Rando Family! Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling: "The Wrong Stuff"
We live in dark and troublesome times. A malaise has swept over the land. We are a people divided, quick to anger and slow to understanding. It’s enough to make you want to escape into the comparable comfort and safety of an idealized past, to the half-remembered Neverland of memory that slips further and further out of our reach with each successive day.
The creeping, free-floating, overwhelming dread of the present makes you want to disappear into a world of men, manly men, men of myth, men of muscles, men in tights who fought other similarly clad grapplers in matches that have become the stuff of legend.
I’m speaking of course about the World Wrestling Federation wrestlers of the Rock and Wrestling era, where the professional union of rubber band man and legendary manager Captain Lou Albano and New Wave oddball and Vibes star Cyndi Lauper ignited a revolutionary marriage of rock and roll and professional wrestling that changed pop culture and sports forever and led to the 1980s Saturday morning cartoon Hulk Hogan’s Rock ’n’ Wrestling, which aired for two seasons in the mid 1980s.
I have been low-key obsessed with Hulk Hogan’s Rock ’n’ Wrestling ever since I re-learned of its existence (I’m pretty sure I watched it during its initial run, being a big wrestling fan as a kid) and read plot descriptions like the following:
A horse shows up and causes trouble for the wrestlers.
Hulk and friends decide to clean Mean Gene's new house for him; Andre tries to impress his visiting mother by pretending that he is a chef instead of a wrestler.
Moolah and Nikolai help out at a beauty salon; Hulk and his crew help an honest politician run against a corrupt mayor.
When Jim's granny's miracle herbs get in the chili the wrestlers all transform into kids.
Hulk and friends get invited to a new hotel but end up having to fill in for the staff that recently quit.
An alien robot lands in the junkyard and the wrestlers rush to help him get back home before the government can get him.
I had to experience this sublime idiocy for myself, so I decided I would resurrect the old “Rando!” column for the Rock ’n’ Wrestling episode “The Wrong Stuff”, which originally ran on October 18th, 1986 and was the second to last episode to air. I was also inspired by the wonderful We Hate Movies Patreon feature “Animation Damnation”, where the fellas delightfully eviscerate a single episode of an animated abomination like Hulk Hogan’s Rock ’n’ Wrestling.
The episode begins with live-action footage of Hogan prowling a stadium doing some of his trademark demonstrative pointing before being mobbed by children like some manner of mulleted, balding, tights-clad messiah. Hulk was of course far too big a star to actually provide the voice for the cartoon’s title character so they outsourced the gig to Brad Garrett and then apparently directed him to deliver all of his lines as flatly and affectlessly as the Hulkster himself would if he were not too busy losing himself in giant piles of cocaine and groupies. Worshipful images of the Hulkster in his prime are accompanied by chants of “Hulk!”, “Hulk!”, “Hulk!” and the screeching, All-American macho excess of Jim Steinman’s opening theme. They’re chanting for Hulk because he is their everything: idol, god, goon, father, salvation, buffoon.
“The Wrong Stuff” opens with good samaritan Hulk Hogan and all of his buddies the “good” wrestlers killing two birds with one stone by exercising and training while also helping a sassy old granny with her farmwork. As the alternate universe nice guy Hulk cheerfully enthuses, “No sweat, granny! There’s no better workout than good, honest farmwork!”
Hulk is somewhat impractically chopping wood in his wrestling garb while Andre the Giant is being used as a beast of burden, no different than an ox or donkey, his dignity extinguished, his humanity denied for the sake of a sight gag.
The wrestlers decide to take a break from their chores to watch the World Series, only to discover that granny doesn’t allow TV-watching in the house, only in the barn. These ostensibly macho gents allow this old woman to emasculate them. Then they discover that the barn animals are already watching a chicken and cow playing instruments on a television in the barn.
Yes, these macho warriors of the ring first allow themselves to be pushed around by an old woman, and then by creatures considerably farther down the food chain than themselves. None of that matters, however, as the Green Acres hijinks just function as pointless preamble to the real meat of the episode: some astronauts are stuck in space and will die lonely, horrifyingly public deaths unless two exceedingly strong men can be trained and shot into space within twenty four hours.
I know most people watched Hulk Hogan Rock ’n’ Wrestling for its scientific accuracy. I know I did. The crazy characters, the wrestling, the wildly offensive racial caricatures, they’re all tacky window dressing for the real purpose of the show: teaching children about science. So it pains me to have to report the 24 hour timeline simply does not hold up. It’s just not realistic that neophytes with absolutely zero relevant experience could be tested, and then sufficiently trained, and then shot into space all within the course of a single twenty four hour period.
It’s really as if the yarn-spinners behind this essential piece of 1980s pop Americana wanted so badly to tell this story, and to take audiences through this emotional journey that they were willing to sacrifice verisimilitude for the sake of a truly ripping yarn.
The good wrestlers are recruited to test to be the strong men shot into space to save the astronauts, as are the bad guys or “heels”, led by Rowdy Roddy Piper.
When Hulk sees that he and his buddies, whose likes include Hillbilly Jim and his pig Lulubelle, Andre the Giant, Captain Lou Albano and Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka will be squaring off against the villainous likes of heels of Nikolai Volkoff, The Iron Sheik and Rowdy Roddy Piper, he grouses, “No WAY are we going to compete with those clowns!”
I found that confusing, because if I remember correctly, “good” wrestlers competing against the bad wrestlers represented the entirety of the World Wrestling Federation in its Rock ’n’ Wrestling heyday, and also today, and also always.
After tests of questionable relevance, like one to determine whether or not Captain Lou Albano can eat a pie upside down, they finally settle on Hulk Hogan and Russian bad guy Nikolai Volkoff as the two two unlikely astronauts. I don’t want to play Neil DeGrasse Tyson and second-guess the episode’s commitment to realism but considering that Volkoff is so stupid that he mistakes mission control for an in-flight movie and the controls of a space shuttle for the controls of a video game I’m not sure that he was the best choice for an important mission.
Before he and his bumbling Russian collaborator can be shot off into space a President who is clearly supposed to be Ronald Reagan implores our hero, “Your country is depending on you, Huckster. Don’t let us down” in what is quite possibly the single most 1980s moment of the entire decade.
The best Volkoff can muster is an enraged and embarrassed Russian Premier hollering at him, “I have only one thing to say to you, Comrade Volkoff. You better not disgrace Mother Russia!”
Rowdy Roddy Piper and The Iron Sheik somehow manage to make it onto the space shuttle, where they knock out the pilots in hopes of replacing Hogan and Volkoff on this incredibly dangerous mission that, in real life at least, would almost certainly result in their deaths. Honestly, it seems a little off-brand that all of these bad guys would be competing for the honor of sacrificing themselves for a couple of bullshit astronauts.
Racial profiling is always wrong but if you’re a security guard and you see that famous wrestlers are sneaking onto a space shuttle, you should see whether they’re baby faces or heels. If they’re baby faces, then by all means give them complete access to a space shuttle in the process of launching. They’re good guys, so they’re, by definition, up to something good and because they’re good at wrestling they’re also probably good at being astronauts as well. But if they’re bad guys from other countries, like Rowdy Roddy Piper and The Iron Sheik, then you are duty bound to keep them from enacting their sneering, cartoonish, pretty racist villainy.
The perpetually gland-handing Hogan gushes, “I’ve got to hand it to the shuttle pilots: that takeoff was as smooth as the Iron Sheik’s head!” but it turns out that the bad guys knocked out the pilots, forcing Hogan and Volkoff to have to pilot the space ship on top of everything else. I’m going to call bullshit on that.
Hogan ends up saving the day with no help from his Russian collaborator, who suffers the further indignity of the indignant, and not at all chill Russian premiere admonish him to shut the fuck up.
Volkoff attempts to sing the Russian national anthem and humiliates himself and his homeland whereas if Hogan decided to croon his theme song, “Real American”, from the space shuttle, the whole goddamn world would cheer and Jesus Himself would weep. And I’m sure Hogan would hit it off so well with the Gipper that they’d probably double-team Bubba the Love Sponge’s wife at some point in the future.
I got everything that I wanted and a little more from “The Wrong Stuff.” It hit all my nostalgia buttons, taking me back to the days of my childhood, when all I had to worry about was crushing depression, all-consuming loneliness, a hopelessly broken family, my mother’s abandonment, my father’s illness and unemployment, other people and a future that filled me with unrelenting dread.
Yes, “The Wrong Stuff” momentarily made me forget about how terrible the world is, and that, friends, is borderline heroic, not unlike good old Hulk Hogan.
So don’t be surprised if you see more features like this in “Rando!” in the future as I continue to regress emotionally until this site becomes a vehicle primarily for write-ups of Teletubbies and Thomas the Tank Engine board books.
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