If there is any eternal truth to be gleaned from the squillions of reality TV hours that will air this season, it is perhaps to be found in this single statement: “Owning a barnyard animal isn’t as easy as it looks on the Internet.” Credit this singular epiphany to Rob Dyrdek, professional street skateboarder and bona fide MTV star. It comes halfway through the first episode of season two of “Rob & Big,” which airs Tuesday night.
When we last saw Dyrdek, he was troubled by a nightmare that his bodyguard-cum-roommate, Christopher (Big Black) Boykin, had failed to protect him. He needn’t have worried: Big, determined to prove his loyalty, puts himself through a series of tests—a simulated car chase, a karate workout, a paintball shootout. All in a day’s work. The episode was typical of the seven that preceded it: touchingly sweet at times (Rob draws up a will and leaves much of his riches to Big Black), dementedly salty at others (don’t even ask what a “manpon” is) and consistently hilarious throughout. It is hard to anticipate season two without a little giddiness.
Tuesday’s show opens with Meaty, the duo’s pet skateboarding bulldog, having some behavioral issues. He chews his owners’ stuff, pees on Dyrdek’s undershirts. “It’s a cry for help,” decides Big. “He needs a friend.” Enter the aforementioned barnyard animal. Dyrdek does a little research and determines the best buddy Meaty could ask for is ... a miniature horse. So they leave the lush confines of their Hollywood Hills home and head for Norco, Calif., to procure one. Predictably, this is where the trouble begins: picture two knuckleheads, one of whom tips the scales at 400 pounds, driving an hour due west with a moderately trained bulldog and a spooked miniature horse in the backseat of their SUV. It’s stressful to watch and difficult not to pass judgment. These jerks are driving this poor animal crazy all on a silly whim.
Unpredictably, however, Dyrdek does the right thing. He uproots the massive skatepark he’s built in his backyard and commissions his builder friend Brent Kronmueller to construct a barn and play space for the pony. “It ain’t about [skateboarding tricks like] backside flips, crooked grinds or smith grinds. It’s about a horse,” he says with surprising earnestness for a scrappy dude whose athletic career is founded on salty, technically illegal activity. “I want it to look exactly like three layers of heaven.” And when it’s done it does. Sweet.
Dyrdek met Boykin in 2003 when the latter was hired to fend off security officers during the filming of the skateboarding film “The DC Video." The two hit it off instantly and Dyrdek’s friend Jeff Tremaine (the, ahem, brains behind “Jackass”) took note. Slowly, as Dyrdek and Big became closer, the seeds of a television show took root. It’s not a complicated show. The first season just chronicled the antics of this unlikely odd couple—a middle-class white skater from Ohio and a huge black guy from the Deep South. In the first season, Big comically hassled security guards who tried to keep Dyrdek from skating in empty public spaces; concerned about his friend’s health, Dyrdek tried to get Big to lose some weight; the two redecorated Big’s bedroom and lined up dates through a service together. Sounds mundane but, as “Seinfeld” proved, there is much humor to be mined from nothingness.
With “Rob & Big,” MTV2, the music channel’s alternative station, hit its highest-rated day in channel history. The first full season reached more than 70 million total viewers. Dyrdek says he was taken aback by the success of the show. “We knew how fun and ridiculous what we were doing was,” he tells NEWSWEEK. “We felt there’s so much potential where we cross over every age and race and creed. But I think it sort of shocked us when 60-year-old grandmothers coming up to me in Barney’s and 5-year-old kids in the airport and hood kids to jocks to pro athletes. That kind of took me back a little bit.” The show does embody a sort of admirable class-race agnosticism. Big Black is Dyrdek’s bodyguard and therefore his employee, yes, but the two live together and evince a genuine chemistry that transcends any sort of professional arrangement. “He’s just like your big homey who’s got your back, and I’m his little homey that’s always in trouble,” explains Dyrdek.
Still, Dyrdek bristles when asked if he's kept the mini-horse (life expectancy, 35 years; legal status as a pet in Hollywood, unknown) now that the cameras have stopped rolling. “This is the real s--- right here!” he tells NEWSWEEK. “It’s harder to deal with than I ever had anticipated, but I’ll fight tooth and nail. Don’t show up at my house and try to take my horse.” Again, there’s that serious heart beating in the rebel-jester’s body. You’ll see it elsewhere, too: when not filming his show, Dyrdek spreads the gospel of skate. The parks designed by the previous generation of skaters are out of date, he says. Kids want grind rails and ramps, not swimming pool-sized bowls and Dogtown halfpipes. So they eschew sanctioned skateparks and pop up in public spaces and office parks. “I don’t like to drive around and get kicked out of spots all day,” he says. And neither do would-be skaters. “It’s killing our sport.” So he’s started a foundation to build parks kids actually want to skate in. The Rob Dyrdek/DC Shoes Foundation Skate Plaza in Kettering, Ohio, designed entirely by Dyrdek based on his favorite Los Angeles nooks, is the first fruit of those labors.
Not that that’s what the Barney’s-shopping grannies will be returning for this season. When the show’s theme song, Harry Nilsson’s treacly “Best Friend,” kicks in, they’ll be there to see Dyrdek get tossed from a bull, to watch the odd couple take a trip to Boykin’s Mississippi homestead or debate the weight of a hippo at birth, to see Meaty the bulldog frolic with Mini the horse, to gawk at skaters like Scott Pfaff and Paul Rodriguez bust jaw-dropping moves and, lest we not forget, to admire all 400 glorious pounds of Big Black dancing in a bright yellow thong. This is why God created reality TV.