Baywatch does Hulkamania

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The immediate realisation on revisiting Baywatch for the first time in 25 years, is that they might as well just be naked. I’m no prude, but with everyone slow-mo running in those high-cut, atom-thin swimsuits, I suddenly feel like I’m at Burning Man. You can practically see the lot, starting with the opening title sequence, which is essentially a two-minute soft-porn rock video, with slow, lingering sweeps up dripping bodies, with particular focus on the outlines of nipples and dicks. At one point, a guy in speedos heaves himself out of a pool, and virtually forces his nob straight through the screen. People talk about being able to ‘hear’ certain photos, well I could almost taste it. The whole show’s like that, and in hindsight, we should be thanking God for shitty 90’s standard definition TV. Pre-internet, smut was scarce, and if they’d shown this in 4k, we’d all have killed ourselves. An entire generation of men and teenage boys wiped out like the great war, drowned in our own muck, and still trying to bang another one out as they’re charging the defibrillator paddles.

As well as being poorly-disguised grot, Baywatch is the most classically 90s thing of all time, with its lion-haired hunks, beeping pagers, and a theme tune earnestly wailed by a man who sounds beholden to violent diarrhea. The most 90’s things of all are Pamela Anderson’s title credit as Pamela Lee, and in this episode, the guest appearance of Hulk Hogan. Baywatch came at a creatively fetid time in Hogan’s career, in the fallow period between leaving the WWF for WCW, and turning heel with the nWo. Though he’s since acquired legend status — and then soiled it by saying the n-word — in the mid 90s, general fan opinion of Hogan was of a spotlight hogging old bastard who’d outstayed his welcome; they were sick of his goody two-boots character, constant winning, show-closing posedowns, and his dreadful matches. Announcing his signing with a fake ticker-tape parade, complete with fan-signs all in the same handwriting, his WCW career had consisted mostly of bringing in old WWF mates to dress up as assorted cartoon weirdos for an enemy stable literally called the Dungeon of Doom. Only a handful of months after Baywatch‘s February ’96 airing, Hogan would undertake the summer heel turn that invigorated his stale character, and kickstarted a boom period for the entire industry.

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Baywatch shares much of its creative DNA with Hogan’s own series, Thunder in Paradise, in which he starred as Randolph J. “Hurricane” Spencer, an ex-Navy Seal with a hi-tech boat, and which ran for a single season in 1994. Created, written, and directed by the people behind Baywatch, including the writer and director of this episode, you’ll be thrilled to hear that I’ll be deep-diving into it for part two of this piece. He’s credited here — in an episode titled Bash at the Beach — as Terry “Hulk” Hogan, the half-real stage name he used in acting appearances at the time, which made us Brits picture a green Terry Wogan furiously rampaging through London.

All those discussions about great opening scenes; Jaws, Vertigo, Boogie Nights; be aware, cos there’s a new contender in town. Bash at the Beach opens with a jet ski race between Hulk Hogan and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. Hogan’s salvo “Hey, Macho, race you to the pier, brother!” is merely the first of many hilariously dubbed lines of dialogue, with the pair of them shit-talking all the way, casually chatting over roar of the jet skis. As we know from No Holds Barred, Hogan is insatiably horny, and quickly gets distracted by a sexy lady jet-skier — “Whoa, mercy!” — making weird cum-sounds as he circles her, before eventually flying off his vehicle and getting knocked in the head with it. Makes sense he couldn’t do the job clean. This is the cue for lifeguards to rush in and rescue, as he lays face-down in the water, which is the most he’s ever sold an injury. Incidentally, I wonder if it’s a reference to the legitimate black eye he wore at Wrestlemania IX, which Hogan put down to a jet ski accident, but rumour long claims is the result of Randy punching him for getting too close with Miss Elizabeth.

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Anyway, he’s fished out of the water by six female lifeguards, heaving him onto land, inch by inch, as though they’re dragging a bloated whale carcass onto shore, even though he’s many years from the classic Hogan Prime of No Holds Barred, and seems comparatively emaciated. They revive him with the kind of bad television CPR that would kill a person if you copied it in real life, with Yasmine Bleeth pushing on his chest like she’s trying to stroke a kitten without waking it. Only when he splutters back to life do they realise “Oh my God, it’s Hulk Hogan!” Yes, thrill of thrills, Hogan is playing himself! And of course he does the “have I died and gone to Heaven?” deal when he wakes up surrounded by swimsuit models. Then, Randy Savage shows up, takes one look at the women, and goes “Ooh, yea!” so this is going to be great. And by the way, the growling, in-character voices of Hogan and Savage as they walk about the beach are so much funnier when redubbed in an ADR booth.

Periodically, the wrestling story takes a back seat, forcing us to check in with the B Plot, aka actual regular Baywatch, but thankfully, I’ve joined the series at the beginning of a Very Special storyline. As lifeguard Stephanie picnics with her boyfriend, a hunky doctor, he interrupts their sexy sax make-out session to spot an angry-looking mole on her leg. It looks like an old cornflake, so he lectures about safe tanning and does a biopsy on it. You might think, like I did, that cancer’s a heavy topic for a show that’s basically a moving display case for boobs, but it’s so obviously a plot-by-committee, snapping from its normal soapy dialogue to shoehorned-in medical talk that’s clearly been written by the skin cancer people. Like Geordi La Forge’s techsposition in TNG, it’s all natural-sounding exchanges like:

I’m just so angry at myself, I mean there were so many ways I should have protected myself from the sun.

You just have to wear the right sunblock and apply it frequently.

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Rather than, say, taking the opportunity to educate its audience, things immediately slip into a 1940’s woman-on-the-edge melodrama, with Steph manically slathering herself in suncream, before patrolling the sands in trousers and a jacket, to berate beach-goers with shrieking PR soundbites like “the burns you get today will increase your risk of skin cancer!” The music cue becomes increasingly frenetic, to let us know she’s losing it, and possibly moments from tossing a beach-baby clear of the sun’s deadly rays, into the safety of a shark’s mouth. She’s an eyelash from going the full Jessie Spano, and is informed at the end that she definitely has skin cancer.

Back to the serious plot. When Hogan has a sitdown with Pamela’s CJ, the badness of their respective acting abilities combine to form something multitudes more horrifying, like the merging of two nasty diseases into a new epidemic that causes all your organs to force themselves out through your penis-hole. It makes you wonder about his claim of being up for a lead movie role as her love interest. I must also comment on Hogan’s wardrobe choice, rocking a look one might call ‘Gym Divorcee’, comprised of a sleeveless denim muscle shirt, jeans, a blue bandana, and blue cowboy boots. In such a blue ensemble, he could be mistaken for No Holds Barred‘s Rip, which would have improved the episode tenfold. Eventually, the pair mumble and stumble to the end of the scene, giving us our precious exposition. The lifeguards do a lot of voluntary work at the Venice Boys Youth Centre, the same gym a young Hogan used to frequent, resulting in this amazing line.

It’s my old stomping ground. If it wasn’t for Sonny and the athletic club, I probably would have been wild out on the streets.”

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Wild out on the streets! Of course, because this is the plot to fucking everything, the centre has been sold to a mysterious and evil property developer, and will doubtless need to be saved by our heroes. Hogan and Savage tag along with CJ to this ‘youth centre’, which turns out to be Santa Monica Muscle Beach; instantly recognisable from a million different movies and shows. You know that thing mildly famous men say to look dangerous, to infer they grew up in a rough area? That if they hadn’t made it out to become an actor, or a soccer player, they’d either be DEAD or IN JAIL? Firstly, same goes for me. If I didn’t have a Patreon, it’s the morgue or death row. Nothing inbetween. Secondly, Hulk Hogan gives that cliché its best ever take.

I had a choice. Drugs and street life, or working out, getting healthy and getting my act together, right here.

Turns out Randy was ‘saved’ by the gym too. Oh, he’d definitely have been in jail, for real. Just look at the guy. Life without parole, for fucking a church to pieces. It’s bizarre to see Randy Savage, usually so intense as to be permanently on the verge of a fatal stroke, dialled down and patiently waiting for his lines like a normal person. So what happens to these kids if the gym gets closed down? Drugs and street life, and going wild on the streets! It’s then that our Mysterious and Evil Property Developer steps out of a black stretch limo, revealing himself to be… Ric Flair, accompanied by Vader (wearing his mask) and Dungeon of Doom leader Kevin Sullivan (with three pairs of eyebrows drawn on his forehead), all playing themselves. While Hogan’s dialogue, robbed of his one-note shouting, is woodenly recited like a child learning to read, Flair delivers his lines like he’s cutting a promo, and clearly missed his calling as a rich prick villain in every great 80’s film.

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He mocks Hogan about his closing the gym to turn it into condos, backed by Vader’s growls and Sullivan’s cackling, and the hammy mid-90’s WCW acting is a perfect fit for Baywatch. You could totally see them taking place in the same universe. Sullivan’s stupid painted forehead and Vader crushing some kid’s basketball are at least as realistic as Steph’s response to possible cancer. Anyway, Hogan challenges Flair to a fight, one on one, “no holds barred,” for the deeds to the property, baiting him with a shot at the WCW Heavyweight Title as incentive, before offering the least threatening call-out of all time “Saturday! On the beach! And bring escrow papers, Flair.

Around this point, I started to worry. A storyline where Hulk Hogan has to beat an evil property developer, who’s Ric Flair, to save his childhood gym, is so my jam, there’s a good chance this is all a coma fantasy. With all the lifeguard skin, I just hope I’ve not made a mess of the sheets. Speaking of cum, Hogan gets his big hero sequence, when some kid gets trapped, 127 Hours style, under a weightless styrofoam rock, right as the tide starts coming in. Hogan rushes out with CJ to help, and as she holds onto the boy while Hogan lifts the rock, we’re given a flagrant reminder of Baywatch‘s MO. How to describe this without sounding like a megaperv? CJ’s boobs are pretty much just hanging all the way out, getting knocked about by the waves so egregiously, the cameraman could’ve been put on a register for the next ten years. I’d put a screengrab here, but I don’t want a reputation as a sex blogger. I can only imagine the teenage actor watching with his family, everyone gathered round the TV for his big break; buffet table of snacks, grandma in the most comfortable chair by the screen because she doesn’t see so good, and “look, it’s your big scene!” with a huge pair of wet tits hanging right by his ear. Ah, sod it.

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But let’s move from the trouserial onto more honest pursuits — a training montage! Set to the sound of Hogan’s WCW entrance music, American Made, we see Hogan and Savage lift weights in front of bikini babes, close-ups of the American flag, and Hogan jogging like an elderly man shuffling back from the shops, trailed by dozens of kids waving little flags. Though his knees are clearly not capable of running, we do get the Arnie/Carl Weathers handshake from Predator between he and Savage. Then it’s time for the big fight, with the deeds to the youth centre at stake, and Hogan finally coming alive when cutting a promo, brother. Likewise, Savage now allowed to be himself, he tells us he’s going to “ride the edge of a lightning bolt across the sky!

All of the match footage was taped at a WCW pay-per-view the previous summer, also titled Bash at the Beach, leading to frequent cutaway reaction shots, filmed much later, of the lifeguards pretending to cheer. Just like No Holds Barred, Baywatch exists in a universe where wrestling is real, though they hilariously add their own sound effects to the matches, like a movie fight, with punching noises, and dubbed cries of “argh!” every time the wrestlers hit each other. Clearly, these are not the voices of the actual wrestlers, making it doubly jarring, especially during a big not-Flair “whoooa!” as he’s tossed into the air. For some reason, Hogan’s wrestling Vader in a steel cage, after Savage defeats Flair, and they’re forced to messily edit around the typically WCW shenanigans of the real-life footage.

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There’s zero reference to the fact Hogan’s accompanied to the ring by Dennis Rodman, who was one of the most famous people on the planet at the time, and stood at ringside for the entire match. Was he saved by the youth centre too? Looking at the state of him now, I dread to think where he’d have ended up without it. They can’t show the actual finish of the match, because the real ending had other wrestlers running in to interfere, including Rodman, so after a bunch of repeated footage and squiffy continuity — Vader’s mask randomly on or off — they arbitrarily announce that Hogan’s won. Incidentally, I love me a good Hulk Hogan ADR, and his vocalisations feature some fantastic grunting, and a pained “Ooh Jimmy” to Jimmy Hart when Vader’s got him in trouble. Vader himself is dubbed with weird gurgling animal noises. I wonder if this shares continuity with Boy Meets World, where Vader — again, as himself — played Ethan Suplee’s dad.

Anyway, they save the gym, and the episode ends with Hogan raising the belt on the beach, surrounded by fans and lifeguards. Baywatch is so sincere in its dumbness, this was like the beach club episodes of Saved by the Bell all over again. Thankfully it’s not on Netflix, or I’d undoubtedly have tumbled down a Baywatch-recap rabbit-hole, especially when I looked up whether the cancer thing went anywhere, only to discover that character had a fear of helicopters after her dad died in one in ‘Nam, and was eventually killed by a lightning strike, only to came back as a doppelgänger, in a made for TV reunion movie where Hasselhoff has amnesia. The whole Saved by the Bell book started when I announced I’d write it if someone bought the box set off my wishlist, and though it’d be hard to turn down a new career of writing about the nineties’ finest wank-opera, the 79-disc set is almost £1,500 on Amazon, and honestly, I’d rather have the cash. But don’t let that stop you.

This is from my new Patreon, where subscribers could read this a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help me provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, including more in-depth looks at Hulk Hogan’s ‘acting’, like this piece about No Holds Barred and Zeus.

There’s a bunch of posts live already, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, like my new novella, Jangle. Feel free to give my existing books a look too.

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~ by Stuart on May 20, 2018.

4 Responses to “Baywatch does Hulkamania”

  1. MORE jizz in your articles than peter north

  2. […] From the very first scene, Hulk’s character is wearing an eyepatch. An interesting character choice, you think, nicely alluding to some deeper piece of of backstory. Perhaps he lost it in a previous mission, gored out by a swordfish, or some kind of autofellatio incident during a big wave? But on returning from Cuba, he’s in sunglasses, and people are asking “how’s the eye?” There’s vague talk of a “Kowalski” being at fault, but then he’s back to the patch again, and we’ve still not seen what’s behind it. Now there’s a sense of mystery, like singer Gabrielle, whose TOTP appearances cued distracting thoughts of her eyepatch lifting to shoot laser beams, or reveal a nesting field-mouse. When Hulk meets with this Kowalski — played by Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart — and finally shows us his eye, I immediately recognise it as the black eye from Wrestlemania IX, as mentioned in my previous piece. […]

  3. […] couldn’t stay away. I think we all knew, once I watched the Hulk Hogan episode and realised how gloriously stupid a show it was, that I’d be coming back to Baywatch. But it […]

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