(Originally posted May 26, 2017)
Kevin: Back in January we expressed our skepticism that the big-screen remakes of “CHiPs” and “Baywatch” could possibly match their television counterparts in both the action and comedy (at least of the unintentional variety) departments. We all know how the new “CHiPs” turned out, and it doesn’t look like Dwayne Johnson’s version of the 1990’s jiggle-fest is much better. Perhaps instead of trying to top the guilty pleasures of a globally iconic property like “Baywatch,” The Rock should have focused on another David Hasselhoff project from the same period, one that quietly turned into one of the most bizarre TV shows in history: “Baywatch Nights.”
The mid-‘90s spin-off originated from Hasselhoff’s desire to stretch himself creatively (i.e. make more money with another TV show) without having to go through the effort of creating a new character. Instead he decided to center the new show around a question absolutely no one had been asking: What does lifeguard Mitch Buchannon do when he’s not lifeguarding? The answer: Solve sexy and exciting cases as a part-time private eye, and thus “Baywatch Nights” was born:
If you are having a hard time buying the concept, let Hasselhoff himself explain it, as Mitch kicks off the pilot episode by taking a break from packing up his lifeguarding equipment for the day to break the fourth wall and lay out the show’s entire backstory. Here is what he tells the viewers at home what to expect from “Baywatch Nights” (with some questions and comments from myself in bold):
“You know some people think that the beach closes after the sun goes down (Because it does?). Uh uh, that’s when it really starts to heat up (Metaphorically maybe, but that has no bearing on whether or not the beach has to close). Especially if you’re a P.I. (Do private investigators normally spend a lot of time on the beach?). Now I know what you’re thinking (David Hasselhoff is a limited actor who should stay in his lane?): Mitch is a lifeguard, what does he know about being a P.I. (An obvious question, I agree)? Well … ahhhh … they both involve rescuing people (Only if you are being extremely loose and vague with the term “rescuing”).
It turns out my best friend Garner went partners in a bankrupt detective agency (Garner sounds like a dumbass), with a beautiful brunette P.I. who left New York for the California sun and adventure. What can I say, when someone yells “Help!,” I jump in with both feet (What if they’re not in the water?), and I hope you do too (I don’t know, I’ve never had the opportunity to jump in with both feet when someone yells “Help;” does that mean I can’t watch?), as we introduce a new series of private eye adventures called ‘Baywatch Nights.’ Sit back and enjoy the ride” (Probably what Hasselhoff said to a lot of actresses during the “auditions” for this show).
So what kind of ride do we get in the pilot episode? Well it starts with a mind-numbingly drawn out sequence showing a woman being chased and eventually pushed to her death, followed by Mitch driving a red Ferrari (how did he afford that on a lifeguard salary?) up to the beach during a photo shoot involving a model named Cassidy, played by real life supermodel Carol Alt. I’ll note that this is happening during the daytime, on a show called “Baywatch Nights.”
Then as soon as he lays his eyes on her, we get the first of what turns out to be A LOT of voice-over narration by Mitch in the episode: “My dad told me that every once in a while you meet a woman so beautiful that it knocks the wind out of you.” Has anyone’s dad ever said this in real life, or is this only said by the fathers of future private detectives?
Anyway, somehow Mitch is able to just wander on to the set and walks up to the horse Cassidy was being photographed on. When she calls the horse “Stud,” Mitch mistakenly thinks she’s referring to him. What a delightfully awkward misunderstanding!
More narration from Mitch, this time about his other new detective partner, played by Angie Harmon: “Ryan McBride grew up in Texas and got her P.I. license in New York. You know women can really complicate your life, especially if you’re partners with one. It’s an explosive combination.” Then he waits for what feels like about 10 seconds before ominously adding, “Trust me.” Well I had no reason not to trust you before Mitch but now I’m a bit suspicious.
The next day the body of the woman who was killed earlier is found near the beach, and it turns out to be another supermodel named Alexa. Later while witnessing Cassidy being harassed by a guy taking photos of her, Mitch walks up to confront him while narrating this for us: “When I was eight, I got my first Major League baseball. One day Matt McGinty, he was 12, well he walks up to me says, ‘Hey, give me your ball!’ I said, ‘Make me.’ He did, and it’s a mistake I’ve never forgotten.” That’s pretty sad that Mitch has lived a pretty exciting and action-packed life, but apparently this Matt McGinty kid still haunts his dreams.
Either way we are more than 10 minutes into the first episode of “Baywatch Nights” before we finally get a scene at night, when Cassidy walks into the detective agency and hires Mitch to be her bodyguard because she is getting death threats. Later while searching her house for any intruders, Mitch sees her loading a gun, leading him to ask, “What’s that for?” Gee Mitch, take a wild fucking guess!
After an intruder apparently gets into the house and takes pictures of Cassidy, she and Mitch take a walk on the beach (again, during the day) holding hands. Here is what Mitch narrates: “In Little League I was a pitcher. My catcher and I communicated through signs. One finger was a fastball; two, a curve. Holding hands is a sign too (how exactly were you holding hands there Mitch?). But I didn’t know the game she was playing, or the rules. Only one way to find out.”
Apparently the way to find out is to make out with her, during which Mitch also narrates: “Three fingers was a change-up. He he he (he actually says ‘he he he’ here). A change-up always caught you by surprise. You knew you shouldn’t swing at it, but you just couldn’t help it.” By the way, if you had a drinking game for every time Mitch says “he he he” after what he apparently believes are “jokes,” your blood alcohol level would be at “Peter O’Toole”-level by the halfway mark, and at “Richard Burton”-level by the end credits.
My favorite part of the episode is when Ryan confronts Mitch about the fact that it’s unprofessional to be romantically involved with a client, to which Mitch responds, “She was needy, she was scared!” Yeah, actually I think that makes it a lot worse Mitch.
Anyway, later Mitch finds a guy in Cassidy’s house, and while they are struggling she ends up shooting the guy and then starts going through his pockets while Mitch calls the cops. Mitch finally realizes what’s been abundantly clear to the rest of us the entire episode: Cassidy killed her rival Alexa and made up the threats to cover her tracks. Mitch’s thoughts on this: “I got halfway to the plate before I realized I misread the sign. I got tagged out at home. Even if you only miss by half a step, you still miss. But I still had one more at-bat.” I’m starting to think Mitch’s life peaked at Little League.
The episode ends with Mitch tricking Cassidy into revealing … oh who gives a shit, god this was one of the most boring hours of television I’ve ever seen! It ends with Mitch sitting at the nightclub below his private eye office, which is owned by Lou Rawls and called “Nights” (which I guess is how they justify the name of a show that takes place almost entirely during the day). “Failure is not in my vocabulary, but as I sat at Nights feeling sorry for myself, I realized that my first case as a P.I. was about as successful as my first day as a lifeguard.” Wait, so he got a guy killed during his first day as a lifeguard too?
So yeah, the first episode of “Baywatch Nights” involved Mitch being easily duped by an obvious culprit because he was stupid and horny. Great way to start your “new series of private eye adventures”! As the season went on, Mitch went undercover as a gigolo to catch a gang of robbers, saved a geisha from kidnappers, and dressed as a woman to stop someone targeting a drag show. Shockingly the ratings did not live up to expectations, and after a disappointing first season Hasselhoff and the other producers admitted that the underlying concept of the show was creatively flawed and ended “Baywatch Nights” with quiet dignity.
Ha ha, nah I’m just kidding, they completely revamped the show into an “X-Files” rip-off for Season 2:
Now instead of run-of-the-mill cases involving kidnapping, stalking, and corporate embezzlement, Mitch now battles vampires, gets possessed by demons, and enters parallel dimensions. Out is Mitch’s best friend Garner (even though he apparently owned the agency Mitch works at) and in are “Baywatch” “actress”/Playboy model Donna D’errico and Eddie Cibrian, who later married Brandi Glanville and LeAnn Rimes, proving that his choice in women is as good as his choice in acting roles.
The first episode of “Baywatch Nights” Season 2 sets the new tone by having Mitch and a fellow lifeguard rescue a woman (once again in daylight), who then begins screaming in a foreign language. We then cut to a shot of the beach at night (finally!), before quickly moving back to daytime. Maybe this show should have been called “Baywatch Sometimes Nights, But Mostly During the Day.”
Anyway, while Mitch is having coffee at an outdoor café, Donna D’errico shows up to prove that you should never let Donna D’errico handle a lot of exposition. When she sees Mitch’s new P.I. associate Teague, she proceeds to let the viewers know just how awesome this brand new character is: “Fascinating man. He drinks champagne on the Champs Elysee, watches the sunset in Tahiti, treks through the Himalayas, always has such interesting things for you to investigate. Has he ever told you what he really wants?” Maybe what he wants is to know how he got stuck on this sinking ship of a show.
Speaking of sinking ships, apparently one just recently went down near Mitch’s jurisdiction, and somehow Teague believes an ancient New Guinean sea monster was responsible (Spoiler alert: He was totally right!). Mitch thinks that’s as absurd as we we do, which is why he quickly decides to make a dangerous dive into the vessel with Cibrian (who plays a photographer I guess, not exactly sure what he does). Either way, almost the entire episode is just the two of them wandering around the ship while occasionally getting attacked by the creature, while returning cast member Angie Harmon yells, “Talk to me guys!” or “What’s going on down there?”
Mitch eventually kills the monster, but when pressed for information by Teague does the typical Scully “I’m still not sure what I saw down there” bullshit. Meanwhile, apart from that quick shot of the beach at night, this entire episode of “Baywatch Nights” took place during the day.
So yeah this show sucked and barely anyone remembers it, even though they somehow managed to shit out 44 episodes, which means “Baywatch Nights” ran much longer than “Freaks and Geeks,” “My So-Called Life,” “Firefly” and “The Ben Stiller Show.” But for a show that I barely watched at the time, I’ve always been fascinated about how “Baywatch Nights” fits into the Mitch Buchannon mythology (a sentence I never thought I would ever write).
Keep in mind that by the mid-‘90s, continuity was still non-existent in many television shows. Many of us were used to seeing a very special episode of “Different Strokes” where Arnold’s friend Dudley got molested by the friendly bicycle shop owner one week, while the next week Dudley would show up as if nothing ever happened. But the “Baywatch” universe took this concept to the extreme, with Mitch apparently battling a mummy during his off hours and then never mentioning this to anyone during his lifeguarding gig the next day.
Just to prove how insane this was in retrospect, I went back to the episode descriptions of both shows during their 1996-1997 seasons to see what Mitch was doing during a given week’s episode of “Baywatch” vs. what he was doing that same week on “Baywatch Nights.” Here is what transpired in the life of Mitch Buchannon during a few weeks in that period:
1) Mitch apparently had the time and energy to judge a beachside beauty contest right around when he was battling for his life against the New Guinean sea monster. I hope almost getting killed by an ancient creature didn’t impact his ability to judge who looked best in a wet t-shirt.
2) Mitch and the other lifeguards compete against Jenny McCarthy and other MTV VJ’s in a Special Olympics fundraiser. That would be the highlight of the week for most of us, except for Mitch since he apparently also finds a cabin that causes him to travel through time.
3) Mitch is the prize in a bachelor auction, but somehow he and his date get stranded on a deserted island. Maybe it was on the way back when he and Ryan ended up battling another sea monster on an oil rig.
4) Mitch rescues a talk show host who then asks him to appear on his show. Mitch will have a lot to talk about, considering he and Ryan just got done playing a computer game similar to Dungeons & Dragons to rescue a man and his daughter being held hostage by the game master.
5) Mitch and the rest of the lifeguards travel to Sea World for the opening of a “Baywatch” stunt show. Not sure if that was before or after Mitch was possessed that week by a demon who needed a sacrifice to solidify its power on the Earth. But either way, what’s important is that the Sea World show went smoothly.
6) C.J. apparently had a secret admirer. Not sure what Mitch was doing that week, probably because he and Ryan got sucked into a vortex that sent them 20 years into the future. Hey, that would have been early May 2017. Why didn’t you give us a heads up on what to expect Mitch?
So yeah, no matter how bad they were, it sounds like any given episode of “Baywatch Nights” was better than what The Rock ended up cooking this Memorial Day weekend, and if you want to check out the first episodes of Season 1 and 2 they are currently available on YouTube:
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