The Wrestling Episode is our cleverly-named feature wherein we watch non-wrestling shows with wrestling episodes and try to figure out what the hell’s going on in them. You’d be surprised how many there are. You can watch the episode on Netflix here. If you have any suggestions on shows that need to be featured in The Wrestling Episode, let us know in our comments section below.
I’ve Never Heard Of That ’70s Show. What Is It?
It’s a show set in the ’70s.
Back in the late ’90s, a team of writers from Saturday Night Live who’d worked on the Wayne’s World and Brady Bunch Movie movies created two of the most important sitcoms of the era: 3rd Rock From The Sun, about a family of aliens trying to convince the world that French Stewart was funny, and That ’70s Show, which was basically Dazed and Confused as a sitcom. You know, if you replaced Linklater’s lack of structure with TONS of structure, and replaced the film’s dark, nostalgic underbelly of bittersweet sadness with jokes about Gerald Ford. I’m making it sound worse than it was. It was a cute show.
And There Was A Wrestling Episode?
There was! And even stranger? The World Wrestling Federation helped them make it.
A debate about whether or not Ashton Kutcher (Ashton Kutcher) had sex with his girlfriend is interrupted by a televised announcement that pro wrestling is coming to town, headlined by WWF Superstar™ ‘Soul Man’ Rocky Johnson taking on “20 snarling midgets.” Amazingly we come to find out this is an official World Wrestling Federation house show — check the banners — and Eric (Chris “Topher” Grace) wants to go. His mom thinks it’s a good idea as long as he takes his dad, who hates him. Looking back, I’m not sure any television moment has ever touched me as close to home as, “guy hates his dad but they’re gonna go to a wrestling show together because guy wants to see a specific, ridiculous match.”
*If you’ve seen the show, your favorite character is probably the dad, Red, played by another guy whose name isn’t a name, Kurtwood Smith. He’s a war veteran who’s kinda like Archie Bunker, if you remove the stubborn men’s rights activism and casual racism and replace it with sitting around until someone does something stupid, then calling them a dumbass. In the world of signature moves, “dumbass” is to Red Forman as the Boston crab was to Rocky Johnson.
This is a superior wrestling episode to most Wrestling Episodes because the characters don’t become the center of attention or get in the ring, they just go to a wrestling show because they like wrestling. The episode is about this teenager and his dad being worlds apart but finding a way to bond over ridiculous bullshit, which I think is the only way you ever really get to bond anymore.
But yeah, sure enough, the opening match on the card is the Rocky Johnson midget brawl, which brings to mind Chuck Klosterman’s bit about how many five-year olds you could take in a fight. How many little people could Rocky Johnson beat in a shootfight? In his prime?
Johnson is, of course, played by his real life son Dwayne, whom you may know as one of the biggest movie stars in the world and an 8-time WWE Champion. He peaked as the bug-eyed, self-centered Starscream of the Nation of Domination, then peaked again several years later as a bald guitar player from Hollywood in a leather vest but no shirt who only knew a handful of blues and Elvis tunes and re-purposed them to tell you your hometown sucks. He also defeated Erick Rowman at WrestleMania 32. I think that’s everything you need to know.
He even does his dad’s signature taunts!
They should’ve gotten Ron Simmons to dress up as Tony Atlas.
Wait? You Mean The Rock? Like, The Rock The Rock? I Don’t Watch Wrestling (Or TV Shows, Apparently) And Even I Know Who He Is
Yep, and as a fun side note, this was his first non-wrestling acting gig. And it’s a wrestling-based acting gig! He filmed this around the same time he filmed a guest appearance on the USA Network adaption of Sandra Bullock’s The Net. If you don’t remember that show, it only lasted for a season because it debuted in 1999, long before USA Network gave blind, 400-episode orders to anything about a man wearing sunglasses.
Red and Eric’s big bonding moment comes when Red tells Eric to break the rules to get an autograph from Johnson (ignoring a “wrestlers only” sign on the locker room door) even though he’d gotten on him earlier about the importance of rules. They get in, and the conversation they have with time-displaced The Rock has two highlights:
1. The reveal that Johnson won his match against the 20 “snarling midgets” (even though we only saw two … maybe it was a staggered-entry, Royal Rumble situation?) but suffered “midget bites” to the kneecaps while he was staring out at the crowd wondering why they were booing him. Hey, that happens sometimes.
2. Soul Man is impressed that Red would bring his son to a wrestling match. It turns out he has a son, too, and that sets up one of the best meta jokes ever:
If you’re wondering, this episode is supposed to take place in 1976, meaning The Rock would’ve been four years old. The timeline works! It works less when you realize Johnson didn’t work for the World Wrestling Federation in the ’70s … he worked for the National Wrestling Alliance in the ’60s and ’70s, and wasn’t actually recruited by the then-WWF until 1983. My theory: this is a local promotion, not the WWF, and the banners they hung up are like when you go to an indie show and there’s a table selling WWE action figures and bootleg masks and John Cena shirts. It would explain why there are like, four rows of fans total, and you can just wander into the locker room without anyone stopping you. Like 1976 Wisconsin’s gonna be able to tell the difference.
Did Any Other Actual WWE Stars Show Up?
So many! The episode features the first televised match between Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy, taped in 1998 when they were still waiting to blow up. They don’t get names, but ’70s Matt — “Tokin'” Matt Hardy? — defeats ’70s Jeff with his finisher, the BACK BODY DROP. I wish these guys had shown up on Impact to compete in the Total Nonstop Deletion Tag Team Apocalypto to see who were truly the greatest Hardys throughout space and time. Note: They aren’t even credited in the episode, but are listed on IMDB as “Wrestler #2” and “Wrestler #3.”
Who Is Wrestler #1?
The Iron Sheik?
Oh, you mean in this episode. Why, none other than the Decade’s Most Dangerous Man Ken Shamrock, wearing a wig that either makes him look like a musical guest on Pee-wee’s Playhouse or Hugh Jackman in those early X-Men movies.
He has one line delivered after he gets shit-canned to the outside — “I give, and I give, and I give!” — and gets into a staredown with the Formans for heckling him. Slap me.
Filling out the roster are Judo Gene LeBell as the referee (dude made a hell of a living just saying “I’ll do it!” any time they needed someone to play a referee on a show) and THE BIG CAT Ernie Ladd as the promoter who says “no autographs” until army veteran Red Forman more or less threatens to kill him. Ladd showing up in this role means The Rock is only the second best promo on the episode. Big Cats forever greater than Big Dogs.
Is That It?
More or less, but again, I like it. Eric and Red have a nice time despite their generational differences, and the episode ends with them doing the very non-WWE friendly thing of Trying This At Home®. Eric gets Red in a full nelson and says he’s “the king,” but lets go when he thinks he’s hurting him. It’s just a ruse, as Red reverses the hold and proves his forever dominance. Eric can’t even win a fight against church bells, what’s he gonna do against an army veteran?
Oh, and because it’s a sitcom, there are other non-wrestling related stories happening, including:
- most of the women on the show deciding to go to therapy, which turns out to just be a cover for an orgy, because we had even worse opinions about mental healthcare in the ’90s than we do now
- two teens trying to convince a sad man that they’ll talk to him about his problems if he buys them beer at a wrestling show
- Ashton Kutcher thinking having sex with his girlfriend means she’s his slave now, only for a like 8-year old Mila Kunis to figure out that sex means leverage over the man, and not the other way around
So What Have We Learned?
You should go to a wrestling show with your dad. Oh, and take a chance casting pro wrestlers in your shows and movies, some of them might end up being massive stars.