Baywatch does Monsters and Mermaids

header

[previously: Baywatch does HulkamaniaBaywatch does Body-Issues]

The weird talking-point trivia about Baywatch is the way it eventually rebranded into paranormal detective series, Baywatch Nights, as though this marked a great tonal shift from a previously grounded drama. Dear reader, this is very much not the case, with half the back catalogue seemingly consisting of episodes where Hasselhoff fights off terrorists or escaped murderers, with a side-plot where lifeguards called Bryden or Kaycee befriend some kid in a wheelchair. Regard, a pair of ‘Here Be Dragons’ hours devoted to cryptozoological beasts roaming the waters of California. Beauty and the Beast aired on 29th January 1996; a title that could refer to any combination of Hasselhoff’s flabby-pecced beach-dad and female co-stars. To set the scene, it’s from the period Pamela Anderson was credited as Pamela Lee, and features an Aussie actor called Jaason Simmons, which are the only double-A’s you’ll see on this show.

We open, of course, on bikini hotties being all hot on the boardwalk, before panning down to reveal a storm drain with a dirty bum inside. I don’t mean an unwiped arse, rather, in unwoke 90’s television vernacular, a homeless gentleman (though he probably does have an unwiped arse). As a big fan of offensively cartoonish screen tramps, this is absolutely textbook; belching and spluttering into his beard, with the soundtrack inexplicably switching to jaunty jazz, giving the ironic air of a laid-back wine-bar, as he glugs on booze from a brown paper bag. His bear-like tramp-noises include yawps of “oooh ducky, oooh ducky,” though not in the homophobic bullying way; in reference to an actual duck that’s swimming nearby in the filthy water. With a monstrous growling noise, the duck disappears under the water, leaving nothing behind but a belch of scattered feathers.

01

Sadly, the cowards at Baywatch destroy all the goodwill of their brilliant tramp by not having him rub his eyes and look at the booze before tossing it away. He staggers onto the beach, to the audible “yuck!” noises of disgusted bikini girls, and tells lifeguard Cody there’s a sea monster in the drain, to which Cody laughs and pours his booze away, giving him an address where he can get some help. As always with a hobo character, I was straight on IMDB to look at his resume.

     Married with Children (1993) – Bum

     Night of the Running Man (1995) – Homeless Man

     Baywatch (1996) – Homeless Man

     The Huntress (2001) – Grungy Customer

     The Young and the Restless (2004) – Homeless Man

     Rancid (2004) – Bum

Not since the elderly man who built a career on making baby noises has there been such a stranglehold monopoly on an archetype. Alex Zonn’s CV represents the labours of a lifetime spent working towards a starring role; perfecting his craft as the finest, filthiest bum in Hollywood. That’s why his final credit is so shocking.

     Tramps and Ramblers (2010) – Bernard

A whole movie about tramps, and he’s ‘Bernard’?! Bernard’s the name of a banker, or a retired accountant, wearing a suit and owning his own home. Goddamn sell-out. That said, I did stick him into Google Images and came across this brilliantly Zonn picture.

02

But Cody was wrong, and it wasn’t merely the boozed-up imaginings of a “wino,” as demonstrated by an ominous hissing noise and the classic Jaws underwater POV shark-cam. A swimmer’s pulled underwater, and for Baywatch‘s light-hearted stylings, it’s surprisingly graphic, with the sea turning red as he’s presumably bitten clean in half. Seriously, there’s more blood than you could fit inside twenty people, shrouding he and his rescuer in a wet fog of scarlet, but he limps ashore with a tiny cut your mum wouldn’t even waste a plaster on. Soon, panicked swimmers are yelling “shark!” and they’ve closed the beach. In a couple of random observations, note that the male lifeguards always have their shirts tucked in, and a dubbed squawk of a seagull that flits into shot as Yasmin Bleeth runs along the beach, that was definitely performed by a man.

03

Following the less-is-more model of Jaws, the monster’s glimpsed only in splashes, POV shots of delicious swimmer’s legs, and snarls that Caroline can hear from hundreds of yards away, because binoculars also magnify sound? Also like Jaws, it has its own theme, confusing the sparse, minimal dread of John Williams’ iconic motif for the endless repetition of a four-note dramatic sting that haunts the episode like a neighbour’s stuck doorbell. After it bites a chunk from some show-off teen’s boogie board, they figure it’s not a shark, but a crocodile; or more specifically, a crocodile that was flushed down the toilet as an unwanted gift. Who’s giving crocodiles for a gift? Kanye West?

Though sadly there’s no scene where the lads compare circumcision scars, they do keep to the Jaws beats, by having Mitch and his two lifeguard buddies hunt it down, heading into the sewers like they’re after Pennywise — “down here, we all float… because of our enormous implants.” I hope they don’t have an orgy to find their way out again. They’re well prepared, armed with some rope, and wading through the filthy, waist-deep shit-water in t-shirts and shorts. Eventually, they find its lair; a grotto filled with plastic rocks, where David Hasselhoff joins the growing list of people I’ve seen wrestling alligators through the course of this Patreon, along with Mr. T, Chuck Norris, and Mr. Miyagi. His thrashing with the bendy rubber croc is reminiscent of ten-year-old me doing WWF moves on the draft excluder, and soon we cut to the beach where he staggers triumphantly from the drain with barely a scratch, dragging the rubber crocodile behind him, though in close-up, it’s a real one.

04

As always, each episode features two completely unconnected narratives. While the lads were off monster hunting, Beauty and the Beast‘s b-plot opens with the lifeguard girls ‘working out’ with 3oz weights and doing exercises that push their boobs towards the camera, before Mitch announces a big magazine’s holding a contest for a modelling shoot. They all start fantasising about becoming rich supermodels, triggering one of those 3-minute music videos, for a dream sequence where CJ and Caroline, who just wants to “be nasty and play with my hair,” do indeed get nasty and play with their hair. CJ’s the solid favourite, but comes down with chickenpox, which Neeley makes Caroline think she’s already had, so she’ll hang with CJ and catch it too. Pre-Game of Thrones, this was the high watermark of Shakespearian treachery on television, although the chickenpox is literally drawn on with a marker pen.

04b

The music video sections are integral to Baywatch‘s structure, padding out the shows with two per episode. We close on another, with Neeley on her photoshoot in Mexico, rubbing her hands over herself under a soundtrack of thumping tribal music and pan pipes, and occasionally looking straight down the camera, as if to say “you like this don’t you, you dirty dad?” to all the dirty dads watching at home. It’s a straight-up three-minute softcore wank video plonked into this adventure about three dickheads chasing a giant alligator into the sewers, which just emphasises the gulf between what Baywatch says it is, and what it actually is. Hasselhoff’s always sold it as a family show, at the time, describing it as for “the working class, action-adventure audience,” inspired by Michael Landon’s family-friendly shows that could run in syndication. It went out in a tea-time slot, but was undeniably made solely for pulling your penis to. I’m never not surprised at the ludicrous extraneous close-ups of women in tiny swimsuits stretching or oiling themselves, or the minutes given up to dialogue-free slow-mo sections which leave viewers legally qualified to practise as a gynaecologist. Once the porn ban kicks in, we’ll all be grateful for these. I could probably switch full-time to Baywatch recaps and break $5,000 in Patrons a month.

05

The second episode, entitled Rendezvous, aired on 7th April 1997, opening with one of their toss-vids, except this time it’s arty, slow-motion shots of high divers, all played to eerie silence, except for the distorted sounds of their bodies hitting the water. I take this to be a brave artistic choice, forgoing the urge to plaster it with obnoxious 90’s butt-rock, but later realise whoever uploaded the copy I’m watching muted the music to circumvent copyright takedowns. This week’s main story is a Romeo and Juliet riff between a pair of young divers; he, from a family of rich snobs, and her the poor trailer park daughter of a single mom, played by Tasha Yar from Star Trek.

Todd and Kirstie’s fated love affair eventually sees him talking her into a suicide pact where they jump off a local cliff to kill themselves, (though they’re divers and it drops straight into the water?) and is only notable for the scene where Caroline gives Kirstie a pep-talk at her comatosed boyfriend’s bedside. Whatever I’m writing, there’s a thing that’s always in the back of my mind. Even if the work’s only reaching a small audience, it’s likely there will be readers for whom any plot points or references to, say, miscarriage, suicide, physical or sexual abuse, will take them out of the story and back to these moments in their own life. Consequently, even though art should take us to uncomfortable places, even if it’s a throwaway line, I can’t help visualising someone reaching that paragraph with a sharp intake of breath, and feel duty-bound to handle these moments with care.

06

I think of this during the scene Caroline explains to Kirstie that she’s pretty sure there is a Heaven, or some sort of afterlife. Although the show can’t quite bring itself to say the word ‘Hell’, she rather pointedly states that “you would not be rewarded for trying to take your own lives.” This must’ve been a weird watch for those who’d lost someone to suicide, when the hot TV lifeguard let them know their loved one had not found peace, and was likely being tortured by the Devil for all eternity.

But monsters is why we’re here, though it’s been relegated to the b-story, behind all the shitty teenage melodrama. Out at sea on a boat, Cody prepares for a free-dive by meditating to lower his heart-rate, just like the dads watching at home. “Get up and make us a cup of tea will you love?” “Give me a minute to meditate myself soft.” He swims down 300ft to the bottom of the ocean, where it’s really brightly lit, with water so clean you could drink it, almost like they filmed it in a swimming pool. Way down in the depths, he starts hallucinating; hearing a woman’s voice saying the word “Christopher,” and turning to see a big floppy tail. Girlfriend CJ’s immediately convinced he saw a mermaid, leading to music video #2, where Cody dreams of frolicking with a tiara-clad mermaid in a bizarre underwater sequence made all the weirder by that copyright-dodging silence, but at least it gives me a few minutes break from transcribing the awful dialogue.

07

Cody awakes on the beach groaning the name “Melisande,” as CJ flicks through a book about mermaids, reading how they communicate via telepathy, and figuring that must be her name. She’s strangely into it, like she’s hoping to get a soggy threesome out of the whole deal, and sends him back down for another look. Diving among the reeds, he immediately bumps into the mermaid again, and like television’s best excursions into the Fortean, it’s not a hallucination or something with a mundane explanation, but a genuine mermaid; now and forever confirmed as canon in the Baywatch universe.

She calls to him with a telepathic “Christopher!” and they have a conversation via their minds, where we find out she thinks he’s a sailor whose ship sunk a hundred years ago. She wears a gold medallion he gave her – “I have waited for you, Christopher, don’t you remember?” Mirroring the other plot, Christopher and Melisande had promised to be together forever, but CJ dives in and scares her off before he can find out more; like is there a whole undersea kingdom lurking just off the coast? Aquaman and sea monkeys, and a community of blobfish banging on about Brexit? And do mermaids swim around with really long poo hanging out of their arses for a week like goldfish?

08

CJ still thinks it’s romantic, kissing Cody on the boat, just as Melisande surfaces to see her sweet Christopher getting off with someone else. At least he wasn’t honking the horn with his nob like Tommy Lee in that video. CJ dives down to explain that he’s Cody, not Christopher, and though I hoped the jealous mermaid would start throwing starfish at her, CJ clumsily KOs herself by swimming into a rock, and is rescued by Melisande. CJ can’t remember what happened, but finds the medallion around her neck, opening it to reveal an old-timey picture of ‘Christopher’ aka Cody with a big cowboy moustache. Citing the movie Splash and its poor treatment of Daryl Hannah, CJ vows never to let the world know of the existence of mermaids, and tosses it back in the sea.

The implications of mermaids being real are huge. For one thing, as Melisande’s been waiting 100 years and looks 25, it seems they’re immortal, which must have far-reaching consequences for human medicine. And yet, next week, the lifeguards go right back to [checks Wikipedia] shutting down a nude beach, and investigating a crashed military jet which contains a deadly virus. Goddamn, what a show. If Netflix picked this up, I’d never see daylight again. This pair of episodes aren’t even the sum total of their monster plots, with another double episode centred on a sea monster attacking boats, which was released on VHS, and I suspect has a Scooby-Doo reveal. But then again, this is Baywatch, so it’s quite possible Cthulhu rises from the depths to devour the West Coast, with a sub-plot where CJ chases down a pervert who’s trained a crow to undo women’s bikini bottoms.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it 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 provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi.

~ by Stuart on November 14, 2019.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: