TV on DVD Flashback to Baywatch

“I don’t want any lifeguards running around playing Magnum P.I.”

Too late, buddy, they already are – welcome to the world of Baywatch where saving people from drowning is the least important thing these lifeguards do.

Mitch Buchannon, (David Hasselhoff, Knight Rider) and his lifeguards are in charge of keeping the world. . . I mean beach. . . safe. In between rescues, the lifeguards have. . . well. . . a life and so we get to see them date and marry and raise kids and get involved in bigger issues such as the environment and the homeless. Think of “The Beach” as a microcosm of the Earth, or at least Paris. Stand in a lifeguard tower long enough and the whole world is bound to pass by.

Let’s start this TV on DVD review off by talking about the elephant in the room. Or more accurately, the giraffe. David Hasselhoff is tall. Seriously. He makes everyone on the show look like midgets! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on with the show. Baywatch is what the world thinks of when they think of Southern California – beaches, surfers and busty girls in bikinis. You’ll get all three of those when you watch, but you’ll also get hunky lifeguards, great rescue action and quite a bit of heart.

You see, Baywatch started off as a guilty pleasure on NBC. It starred Hasselhoff and Parker Stevenson (The Hardy Boys) and so there were lots for both men and women to look at. They had speedboats and jet skis and helicopters and there was action aplenty. But all those things cost money and at the end of the first season, NBC canceled the series. Rather than take this lying down, co-creator Douglas Schwartz took some advice from his uncle Sherwood (Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch). One word advice and no it wasn’t “plastics”, it was “syndication”.

Schwartz and his partners decided to take on the daunting task of producing Baywatch on their own and selling it into syndication. It was the best decision they could have made because the show soon rocketed to success. On the downside, they had to slash the budget right off and that meant canning Parker Stevenson and bringing in a continual cast of unknowns (read cheap) actors. One of those unknowns was Pamela Denise Anderson who is almost unrecognizable in her first season compared to later photos of her from the show.

The slash in the syndication budget also meant cutting down on the number of action sequences in the show and doing more “bottle” or flashback episodes that used previously filmed footage to carry the action. It is also rumored that Hasselhoff wanted the show to be more about the relationship between himself and his son and this is actually a good move. The scenes between Hobie and Mitch are very endearing and they add a great deal of depth to the series. (Yes, I said depth, now go away.)

Many episodes use the old school theme method of weaving together several plots. Hobie happens to get poisoned by toxic waste the same week a toxic waste avenger comes to town looking for Mitch’s help. You may be surprised to find a number of heavy themes here from the care of the homeless, families dealing with schizophrenia, to teen gangs and parental kidnapping. There are also a large number of violent crimes covered including “The One That Got Away” where a rapist is terrorizing women on the beach, “The Trophy” where Eddie is falsely accused of statutory rape, and “The Tower” which has Summer and Stephanie being held hostage by a psychopath. Yes, psychos, murderers, rapists and oh yes, “Now Sit Right Back and You’ll Hear a Tale,” which has the cast members living in a Gilligan’s Island fantasy.

What other TV series gives you such a mixed bag of treats?

On the Other Hand

For a series that is as well-liked as this one, Baywatch is treated pretty shabbily in these box sets.

If you’re not familiar with the show, you’re bound to be perplexed by the first episode, “The One That Got Away”. It’s a dark tale about a rapist stalking women on the beach and it’s obvious that the characters in the show have backstories that have been previously explained. Even Mitch’s arrival isn’t all that heralded, which you would expect when watching the introduction of the show’s lead character. There’s a good reason for this. “Season One”, isn’t really “Season One.” It is actually the first syndicated season, which is actually “Season Two” of the series. To make matters worse, this isn’t even the first episode of the second season. The two-hour season opener, “Nightmare Bay” which features the new character introductions is mysteriously absent from this DVD set.

They were kind enough to include the original NBC aired pilot, “Panic at Malibu Pier”. You’ll find it on disc five, but I suggest you watch it first before launching into the rest of the set.

You’ll get that same feeling of, “what have I missed”, when you watch the background featurettes on these sets. They appear to begin in the middle of a conversation between the series creators. You could blame this on the fact that they obviously took one long interview and cut it up into pieces for use on each season’s set. That doesn’t explain, however, why the featurette on Season One doesn’t begin at the beginning.

More nails in the coffin. The Photo Gallery stills look like low-res photos downloaded off the Internet and will someone please explain “Trivia Track”? It sounds like it should be an option to turn on subtitles with trivia on each episode but I couldn’t find out how to access it on any of these DVDs. Seriously, someone please email me and tell me how to trigger this feature, it’s driving me nuts.

The biggest complaint from fans worldwide – the famous Baywatch theme, “I’ll Be There” aka “I’ll be Ready” has been replaced by a slower song that doesn’t fit the exciting opening title montage one little bit.

Baywatch has gotten a bad name over the years as schlock TV. The slow-motion running, bouncing babes and buff boys have oft been parodied and I guess for that alone they do deserve a spot in the “jiggle TV” hall of fame. But I believe that most of the bad mouthing of this series is just sour grapes. The series had an amazing eleven-year run on syndicated TV and was shown in more than 140 countries and in 32 different languages. I’d even go so far as to say that the series was even more popular abroad than it was in the US. Maybe that’s because it epitomized what people saw as the American Dream, or should that be California Dreaming – sun, surf and a killer day at the beach.

Baywatch may be the ultimate in guilty pleasures, but dig deep and you’ll find some buried treasure under all that sand. (Baywatch Funko Pops!)

As always, here’s a handy link that will whisk you over to Amazon where you can buy your own copy of Baywatch on DVD. Put it on your shelf and the lifeguards will forever and always be there for you.

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