Who Watches the Baywatchers?

Baywatch: The final jiggle.

Baywatch Hawaii (formerly known as Baywatch, and not to be confused with the short-lived Baywatch Nights) will soon air for the final time. Say a little prayer for the passing of this, the apex of spectacularly mediocre syndication. Perhaps you never watched an episode, flipping past it as you would Wings, but remember that Baywatch used to be big. Huge. For more than a decade, through a near-ceaseless procession of shark attacks and mouth-to-mouth resuscitations, the Baywatch lifeguards have worn their curvy suits for you, whether you cared or not. So show a little respect.

Dropped after one season on NBC, Baywatch continued in syndication when its producers saw what a hit it was overseas. (I’m getting my facts here from the Baywatch Awesome fan site.) No translation was needed for slo-mo shots of beautiful women running in bathing suits, boobs a-wobble. In fact, I’ve always felt that the show’s bumpers—slow pans across wet-suited asses as a woman chirps, “Baywatch will be right back!”—offered the purest distillation of its elements.

Targeting international fans, the shows became loose collections of non sequiturs, lacking cohesion or conclusion: Start with a dream sequence; followed by … a shark attack!; then some horseplay on the beach; then a music collage; another shark attack; another music collage; roll credits. Throw in some shrewd peripheral casting (and by this I mean really large-breasted women), anchor it with David Hasselhoff, and you’ve got a winning formula.

Say what you will about Pamela Anderson, Yasmine Bleeth, Erika Eleniak, Donna D’Errico, Nicole Eggert, or any of the dozen other hotties who cycled through the cast, it was Hasselhoff who held this thing together. The show could have survived its move to Hawaii in Season 10 (seen one shark-menaced beach, seen ‘em all), but not its star’s departure. Watching the new, Hasselhoff-less episodes forces one to admit the show’s utter lack of coherence. When your plot is devoid of any sense of time, continuity, or cause and effect, you need something reliable at the core. Hasselhoff, 6 feet 4 inches, blinding white teeth, leathery skin, was nothing if not rock solid. And he could play for laughs, too. In one vintage episode recently rerun, guest-starring Geraldo Rivera as a dweeb looking for romance tips, Hasselhoff calls out, “Hey, flat-butt!” to Rivera across the beach.

Without Hasselhoff, the show flounders around. The final episode’s a perfect example. The plot, basically: A beach bunny steps on a piece of glass, and the lifeguards help her, and then the main lifeguard gets an offer to start a new lifeguard training center in Australia, but the lifeguard he loves gets proposed to in front of him by her Navy SEAL boyfriend, but then a different lifeguard accidentally sees her naked, and then there’s a bachelor party (the same day he proposes!) for the SEAL, and a band plays and there’s a fistfight, and then there’s a traffic accident and a guy needs CPR, and then the wedding gets broken off because the SEAL has to go on an emergency mission. And I’m leaving so much out. By the time both the mayor of Honolulu and Pat Morita (as “Mr. Tanaka”—oh, how far he’s come from his “Mr. Miyagi” days) perform their 30-second cameos, you’re too drained and confused to do anything but watch boobs wobble.

The writers didn’t know this would be the last episode, but the final scene is somehow appropriate. The lifeguards, all together in their lifeguard speedboat, chop across the ocean toward the sunset, expectant smiles on their faces: “Who will need CPR next?” they seem to wonder, attractively. A sort of Chekhovian zero ending, enhanced, once again, by jiggling.