Baywatch, the internationally syndicated television show of the 1990s, is remembered today primarily for its synthetic body parts and secondarily for its massive viewership (the show boasted a weekly audience, at its height, of 1.1 billion people, spread across 142 countries). What is generally less well recalled, however, at least in the American cultural memory, is the show’s pioneering of a category of entertainment that has since become a favorite of Hollywood: the show that is so bad it’s
good profoundly awesome. Baywatch was so poorly acted that its oily thespians could be seen to be inventing, frame by frame, a novel strain of camp. Its stories were so patently absurd that they occasionally threatened to venture into full-on surrealism. There were, in this show, so many bouncing bodies, so many robotically delivered lines, so many animatronic sharks.
The best thing that can be said about Baywatch, the director Seth Gordon’s cinematic reboot of the TV series, is that it understands, and indeed fully embraces, the show’s awful-awesome aesthetic. The second-best thing that can be said about the feature film, though, is that it does what reboots will always do, purposely or not: to serve as a measure of cultural change. Reboots may be cynical cash grabs, exploiting audiences’ nostalgia for the past, or at least for a time when their bodies better resembled those of, say, David Hasselhoff and Yasmine Bleeth; reboots are also, however, implicit markers of the progress that has been made in the years between the original and the update. The new Baywatch is, say what else you will about it—and there is definitely much to be said, else-wise—a heady mixture of both of those things.