself, a clueless sitcom actor who's grown up to be a clueless Mike Wallace, and he steals a good number of scenes from Johnson. NBC says Park is a "recurring" character, not a regular. Fix that, guys.
Fixing Kenan, NBC's other new attempt at a sitcom, will be considerably more difficult. Straight from the tomb of the harried-single-parent genre, it's a stale casserole of Saturday Night Live leftovers, including Kenan Thompson as an overworked TV-star dad and Chris Redd as his father in law, with Chris Rock directing. Rounding out the cast are Dani and Dannah Lane (of an inexplicably viral Christian video) as Kenan's twin daughters and Don Johnson—yes, that Don Johnson—as his dad.
With five characters and about four jokes, Kenan violates even the loosest Hollywood mathematical equations for success. Its underlying joke is that Kenan and his now-deceased wife met and got married while working together on a sitcom in which she played his mother. That may sound, um, odd, but just wait for the Oedipal-castration cliffhanger in the season finale.