Baywatch does Body Image Issues

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I 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 ran for so long, and the episode guide is a wonder of earthquakes and sea monsters and bungee jump contests, where to begin? How about an hour revolving around body image issues they are ill-equipped to tackle, and guest starring a dog?

As perverse as I may seem; like a man with a rhino-hide penis; I’m not that au fait with Baywatch beyond the cultural bullet points. Barring Hasselhoff, this is an entirely different cast to Bash at the Beach, which aired five years after this episode, 1991’s rather threateningly titled Thin or Die. Pamela Anderson, so tied to the image of the show, is still a year away from filling the blonde lifeguard role. In her place is Erika Eleniak, who you may remember from Steven Seagal’s Under Siege, but is best recalled by me for some lad at school trying to sell Amiga floppy disks containing pictures of her in the nuddie. Also starring is the amazingly named Billy Warlock, fresh off Brian Yuzna’s fantastic Society; and as Hasselhoff’s son, a young Jeremy Jackson, last seen being thrown off Celebrity Big Brother UK for exposing the breasts of a woman who was helping him vomit. Eleniak is the only woman in the credits, full of old smilin’ white dude police chiefs and whatnot, in contrast to those later casts with Hasselhoff amid a literal harem of swimsuit models.

01

This is not the boob-obsessed Baywatch of popular legend, which clearly evolved over time. Not so crazily-focussed on the female body, even the iconic red swimsuits are less revealing, with little shorts that offer more modest coverage than the better-remembered cameltoe years. Clearly the show became more explicit as the seasons went on, making me afraid to look at anything from its final year, in case it opens with a shot of Hasselhoff cranking on a speculum, like that time I turned over to watch Black Mirror and accidentally caught the end of Embarrassing Bodies with the close-up head of a glistening micropenis filling my living room in glorious HD. Compared to how it’s remembered, this is essentially 1920’s Baywatch, with slow-mo ankle shots and little changing booths. Even for the easily-titillated analogue naifs of 1991, this is a hard episode to jerk your william to, unlike its prime-era, where you basically had to, just to take the edge off, or else you’d end up fucking the TV right off its stand.

There’s further discombobulation with its weird opening theme that’s not the famous “I’ll be there,” and the opening credits run a full two minutes, which is a shrugging admission of “we ain’t got a lotta content!” As is the deal with this show, things cut between two unconnected plotlines. Let’s begin with the A. Way out to sea, Hasselhoff’s Mitch spots someone in trouble; but better than an actual person, it’s a dog! A literally doggy-paddling golden retriever, which hits me with those two familiar sensations; joy — it’s a dog — and grief — the lovely dog is now long-dead. Mitch dives in for the rescue and rushes back to headquarters “before hypothermia sets in.”

02

With no tag, Mitch has to adopt the doggo, which is given the name Sandy by his son, who has the even worse name of Hobie, or to his dad, ‘Hobester.’ And so begins a buddy comedy like K9 or Turner and Hooch, with the mutt forever chewing Mitch’s tracksuit trousers or ruining a romantic dinner with its incessant barking. Sadly, this doesn’t save us from Hasselhoff’s disgusting kissing noises when bidding his lady goodnight, all “mmmhm, mmmm,” like a man playing with himself on the bus in the hopes of getting caught. Sandy torments Mitch, disobeying his every command, and forcing him to lay awake by loudly ruffing from his laundry room cell. Incidentally, while he’s laying in bed, doesn’t Mitch’s shadow look just like Jay Leno?

03

Eventually, a furious Mitch leaps out of bed to accost Sandy with the brilliant question to scream at a dog, “WHAT IS IT? WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT IS THE STORY?!” The dog makes a run for it, and a surfboard magically falls in such a way to barricade Mitch in the laundry room, while Sandy adorably wraps himself in a blanket on Mitch’s bed before going to sleep. Aww! (that dog is just bones now) Curiously, while Mitch was cooking his soon-to-be-ruined dinner, we cut in midway through one of those “…dangerous escaped prisoners…” newsflashes on the TV, complete with skeezy-looking mugshots. Is that dog a fucking jewel thief? After some Three Stooges slapstick, where the dog gives Mitch’s cop mate the run around on the beach — hiding in an oil drum; disguising itself with a hat — two shifty-looking fellows cause him to bark in recognition. Yes, it’s the escaped criminals from the telly. “It can’t be…” says one, before they make their escape in a boat, with Sandy giving chase.

Thankfully, Sandy wasn’t a criminal, which would have been devastating, but the victim, with the goons having kidnapped his owner and stolen her boat. Mitch (along with Sandy and the cop) give chase in a speedboat and both groups immediately start shooting at each other. Mitch peels off his shirt and boards the baddies’ boat like a pirate, overpowering them, where he’s led below deck by Sandy to find an old lady in a cupboard. Reunited with her beloved Henry — Sandy’s real name — I discover there’s nothing you can’t stick a dog in that I won’t cry over. Sat here in tears over fucking Baywatch. Mitch blows off the old lady’s offer of a thank-you meal, for a date with his girlfriend, having been robbed of sex the previous night by Sandy’s barking. Despite his overinflated bollocks being one sperm away from destroying the harbour like a WW2 naval mine, she won’t take no for an answer; “I’m gonna fix you a whiskey stew. It sticks to the ribs, boy!

04

Speaking of food, it’s onto the b-plot! There’s that statistic about a third of the internet being porn, but some days, it feels like the other 66% is someone having “the best response” to body-shaming. They do have a point. I’m tired of getting shamed about my dick at the library. But the Vanilla Ice-liking, Bartman-doing Neanderthals of 1991 didn’t have the internet to help them get woke. What they did have, was Baywatch. And what better show, known for its unending parade of stork-like perfect 10s with tiny waists and massive boobs, to educate audiences that it’s what’s inside that counts?

We begin with Erika Eleniak’s Shauni testing the compatibility of her relationship with boyfriend Billy Warlock, with one of those multiple-choice quizzes out of a magazine. Please note that I don’t care what his character’s name is, I will refer to him only as Warlock, thereby forcing you to picture him in a floppy wizard’s hat. Of course, they only score 10/100 and get into a fight, where it’s decided they need some space. Immediately throwing a tantrum when Shauni speaks about work-matters to a male lifeguard, he decides to make her jealous. “Two can play at that game,” he tells Sandy the dog, who then sneezes, in a brilliant piece of improv.

Earlier, we saw Warlock call up a message service, and clearly become aroused by the message lady’s wildly over-sexualised voice, as she relayed weather information with the kind of breathy, gasping tones one would only ever use while literally masturbating. Now he’s got a girlfriend to hurt, Warlock invites Sexy Phone Lady to come and watch the sunset, ignorant of the many Cadbury’s Caramel Bunny-fancying boys who got catfished by Miriam Margolyes.

05

Later at work, Warlock hears a “hi,” and turns around to see Nicole from the phone, face to face for the first time. True to form, she’s what today would be referred to as plus-size, but in 1991, is signposted in that classic TV ‘here is a big girl!’ way, swathed in billowing, tent-like fabrics and a giant floppy Blossom hat, to emphasise that what she lacks in self-control, she also lacks in style. They might as well have played Baby Elephant Walk and had the camera shake with her footsteps, and Warlock does a very bad job of hiding disgust at the only woman ever to have graced that beach with the temerity to not be a size-zero. Shauni picks that moment to drive by with the hunky new lifeguard, and wishes him a good time with Nicole, with a look of such trenchant pity on her face, it’s as if she’d walked in on him desperately trying to scoop enough spilled paracetamol out of the toilet to end it all.

06

Forced out into the light, Nicole drops the sex-voice as they eat at a quayside diner, where a squirming, humiliated Warlock hides his face, unable to even look at her. “I’ve embarrassed you, haven’t I?” she says, guilty of literally just showing up, “I know I embarrassed you on the beach today in front of your friends, and I’m embarrassing you right now.” The suggestion here is ‘by existing’, as she correctly guesses that he’s brought her somewhere he won’t be recognised. He assures her he’s not embarrassed, while virtually dry-heaving. “I owe you an apology,” she continues, “I just wanted to meet you so much. And I’m ashamed of the way I look. That’s why I got the job at the answering service, so no-one could see me.” At no point when she’s describing herself as too fat to be seen in public does he interrupt and tell her she’s wrong, instead wearing an expression like ‘you make a good point!’

Baywatch‘s mixed messages continue as they take a walk, with Warlock telling Nicole she has “a lot of wonderful qualities that have absolutely nothing to do with your weight” and that “all I see is a beautiful person who has a lot to offer.” See, you stuck ‘person’ in there. A person can be beautiful, but once you’re a ‘beautiful person,’ son, you’s ugly. Except, you know, on the inside, which doesn’t count. Anyway, in case you thought the episode’s lesson was about renouncing patriarchal beauty standards and being happy with who you are, Warlock tells her it’s a lot easier to fix the outside than it is the inside.

I’ve been thinking about losing some weight,” she says.
You can do it, Nicole!

07

Cut to: the beach, in classic Baywatch slow-mo, as the frame fills with slender bikini hotties, and we intercut between their lithe, delicate bodies, and Nicole, schlubbing across the sand in her big t-shirt. Warlock nods a friendly hello from his perch, but never during this lengthy montage, can he gaze in her direction without the look of a man who’s caught the scent of dog dirts on the breeze. Surrounded by the cavalcade of sexy girls, a sullen Nicole quaffs back a diet pill, before nervously heading down to the water. She’s barely got her feet wet when the music amps up to indicate DANGER, and 0.5 seconds later, she’s trapped inside a thrashing tsunami. Warlock and Shauni run out to rescue her, sprinting through 50 yards of ankle-deep water, where the actress is clearly just laying flat on the bottom to appear like she’s in trouble.

In case you didn’t get that your lot in life when you choose to be over 110lb is public humiliation, Nicole’s traipse back up the beach is the afternoon’s entertainment for a huge pack of extras who follow behind, wooping as she retches up seawater and sobs hysterically. The mob shriek with that kind of laughter you only get in nightmares about old school bullies, hands over their mouths in shock, and there’s even a dubbed line “is that a beached whale?” While it must be a genuine novelty to see anyone on that beach over a size-2, the sarcastic jeer of “Whale! Woo!” as she’s loaded into the lifeguard jeep is a bit much.

08

Back at lifeguard HQ, Shauni chides Nicole for the diet pills which lead to her getting light-headed in the water and almost drowning. “You could have been hurt!” she says, cuing a teary Nicole’s noble speech. Imagine that Louie episode, So Did the Fat Lady, except it’s shit, and also not subsequently clouded by admissions of its maker’s penchant for sexual misconduct.

Seriously hurt? I’ve spent my entire life being seriously hurt! Hurt by jokes at my expense. You heard them out there. I’ve always hated girls like you. Thin and beautiful, everything coming so easy. Cheerleading and dates. Clothes that fit. I can’t tell you how many crash diets I’ve tried; how many times I’ve lost 20lbs, only to gain 30 back. A person can only be called ‘lard butt’ so many times. Do you know what class I dreaded all through school, Shauni? Not history, or biology or algebra; gym class… know what I realise now, Shauni? It’s not even the girls like you I hate… it’s me. I hate myself!

09

Though everything we’ve seen so far suggests Shauni will respond by puffing out her cheeks and poking Nicole’s belly with a cuttlefish, it turns out to be a bonding experience, with Shauni crying too. Never sure if guys liked her for who she was, or because she was hot, her brains never mattered, and she did a lot of things she’s not proud of. Until she met someone who believed in her for who she was. That person? The Warlock. Nicole tells Shauni that she’s never felt so liked or accepted as when she was with him — I guess during that one dinner where he could barely keep his food down? “He’s my best friend,” says Shauni, his girlfriend who he has sex with. “He’s mine too,” says Nicole, who’s met him twice; once when he was too ashamed to look at her, once when rescuing her from drowning.

The episode closes with Shauni giving Warlock a peace-offering of Dodgers tickets, and they kiss, grossly intimating they’ll have sex before and after the game. There’s no mention of Nicole, who I thought they might take along, and Warlock’s ‘best friend’ will never be seen or heard of again. Literally, as this is her sole acting credit. That thing of having an issues-character appear once and then fall into the void is very Saved by the Bell, another show I’ve written about extensively. In fact, SBTB beat them to the punch with both the fat-panic story, when a plus-sized girl won Zack in a date auction, and the telephone-catfish, when Zack hit on a girl over an advice hotline who turned out to be in a wheelchair, with hilariously Gervaisian consequences.

10

Though horrifically misjudged, the worst part of this episode was the lack of Sandy’s credit. Dogs in credits are the best. ‘Starring Pudding as Rosco,’ or ‘Introducing Scruffy!’ that kinda thing. But nothing. I suppose it could’ve been worse. At one point, I was worried they’d have Nicole go mad with hunger from the diet pills, and–

Hey Nicole, thanks for watching Sandy. Where is he?

[BURRRRP]

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~ by Stuart on September 19, 2018.

One Response to “Baywatch does Body Image Issues”

  1. […] promise, unlike Baywatch, Noel’s House Party, and all the other bollocks I get into on here, I will not be falling […]

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