Why You Should Check Out — or Rewatch — ‘Baywatch’ Now That It’s on Heroes & Icons
I was aware it was an action-packed drama about hot L.A. County lifeguards. But as I watched its supersized 1989 premiere, “Panic at Malibu Pier,” for the first time — the series joins retro channel Heroes & Icons’ lineup today — it became clear the show didn’t run 11 seasons for being eye candy alone. Baywatch is soapy fun, following newly promoted lieutenant Mitch Buchannon (David Hasselhoff) and his beautiful but earnest colleagues as they go the extra mile to protect the people on their beach.
From the start, personal issues are tackled on and off the sand. Mitch, his ex-wife, Gayle (Wendie Malick!), and their 13-year-old son, Hobie (Brandon Call), realistically navigate the rough waters of divorce and a looming custody battle. The episode’s villain, however, is straight out of a dated Lifetime movie: A young woman named Laurie (Mädchen Amick), with an unspecified mental disorder that causes her to have delusions and become violent, forms a dangerous attachment to married, moonlighting lawyer Craig Pomeroy (Parker Stevenson, below top left, with Hasselhoff and Shawn Weatherly).
The cinematography can be at odds with the hero messaging. While the camera spends much of its time panning over scantily clad bodies of beachgoers, the lifeguards repeatedly remind us how seriously they take their jobs. Mitch dresses down Aussie rival Trevor Cole (Peter Phelps), who passes by two drowning kids to save a pretty girl; Weatherly’s veteran Jill Riley explains what it’s like to be the difference between life and death to a shaken rookie, Shauni McClain (Erika Eleniak).
The episode does well setting up the large ensemble cast, including brooding Eddie Kramer (Billy Warlock), who bounced around foster homes. Just don’t get attached to everyone. “Panic” proves Baywatch has real stakes with a shocking death, and a moving salute.
Baywatch, Monday, March 15, 6/5c, H&I