In a plot-obsessed entertainment landscape, where the obsession over spoilers reduces stories to only their beats and twists, Young Rock has always been a refreshing reminder that it’s not just what happens that matters, but how it happened, and who it happened to.
Look, we all know who Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is. We know how his life and career turned out. There’s no spoiling a show about a guy whose fate is public knowledge. Okay, so the framing device of the show—that Johnson is a presidential candidate in 2032–includes imagined events whose outcomes are uncertain, but that’s not why anyone watches Young Rock (To my knowledge. If you were really invested in Johnson’s fictional presidential run as something more than a humorous framing device, then more power to you).
Maybe because its subject is so famous, the show has had the freedom to rip up the usual linear storytelling playbook and jump around to different times in Johnson’s life: As a child (Adrian Groulx), a teenager (Bradley Constant), and a young man (Uli Latukefu). Johnson of course plays himself in the near-future framing device, though the show never bothered with age make-up to make him or his contemporaries (including Randall Park playing a version of himself) look older (they also barely bothered making the actors playing Johnson’s family look older or younger as the show bounces between decades). It’s an interesting and theatrical treatment, and says something about how all of one’s life experiences, in a way, exist at once, shaping our present.
Though some past episodes have focused in particular on one of the three eras in Johnson’s life, the third season kicked off by re-introducing all of them. The bulk of the episode follows Johnson as a child when his father gets on the WWF’s bad side by breaking his contract. Then, we see him as a struggling early-career wrestler whose setbacks feel awfully familiar to those his father faced. Lastly, we jump back to a teenaged Johnson whose father has recently fallen from glory but is still doing his best to make it work.
I didn’t bother with a spoiler alert for that paragraph because, like I said, we know what happens. The show itself has visited these moments before—Johnson’s father breaking his contract, then struggling as a washed-up wrestler, then Johnson himself struggling to break into wrestling. Plot-wise, the episode is a refrain of stories the show has told before. What’s new is how the story is being told, to tie together moments of failure from Johnson’s life to make a broader point about perseverance.
This being the show’s third season, most people watching are already plenty familiar with its players. And so it was nice getting to see them all again in the season pilot, before the show inevitably starts focusing on one or another era in each episode. With its fun, friendly tone, Young Rock has always been a comfort watch, and seeing these characters again felt like visiting old friends.
For wrestling fans, there are plenty of cameos by famous figures to delight over. For those, like me, who are only tangentially aware that professional wrestling exists, it’s still lots of fun to visit these titans of a bygone era (and to realize the cultural impact they’ve had in that I recognize any of these names at all).
It seems likely that the season will follow Johnson’s early wrestling days, with flashbacks to his childhood and teenaged years to illustrate points about family, persistence, and other generally inspirational ideas. That would be absolutely fine by me. Because it almost doesn’t matter what happens, as long as we continue to care about these characters, which isn’t hard when your subject is one of the most likable celebrities on the planet.