At some point in the ’90s, Pamela Anderson bounded across television screens and into the psyche of an entire generation grappling with raging hormones. In slow motion. The younger lot of that generation mostly consumed the sanitised pop culture fare that Hanna-Barbera had to offer till then. But nothing that Hannah Barbera threw at the younger lot of that generation came close to Pamela Anderson gliding in crimson, her second skin. So, it isn’t a surprise that in the new Baywatch film, there’s a scene where Anderson finally walks in (for the final 10 seconds, wearing a white pantsuit and heels) and Summer Quinn, the newest recruit among the ‘elite of the elite’ wonders “Why does she always look like she’s running slow-mo?” Ronnie, who has a crush on the replacement of CJ Parker in the film (played by Kelly Rohrback), splutters wide-eyed, “You see it too?”
My brother Abhishek and I were no older than seven and for some reason, our father didn’t mind us watching Baywatch with him. Can you imagine being seven or eight and watching people with perfect bodies saunter in the sand and sea, the Los Angeles sunshine bouncing off their tanned skin in snug red swimsuits? I remember the three of us watching the half-hour episodes in total silence. While Abhishek and I registered nothing of the plot, we were hooked from the time we first heard “I’m Always Here”. At a time when Top Cat and The Flintstones were the best sing-alongs, the Baywatch theme song felt perfect for our whiny voices.
While Baywatch was a treat reserved for those months that dad was in town, we realised much later just how much the show affected our perception of life. The summers we were off school, we’d be enrolled in the swimming pool near our home. Sadly, Baywatch raised expectations to unreal levels about lifeguards — the poor souls at Andheri Sports Complex could never match that, with their trunks concealed beneath the folds of their bellies. Perpetually in slo-mo, their strutting was not sexy.
Only one man, broke that mould. While coach Satish had three kids paddling at each arm and coach Gita preferred to grab them by the ankles to throw them into three feet of water, this particular unnamed coach stretched out on a lounger like a real lifeguard, eyes peeled at the holiday mass of children in the pool.
At the shallow end of the pool, Abhishek and I would finish off sessions with coach Satish and when the bell finally rang, we raised ourselves out with our hands, while the ladder was always two feet away. However, our scrawny arms could never nail Cody’s preferred way of exiting pools. He’s the torpedo in the swimming pool in the introductory credits from Season 6 (1995) onwards: at a time when we were still flopping around in the water trying to stay afloat, Cody, with his flawless butterfly strokes, impossibly even abs and just the right voice, is still right up there with Captain Planet.
Cartoons took over briefly and Baywatch slipped away. When we were 12 or 13, AXN started reruns, every weekday afternoon. This time there would be no dad watching alongside. The two of us wolfed down lunch after school, and took position in front of the TV in our grandparents’ home. Since our nanaji was extremely sensitive to the slightest sound, the volume needed to be turned low, though Jimi Jamison screeching the words as Mitch Buchanan and his lifeguards pounded the surf, is best heard loud.
Actual memories of episodes, which unusually for a show about hot lifeguards, included many cars and buildings blowing up, still remain hazy at best. But, that’s only because as teenagers, we were staring at Yasmeen Bleeth (Caroline Holden in a pink one-piece) and Pam (whose brief fling with Cody is, to this day, my favourite on-screen romance) executing swan-dives off piers to rescue drowning swimmers.
The 2017 version in Emerald Bay somehow revolves around the one episode from Season 7 that I remember best — it begins with the crew holding tryouts for new lifeguards and ends with Mitch buried inside a tunnel after an earthquake, only to be rescued by Donna D’Errico, a lifeguard suspended for appearing as a Playboy bunny. With former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson playing Mitch, the film also brings together two very cool worlds. But, as my brother indignantly points out, for a man who was bathed in beer on TV by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, to now play Mitch is more than unfair. He isn’t the only one asking that question. After Anderson’s wordless cameo, we have the legit Mitch (David Hasselhoff) cracking beers with wannabe Mitch (Johnson) and he too asks, “Why do you get to be Mitch Buchanan?” It’s the sort of insolence the wrestler would normally silence with the cock of an eyebrow. Instead, he consoles Mitch Senior with talks of a sequel.
By the time I was 15, Baywatch simply fizzled out once AXN pulled the plug, replacing it with The A-Team and The Amazing Race, and it wasn’t seen again. Just like Priyanka Chopra (Victoria Leeds, whose name in the credits I felt obligated to boo amid the cheers) in the film, whose demise is truly painful but not original.
It’s been 10 years and more since we last drooled over those red swimsuits (swimming trunks for our polite mother). We never really warmed up to the spinoffs (Baywatch Nights, Hawaii Five-0) because they took a military approach to life-saving. Baywatch simply made it seem like just another day at the beach. Forever and Always.