I’m going to cut to the chase for this week’s episode of Young Rock, titled “Johnson & Hopkins”: with no wrestling and no football, it’s up to Uli Latukefu, portraying Dwayne Johnson in his second year at The University of Miami, to carry the show. And, literally, a co-star. The big Aussie (best known for roles in the film Alien: Covenant, and the Australian TV series Doctor, Doctor) is handed the keys in this week’s tribute to action heroes and movies.
We start off, as usual, by catching up with Dwayne Johnson in 2032 as he seeks election for the United States presidency. Last week, Johnson introduced General Monica Jackson, played by Rosario Dawson, as his running mate — a move that seems to now be courting some controversy. The controversy is that she has published some bad jokes in her past, so, it seems safe to say that the political landscape in this world’s future is a much nicer place, if that’s what qualifies as a scandal.
Johnson insists during an interview with Randall Park (who keeps on delivering with his semi-self absorbed former actor/Dwayne Johnson fanboy character) that Jackson is the right partner for the job, and he doesn’t leave partners behind. He learned that lesson from someone in his past named Hopkins and, you guessed it: Johnson has a story to tell.
This week in Johnson’s memory, we’re in Miami in 1991 and he’s getting ready for his second year playing football, after his first year was actually spent not playing football due to injury. In the weight room, Johnson meets freshman Tight End, and future Pro Football Hall of Famer, Warren Sapp (played by Robert Crayton). They talk a little friendly smack before Johnson is faced with an unhappy Coach Orgeron (played by Emmett Skilton), who drums up Johnson’s unsatisfactory scholastic performance before demanding that he volunteers some time with the school to prove his commitment to the program.
It’s here that Johnson meets Hopkins, played by Dominic Goodman. We’ll come back to him in a bit.
The other storyline that is given a passing glance in this episode is of Lia Maivia returning from exile in Samoa after being accused of extortion, as covered in last week’s episode review. Here, the show skips straight to the ending of the story which finds Lia able to return to the United States and coming to stay with Rocky (Joseph Lee Anderson) and Ata (Stacey Leilua).
If that’s it for how much the show is going to delve into that bit of family history, it seems a little strange to include it at all. Perhaps there’s more to come.
It does, however, allow for a small, celebratory barbecue, which brings together all of the mainstay wrestling characters from the show: André the Giant (Matt Willig), sporting his 1990s short-cut afro and name-dropping Billy Crystal after co-starring with him in The Princess Bride; The Iron Sheik (Brett Azar); Afa and Sika (John Tui and Fasitua Amosa); Randy Savage (Kevin Makely), bragging about how many Slim Jims he gets per commercial; and the Junkyard Dog (Nate Jackson), who has been welcomed back into Lia’s good graces after ditching her promotion for Greg Yao in a previous episode.
Back to Johnson and Hopkins, though. Looking like a twisted version of Kid n’ Play, especially with Hopkins sporting the hi-top hairdo, they blow off their responsibilities of checking on the campus phones because, as Hopkins says, if they don’t work someone will tell simply them. Instead, they watch movies.
A lot of movies.
Rambo: First Blood, The Abyss, Backdraft, and Predator make the list, among many others. They argue about Schwarzenegger vs. Stallone; they yell “Get to the choppah!”; and they shake hands:
And all the while, they should have been checking the phones. As always, there’s no point in spoiling the show, but know this: the episode takes a mundane volunteer duty, mixes in some rockin’ tunes (“Axel F”, “Holding Out for a Hero”, and my personal favourite of the bunch: “The Touch” by Stan Bush, made famous in The Transformers: The Movie), and all of a sudden, Johnson and Hopkins are in an action movie themselves, complete with tense wall-climbing, frantic wire-crossing, and even a “choppah” … sort of.
In a series that bounces back and forth from ridiculousness to really sweet moments, this episode fits that bill. Latukefu does an especially fine job of showing the many sides of what Dwayne Johnson would become: at times serious and sentimental, and at others sophomoric and self-deprecating.
As mentioned off the top, for a show that has primarily been about wrestling and secondarily about football, for both of those things to take a back seat speaks to the broad audience that the creators are aiming to reach.
Although I’d bet that this episode’s break from those worlds is something of a one-off in the series, it was a welcome bit of fun.
- NBC’s Young Rock page
- Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and family story archive
- Slam Wrestling’s Young Rock review and interview archive