DAVID BIANCULLI

Founder / Editor

ERIC GOULD

Associate Editor

LINDA DONOVAN

Assistant Editor

Contributors

ALEX STRACHAN

MIKE HUGHES

KIM AKASS

MONIQUE NAZARETH

ROGER CATLIN

GARY EDGERTON

TOM BRINKMOELLER

GERALD JORDAN

NOEL HOLSTON

 
 
 
 
 
New NBC Sitcoms With Favorite Stars are Worth a Glance
February 16, 2021  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment
 


As a few new shows bravely fight their way to the air in television's lost season, NBC hopes that cooped-up Americans will embrace a pair of sitcoms featuring two of the country's best-known and best-liked stars.

Young Rock, featuring multimedia star Dwayne Johnson, premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, followed at 8:30 by Kenan, with long-time Saturday Night Live fave Kenan Thompson.

The shows' only kinship, incidentally, is their timeslot. They take very different tacks, with Kenan being a conventional family sitcom and Young Rock giving us a mashup of amusing flashback sketches apparently based on Dwayne Johnson's real life.

Kenan makes Thompson a single Dad, recently widowed and not even close to coming to terms with the loss of his wife. But he's the host of a bouncy Atlanta morning TV show called Wake Up with Kenan, so he has to be upbeat and smiley even when he's falling apart.

His bad moments sometimes bubble to the show's surface, and those unfortunate intersections provide a good part of Kenan's comedy. If this sounds like it might be awkward and hard to pull off, well, it is.

Kenan spends considerable time lurching through mood swings, and while Thompson himself keeps it as light as possible, the show has trouble finding a rhythm out of the gate.

It helps that he has two families around him.

The one at home includes his father-in-law Rick (Don Johnson), who's loud, oblivious, annoying, and tone-deaf, but has the proverbial good heart and loves Kenan's two kids, whom he watches while Kenan works.

The kids are the very smart Aubrey (Dani Lane), who's just shy of full teenager-hood, and the younger and flightier Birdie (Dannah Lane). They're better adjusted than Kenan, and unlike in so many family sitcoms, the parent-child interactions here are not primarily sarcastic. In some ways, the kids take care of Kenan.

His work family includes his producer Mika (Kimrie Lewis) and a predictable band of quirky neurotics who interview celebrities and bake things. Tami (Taylor Louderman) distinguishes herself early as clueless and airheaded, which doesn't matter since she presents nicely on a morning TV show camera.

Much as we like Kenan and root for his daughters, it's hard to figure out from the first episode exactly where this show is going. It's about family and healing, which is fine, but the comedic path from here to there isn't quite clear.

Young Rock, meanwhile, starts with the familiar grown-up Dwayne Johnson campaigning for president in 2032. We should not assume this is fiction, but for NBC's purposes, we will play along.

He sits down with Randall Park, the actor, who in 2032 has become a TV interviewer. Johnson tells Park that because the people have the right to know everything about him, he's going to tell the many stories from his life, including stints as a college football athlete, a famous professional wrestler, and a movie star.

The common real-life thread in all these activities, as well as everything else we know about Johnson's life, is that he has made himself into The One Person That Nobody in America Can Dislike.

In every one of his movies, he's the good guy with the noble heart – wisecracking and self-effacing, but never critical of anyone except the very bad guys that indisputably deserve it.  
He has the smarts and the skills to right all wrongs. What more could we possibly want in a president?

In keeping with this larger-than-life persona, it takes four people to play Johnson in this half-hour show. There's Johnson himself, the one sitting with Park to tell his tales. Adrian Groulx plays Johnson at 10, Bradley Constant plays him at 15, and Uli Latukefu portrays Johnson at 18 to 20.

We also get drop-ins from real-life characters in Johnson's past, like Andre the Giant from his wrestling days.

The vignettes from Johnson's past are the sitcom part of the show, and they send the message that Dwayne – or Dewey, as he was known in his childhood – always knew that one must make the most of what life delivers.

In one early memory, Dewey saves $103 from his pizza parlor job to buy a car that he hopes will enable him to impress a girl on whom he has a crush. Not surprisingly, a $103 car comes with a few unexpected extras, leading to an unexpected parting for Dewey and his first wheels.

Since it's impossible to dislike The Rock, Young Rock has lots of moments when we're smiling along with him.

There's also an occasional glimmer of insight, like when he titles the show's first episode, "Working the Gimmick." It's a reference to his upbringing in the world of professional wrestling, including his Dad Rocky Johnson (Joseph Lee Anderson), and there's an extended vignette in which young Dewey comes to understand what the phrase means.

When Rocky and some wrestler friends are sitting around talking shop, Dewey pipes up, "It's all fake, anyway."

His father and his friends turn dead silent, then explain to young Dewey why he must never say that again.

So even though it's hard to resist wondering if Young Rock is Dwayne working the gimmick, who among us would dare to say it out loud?

 
 
 
 
 
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 
 Name (required)
 
 Email (required) (will not be published)
 
QAKWM
Type in the verification word shown on the image.
 
 
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: 
1 Comments
 
 
jeff rubin
I feel like I'm in the minority, but I much prefer Kenan's show off the 1st episodes.
I am a 68 year old male who has been a huge wrestling fan since the Bruno Sammartino days of the 60s. The Andre actor actually was not big enough.
Surprised that David didn't mention fellow SNL member Chris Redd as Kenan's friend. Kenan's cast overall has more appeal. I can see various avenues the sitcom can go down
Feb 19, 2021   |  Reply
 
 
 
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: