In the late 80’s/early 90’s, Hulk Hogan wasn’t the only household wrestling name when it came to outside film and TV projects. In fact, Roddy Piper and Jesse Ventura were in A LOT better movies than Hogan was. I’ll always choose Jesse Ventura in The Running Man over any Hogan vehicle, except for maybe No Holds Barred. That movie is an undeniable classic to seven-year-old me. And Roddy Piper is basically pro wrestling’s Samuel L. Jackson, he’ll take any role so long as the check clears. As of this writing he has five projects in post-production.Yet, Ventura and Piper’s combined star power wasn’t enough to get their one-hour pilot, Tag Team, picked up for a full season. Which is a shame when you consider Thunder in Paradise ran for 22 episodes.
Piper and Ventura play “Tricky” Rick McDonald and Billy “The Body” Youngblood, and yes, they play up Youngblood’s Native American heritage by having Ventura dress like Steven Seagal from On Deadly Ground. But inside the ring he’s basically Jesse “The Body” Ventura. As they prepare for their big time tag team match some young fan sneaks into the dressing room. He questions them about their previous gimmick, The Lizard Brothers. To which Piper replies that it “just wasn’t them.” The kid then tells them that they have an image problem. Says wrestling is more than just “strength and moves.” It’s all down to a marketing science. Clearly this kid was Vince’s illegitimate bastard son, not Hornswoggle. The kid then uses Andre the Giant as an example, saying that without the name he’d just be some tall guy. This has to be the worst example the kid could think of to prove his point. Andre’s ring moniker was more adjective than actual name. Stupid kid. I’m surprised he didn’t tell them to hit the gym, or consider steroids.
Once the kid leaves, Marty (the owner of all professional wrestling) shows up with his wife, Leona. He’s excited about the gate and looking forward to their fight. He leaves, but Leona hangs back and tells McDonald and Youngblood that she wants them to lose to the Samurai Brothers. No reason is given, no backstory is mentioned, she just doesn’t want them to win. She’s basically playing booker, but in the hour-long pilot, Tag Team, wrestling is as real as it gets. None of that funny business. Leona threatens that she’ll tell Marty that they made advances on her if they don’t comply, which means they’ll be barred from wrestling. For life. Because, as I said, Marty owns all of professional wrestling. Clearly, Marty is Vince McMahon and has snatched up all the territories and not even the NWA exists in that show’s universe. Or else we’d have no show.
The Samurai Brothers are led to the ring by Mr. Fuji, who is the only wrestler using his actual wrestling name, ’cause Fuji don’t give a fuck. The Orient Express cameo as the Samurai Brothers because what other gimmick would they have worked? The match takes place during a WWE house show, complete with WWE ring and “Mean Gene” Okerlund voice over work. Piper still seems to be in shape, even sporting some semblance of a six pack. Ventura is definitely past his prime having done mostly WWE commentating at this point in his career.
The Samurai Bros. attack before the bell rings. And all kinds of heelish tactics are used, many of which are from Mr. Fuji’s own playbook. He trips Piper at one point, but in place of his cane, he uses a kendo stick to do the job. Once Ventura and Piper mount a comeback Mr. Fuji provides the Samurai Brothers with some salt to throw in Ventura’s face. Vintage Fuji! Seeing as all four men in the ring are actual professional wrestlers, the match plays out like your regular WWE match. Ventura finally makes the hot tag to Piper and they clean house. A running double elbow drop puts Sato away and just as Piper pins him, Leona whispers in Marty’s ear and his grin turns to disgust as he gestures to Ventura and Piper that they’re through in the way most wrestling personalities do; by pretending to slit your throat with your thumb.
Apparently, every wrestler from the 80s did blow all of their money on drugs, sex and other vices because despite being well-known professional wrestlers, in the only wrestling company that exists and seems to be doing well, they’re already worrying about making next month’s rent for their cool loft. Ventura even suggests that Piper try and make a go of it as a singles wrestler and he’ll take the blame since Marty liked Piper best. But Piper says they’re still a team and he’s sticking by him. As if sharing an address with your tag team partner wasn’t a strong enough commitment. If most wrestling teams were as committed as these guys are The Shield would’ve still been something we believed in, the Mega Powers would’ve never exploded, and Marty Jannetty’s face wouldn’t have eaten glass from a barber shop window.
Piper suggests they open up their own wrestling school, but Ventura comments that only former champions do that sort of thing when they retire. They’ve lost too many times. Well, tell that to Larry fucking Sharpe and his Monster Factory. The majority of wrestling schools are run by guys who kinda made a name for themselves at best. Former world champions usually don’t have to bother with working after having retired.
In the next scene we see their first make-ends-meet scheme: moving pianos. And if Laurel & Hardy taught us anything it’s that moving a piano usually yields hilarious results. Ventura’s back locks and the piano slides down the stairs, right through a window, and onto their truck. Ventura claims that they’ve “body slammed the truck.” No, you didn’t. And now it’s evident why Ventura didn’t want to open up a wrestling school — he doesn’t know the names of moves. You didn’t pick up the truck and slam it on its roof, Ventura. You just dropped something heavy on it.
The show’s called Tag Team and revolves around two former wrestlers, I get wrestling references iare going to play a big part in their everyday lives, but that was a stretch. What wasn’t so much, was them apprehending a couple of grocery store robbers by using wrestling holds. It worked for Daniel Bryan. When the cops finally arrive one of them is all, “Too bad you guys aren’t cops,” and just like that “Tricky” Rick McDonald and Billy “The Body” Youngblood enroll in the police academy.
You would think two professional wrestlers would mop the floor with their fellow cadets when it came to the physical training and obstacle courses, but instead they look like the two biggest buffoons. Hell, the only way they can get through the obstacle course is by employing more of their wrestling background. Like, when Ventura reminds Piper, “Remember The Rockers’ aerial attack?” And then Piper climbs up a wall. Because these guys are only motivated when they’re thinking about wrestling. But these guys are supposed to be trained athletes, why are they having so much trouble completing this part of the training?
The weirdest part of the training was the test taking in which we find that Piper is some kind of idiot savant. While struggling with his studies, Ventura tries to put him at ease by asking him random wrestling facts, like who are the biggest wrestlers, the heaviest, most popular, etc. Piper answers these all in rapid succession and is like, “what’s your point?” Yeah, Ventura? What the hell was the point of that? All Ventura does is smile and say, “you’re gonna do just fine.” So during the exam, Piper is talking to himself and makes some offhand fact about “Classy” Freddie Blassie and connects that to whatever question he was trying to answer. No real correlation whatsoever. It’s not like at the end of Road Trip when the pot head explains philosophy to Breckin Meyer through wrestling analogies. And here I thought Ventura incorrectly stating that they body slammed the truck was reaching for that wrestling connection.
As this goes on, some mob hit is pulled off and some poor dog walker named Rita, who has a problem saying no to jobs, ends up witnessing the murder. She ID’s the culprits and is told she’ll have to testify in court. The detectives guarantee 24 hours protection, but we all know that’s not happening. They’ll be around 24 hours, sure, but they’re not going to protect her. Luckily, former wrestlers “Tricky” Rick McDonald and Billy “The Body” Youngblood are two of the four cops assigned to protect her. And wouldn’t you know it, things go awry when two hired henchmen kill the other two cops. While Ventura and Piper use their wrestling moves to subdue the henchmen, Rita flees the scene.
The captain suspends them for not protecting Rita, but not so much for letting the two cops die. Piper thinks it’s time to find a new job because the only thing they can commit to is each other. Ventura mentions something about them being a couple of “lost puppies” and bingo! Ventura knows where Rita is. They find her at an animal shelter, because of course, and convince her to go to the courthouse to testify.
At the courthouse, Piper and Ventura encounter more henchmen and this time, no holds are barred. The fight basically plays out like their match against the Samurai Brothers. So wrestling moves are used and dirt is even thrown in Ventura’s eyes. Then, what I can only assume happens because of the lack of oxygen reaching Ventura’s brain due to the chokehold he’s in, Ventura holds out his hand for Rick to tag it because that’s how tag team wrestlers fight both inside and outside the ring. Rick obliges and makes the hot tag. They perform a couple of double team moves then hurl the last standing henchmen some 15 feet in the air and into a nearby water fountain.
The captain promotes them back onto the force and immediately makes them detectives. And Rita gives them one of the unwanted dogs from the shelter, who they of course name Body Slam, because Ventura still doesn’t know exactly what a damn body slam is.