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‘Young Rock’ Reminds Us that Every Man Has His Turtleneck and Chain Phase

Performative masculinity is the embarrassment men have to grow beyond.

NBC

The best scene in the first episode of Young Rock is easily the moment when teenage Rock and his boyhood friend decide to blast classical opera out of the windows of a beat-up used car. Only one radio station in the car works, but the titular young Rock figures it’s worth it just to own whatever music comes out of the speakers. This moment ends when the Rock hollers to a girl on the street, with the amazing pick-up line, “what are those chips?”

Young Rock is not a hilarious TV show. It’s also, perhaps, not even a particularly good one. I’m not saying it’s bad though. Can’t do it. Young Rock is not bad. Just like you’d be hard-pressed to suggest that Dwayne Johnson himself is an Oscar-worthy actor, you’d also never be able to make a convincing argument that he’s a bad one, either. The Rock is the Rock, and his gimmick, for better or for worse, is a strange cocktail of the overgrown persona of a professional wrestler, and that of a pseudo genuine attempt at seeming like a normal guy. Is it weird that the most popular male action star on the planet made a TV show in which three younger actors (Adrian Groulx, Bradley Constant, and Uli Latukefu) play him in his youth? It’s pretty weird. But, because it’s the Rock, he makes it seems like it’s normal.

Young Rock is like an after school special for grown-ups. It seems to be there to remind us that, yes, some of the stuff you did in your youth was bad, shady, or stupid. But, it’s okay, you can learn from it. Again, not profound stuff, but the novelty of having these life lessons presented as a faux-biopic TV series narrated from a fictional future time, is well, different. It’s hard to believe actual kids would watch Young Rock, but hey, if they did, the show has a wholesome vibe to it that’s not the worst. Young Rock is funny enough to not take itself too seriously, but not too funny to try and ruin its “message.” If The Rock wrote a self-help book and had someone from the Groundlings ghostwrite it, the result might be this TV show.

This gets me to the thing about Young Rock that is well, pretty damn relatable. Although we don’t get to that famous turtleneck-and-chain get-up in the first episode, the debut story — “Working the Gimmick” — does feature the Rock stealing some expensive clothes to try and look cool in high school. The leather jacket he steals features Woody Woodpecker on the back will really make you think more of Puddy (Patrick Warburton) from Seinfeld more than anything. Which is to say, it’s not remotely cool, but the young Rock wearing it believes he looks fucking amazing. I liked this because I felt seen.

This is what Young Rock is actually about. At some point, the Rock will bust-out the turtleneck-and-chain ensemble he wore when he first became a big name. Men have their own version of this. For some  (maybe me?) it was Oasis t-shirts and John Lennon glasses. For at least one other Fatherly editor, it was messy hair and an obsession with the band Tool. I’m not sure I can directly relate to the Rock wanting that Woody Woodpecker leather jacket, or the turtleneck-and-chain thing, but I do get the embarrassing sense of performative masculinity.

Dads everywhere went through this. People who aren’t dads went through this. In fact, even calling it performative masculinity isn’t quite right. Because this isn’t an exclusively male thing. The Young Rock is a show that is saying, hey, even the Rock was an idiot kid and did idiot things. On some level, the entire “joke” of the show scans as an overcorrection for something most people never think about; i.e. I never once wondered, “gee was the Rock popular in high school?” If Young Rock was the premise of a YA novel, it would be unconvincing, and perhaps have a title like Jocks Cry Too or something.

And yet. The show makes you smile because the struggle to become yourself is relatable. All Young Rock is saying is that struggle is real. And sometimes funny enough to recreate.

Young Rock is streaming on Peacock. New episodes drop on Tuesdays.