‘Young Rock’ and ‘Kenan’ fill a comedy block for NBC

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‘YOUNG ROCK’ ON NBC

Though the 2024 presidential election seems a bit distant, at this moment in time political junkies are already talking about prospective scenarios.

Imagine then what kind of speculation it takes to leap so far ahead to the next decade.

We can now let it be known that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is on the trail for the 2032 presidential race, and “Young Rock” is a retrospective on his formative years that is revealed in a puff-piece interview with Randall Park who has moved on from acting to a cable news desk.

While the agreeably recognizable Johnson doesn’t need to be humanized for a presidential run, the actor-cum-politician takes us back to his origin story as a 10-year-old (Adrian Groulx) growing up in Hawaii in 1982.

Living in a family of pro wrestlers, young Johnson idolizes his father “Soul Man” Rocky Johnson (Joseph Lee Anderson) and is lovingly supported by his caring mother Ata (Stacey Leilua).

Johnson’s extended family includes colorful characters Andre the Giant (Matthew Willig), the Iron Sheik (Brett Azar) and Junkyard Dog (Nate Jackson) who come over to play cards and swap stories. Dwayne learns from Andre the Giant that using the word “fake” to describe wrestling is taboo.

Five years later, the family has relocated to Pennsylvania where Rocky’s career is in such decline that he wrestles at a flea market and Ata is making ends meet with house cleaning work for a rich, bored housewife.

Meanwhile, 15-year-old Dwayne (Bradley Constant) is working in a pizza shop to scrape together $103 to buy a rusted-out car that turns out to be the domicile of homeless men living in the trunk and backseat.

At his high school Dwayne is so smitten with blonde beauty Karen (Lexie Duncan) that he resorts to shoplifting to create the façade of wealth with a new wardrobe and calls himself “Tomas” for a hip identity.

The next stage of growing up takes 18-year-old Dwayne (Uli Latukefu) to the University of Miami where he joins the football team and impresses his dubious teammates in a bench-pressing competition.

The framing of Dwayne’s upbringing in three phases allows for an amiable and often humorous behind-the-curtain look at what made “The Rock” shine as an athlete in football and wrestling and one of the biggest names in show business.

In the Johnson’s extended family of wrestlers, “working the gimmick” was a modus operandi for self-promotion if not a bit of a con in the world of professional wrestling.

“Young Rock” might be a gimmick on its own terms to showcase the scrappy but endearing Dwayne Johnson’s coming-of-age story, one that realizes its subject’s remarkable charisma could be the draw to pull in a hefty audience share.



‘KENAN’ ON NBC

Moving into a Tuesday night time slot following “Young Rock,” comedian Kenan Thompson, a veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” stars in “Kenan” as a widowed father of two smart-aleck kids who hosts a morning TV show in Atlanta.

Having only recently become a widower, Kenan Williams struggles with processing his grief, putting on a brave face when he’s prodded to talk about his deceased wife either on his show or at home with his live-in father-in-law Rick (Don Johnson).

Kenan is not getting help only from his father-in-law, who’s been hanging around now for about a year and doesn’t look ready to return home anytime soon. If it takes three men to care for two girls, then Kenan’s laid-back brother Gary (Chris Redd) is fully onboard.

Notwithstanding his desire to not talk about the past, Kenan’s two adorable daughters Aubrey and Birdie (real life sisters Dani and Dannah Lane) need to hear stories about their mother, Cori (Niccole Thurman).

One of the more interesting stories is how Kenan and Cori met on a sitcom in which, despite an insignificant age difference, she played his mother in a scene tucking her future husband into bed for the night.

Don Johnson may never shake his “Miami Vice” persona, but here he’s got a comedic touch that was more apparent in his role as a San Francisco police inspector partnered with comedian Cheech Marin.

With his paternal role in “Kenan,” Johnson’s meddling, wise-cracking father-in-law allows for even better comedic timing in the wacky bantering that takes place at the kitchen table.

As the host of the “Wake Up With Kenan!” morning show, Kenan is able to engage his natural comedic impulses and allow moments of public humiliation for his boneheaded moves to play out as humorous self-inflicted wounds.

“Kenan” may not cover new ground for a sitcom but it does allow its star to shine with his sunny disposition, trademark grin and overall humanity, even as his character copes with grief and a sense of loss.

As a familiar face from a career in show business dating back to his childhood, Kenan Thompson is the anchor on which “Kenan” either succeeds or fails. Here’s hoping the series rises above the trappings of standard comedy fare.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.