As the freight train that is ‘90s nostalgia continues to barrel through popular culture, slowly gathering steam as it rushes towards the ultimate end goal of 2017’s Power Rangers film, it’s picked up another unlikely passenger. In this case it’s a reboot/revival/reimagining/re-whatever your preferred term is, of the seminal ‘90s life guarding TV show Baywatch. The Baywatch movie is set to star the rock as part of his post-2013 career revival and, over the weekend, picked up Seth Gordon of Horrible Bosses to direct. This is the 2nd time I’ve had to report on a Horrible Bosses alumni getting a major break in recent weeks so I expect Jason Bateman will be getting a major casting break sometime soon as well.
In all seriousness this is actually a pretty interesting development. As easy as it is to sneeze at Baywatch it’s hard to deny its influence or breadth of impact. The show ran for 10 years and 11 seasons from 1989 to 1999, produced the spin-off show Baywatch Nights, and is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most watched TV show of all time. The show even managed to survive initial cancellation from NBC after its first season when David Hasslehoff stepped in to ensure the show would get a 2nd season. There’s no denying that Baywatch was a massive success by nearly every metric of the term. However, just because it was a success then doesn’t mean it’ll be a hit now.
The big thing to remember about Baywatch’s appeal in the old days was that throughout most of the ‘90s personal computing and the Internet in particular was in its infancy. What I’m saying is: free porn wasn’t easily accessible over the net like it is today. As such part of the central Baywatch ethos was to show as much as they could without actually becoming pornography, it’s basically porn without the nudity or sex. Additionally Baywatch wasn’t really a straight-ahead comedy. It had comedic elements and subplots but the main plot was usually grounded in the personal lives and rescues of the various lifeguards. It’s a junky, dopey show with plenty of the idiotic and over the top conventions you’d normally joke about a bad TV show doing, but it wasn’t intentionally a comedy.
All of this is why Seth Gordon strikes me as something of an odd choice for director. Most of his work is TV based aside from Horrible Bosses and 2013’s Identity Thief but all of his works so far have been comedies. The same oddness hovers over the Rock’s casting in the lead role. When he’s used correctly the Rock is a charismatic and enjoyable acting presence despite his limited range but he doesn’t really fit into the cheesy and silly aesthetic of Baywatch. What all this says to me is that Baywatch the film will probably be less about actually adapting the classic series so much as it’ll be about riding on ‘90s nostalgia. This is actually something of a first given how new ‘90stalgia is, stuff like Jurassic World or Goosebumps are just hitting this year and I was rather hoping the oncoming storm of ‘90s adaptations would be of greater quality than the 00’s flood of terrible ‘80s revivals.
What does give me hope for the project is that it might be trying to transition the classic series emphasis on “porn without porn” into a more women friendly stance. What I’m saying is that there’s a decent chance that between the Rock’s chiseled physique and natural charisma and the broadly drawn physical comedy that Seth Gordon tends to bring out the Baywatch movie might actually be looking to flip the previous aesthetic, becoming a movie that revels in male near nudity for women in the same vein as Magic Mike or its successful sequel. At the very least this is a better approach to adapting source material as vast and goofy as Baywatch.
Be sure to check out Allison Pregler’s great Baywatching web series here: http://phelous.com/category/obscurus-lupa/baywatching/