The pilot episode, which premieres Friday on TNT, is the better of the two I watched (the second is available for preview on TNT.com). The Rock helps out a teenager named Terrell who has been smoking weed, not going to class, and fighting with teachers. His mom’s in prison, and he’s been bounced around from house to house. Terrell’s dream is to become an MMA fighter and The Rock aims to help him out with that, but only if Terrell gets his GED first. The Rock isn’t an expert — he says so himself: “I don’t have all the answers. I’m clearly not Dr. Phil, but clearly I am better looking. And more humble” — but he knows how to get through to Terrell, mostly because he understands Terrell’s lack of motivation, his defeatism, and his knack for bailing when things are tough. He also knows that there is give-and-take involved here, and that if Terrell is motivated enough to study hard and get his GED, then The Rock has to fulfill his promise and get him a tryout at one of the leading MMA gyms.
Wake Up Call occasionally employs some cheesy and heavy-handed tactics, such as making Terrell pick up trash on the side of the road as The Rock reads off the reasons why the other prisoners are in jail, hammering home the point that all of them were once high school dropouts. In the second episode, when The Rock helps out an overweight football coach, it gets a little too into sensationalistic territory: The Rock makes Javier attend his own funeral. But at least it gets results.
What also works about Wake Up Call is that it doesn’t just spend a few week with someone and then hope it all works out; each episode spans months of time. The Rock follows up with Terrell to make sure he got his GED. He makes a deal with Javier that requires The Rock to show up months later, at the start of the football season, in order to check on his progress. The Rock is dedicated and committed, and he wants to make sure that everyone he’s helping is dedicated, too. It’s a far more emotional show than I’d like to admit — warning: there is so much crying in the pilot episode — but that means it’s actually a successful motivational show, one that gets you heavily invested in each person, and one that makes you root for good to happen.