Peter Engel, famed TV producer who brought us Saved by the Bell and California Dreams decided he needed to extend beyond suburbia and reach these keeds living in the big city. Basically, AC Slater and Lisa Turtle weren’t “urban” enough so out came City Guys in 1997. City Guys was a more diverse Saved by the Bell set in the concrete jungle of New York City. This particular episode came out in 1999 during the height of the Attitude Era and features ECW’s Rob Van Dam.
Compared to City Guys, Saved by the Bell almost seems timeless. Sure, there’s the fashion and every color in the neon spectrum to inform you of the time period, but I don’t remember them dropping as many pop culture references save for a dated Jon Bon Jovi or Sinead O’Connor name drop here and there. City Guys, on the other hand, drops Jerry Springer, Dawson’s Creek and Moesha all in one episode. Plus, here’s a list of the very discernible 90’s slang included in this episode:
Who’s your daddy?
Ain’t nothin’ but a thang
You know how we do it
He’s the man
Add to this an absurd amount of baggy clothing and this episode is the type of time capsule future anthropologists will want to discover and write about in academic journals. The majority of those published articles will be about how awful the late 90’s were.
The show opens with high school kids being dumb high school kids and rough housing. But this isn’t your daddy’s old school rough housing. These guys are busting out headlocks and transitioning to Demolition’s finisher, the Demolition Decapitation. Their principal Ms. Noble admonishes them but not before dropping a Raw reference. One of the main guys, Jamal, is like, “Dang, wrestling is blowing up.” Which is a nice segue to inform the rest of his pals that Rob Van Dam and the most generic-sounding wrestling organization, Pro Wrestling Federation, is practicing at his gym.
Jamal makes it sound like it’s no big deal, but it’s the biggest fucking deal to teenagers in 1999. He invites the guys to come check it out including El-Train, who is this show’s… black Screech? Only, he’s not a nerd, geek, or doofus. He’s more like a class clown. Before heading to the practice though, El Train volunteers to help token white girls Dawn and Cassidy with the after school literacy program for latchkey kids because he can relate. Instead of reading from books, El Train regales the children with stories about beating Michael Jordan one-on-one and knocking out Mike Tyson. He also connects with problem child Stevie. The relationship between Stevie and El-Train is the center of this story arc, as I’m pretty sure this episode was sponsored by the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
At the gym the guys get to see Rob Van Dam botch the hell out of a Rolling Thunder. Seriously. He rolls so close to the guy (Justin Sane) that by the time he gets up to somersault splash him he’s literally stepping on the poor guy’s limb and just falls on top of him. Even the studio audience made that collective “Oohhh” sound because you can’t say, “You fucked up” on a Saturday morning show. I wonder how badly RVD must’ve messed up those other Rolling Thunders if this was the best take.
During all this botching and practicing, El-Train decides to jump in the ring and help out RVD because it’s still real to him. And El-Train clearly doesn’t seem like he’s all there. Anyway, he beats on jabroni Justin Sane and even pins him. RVD is too high to care and the super shady-looking promoter is impressed. So much so that he offers El-Train $500 to wrestle as Rob Van Dam’s tag team match which is an insane amount of money for a guy’s first independent wrestling show.
El-Train and Rob Van Dam promote the wrestling match on Jamal and Chris’ high school radio show. Apparently this high school radio show has such a strong reach within this bustling metropolis of New York City that it can drive up business for local restaurants and put assess in seats at the nearby wrestling show. I never even knew high school radio was a thing until I saw it on TV. Every damn school in a sitcom had a station. Yet, my high school barely had a newspaper.
Rob Van Dam proves why his promos were always best said in his too stoned to care, laid back cadence and not the usual spittin’ and shoutin’ stereotypical wrestling interview. “Crumble their skulls?” C’mon man, I don’t care if this was a Saturday morning show about inner city high school kids aimed at suburban children under 12, this was 1999.
El-Train double books himself and decides to take the kids to practice because every sitcom character can swing doing two things at once. In between trying to tell the children a story, El-Train does a decent job selling turnbuckle smashes and even executing actual wrestling moves like a hip toss. He even goes hardcore for a second and busts a chair over poor Justin Sane’s head. The bloodthirsty kids love it. Dawn and Cassidy aren’t too happy about the class field trip and when forced to choose, El-Train decides to hang back with the wrestlers and continue training instead of reaching out to the youth. He breaks little Stevie’s heart, but bribes him with wrestling tickets if he promises to listen to Dawn and Cassidy’s stories so they can continue to pacify their white guilt.
El-Train and Rob Van Dam take on the Fighting Franelli Brothers, who surprisingly are not Italian stereotypes bur rather in-shape versions of the Blue Meanie in Team Angle singlets. El-Train takes to the showboating rather quickly after performing a body slam. He actually busts out the Ric Flair strut after a body slam. El-Train is teaming with a wrestler who can literally jump from one corner to the next and he’s gloating about performing the most basic wrestling move.
El-Train gets distracted by Stevie, whose impressionable young mind has become warped by all the violence. He urges El-Train to bust a chair on one of the Franelli’s head and El-Train is taken aback like, “Whoa, where did you get an idea like that?” Because El-Train is a shitty person who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. While all this is going on, RVD falls out of frame and into a coma. The Franelli boys regroup and hit their finisher on El-Train: a side walk slam followed by a guillotine leg drop off the second rope. Not a bad finisher. At least the wrestling wasn’t filled with the kind of schtick you would expect to find on a Saturday morning TV show. The match ended logically by way of dividing and conquering and the actual seasoned wrestlers beat the sitcom character who had barely just taken up wrestling. No gripes here.
Reeling from his deserved comeuppance, El-Train quits wrestling citing the major influence that the violence had on little Stevie as the main reason, and how he didn’t want to be responsible for that. The most surprising thing about the ending was the indy promoter following through with his guarantee and handing over El-Train’s $500 payday. This was probably the phoniest part of City Guys’ representation of wrestling. Maybe Paul Heyman had RVD put in a good word to the writers.
Although you got to give it to City Guys for featuring pro wrestling for the sole purpose of showing how violent it is and its sometimes negative effect on children. I definitely haven’t come across this in my reviews so far. No wonder this show didn’t feature a big-name WWE or WCW wrestler. Negative or not, I’m sure ECW didn’t mind the much-needed publicity. But if they really wanted to drive the point home and piggy back on the whole urban theme of City Guys, they should’ve gone with New Jack instead.