Baywatch: Season 1 (1989) artwork

Baywatch: Season 1 (1989)

5th November 2006

As any adolescent teenager will tell you, it's the first season of the world's most watched television show and the daily lives of the Los Angeles County Lifeguards - Baywatch.
David Hasselhoff, Shawn Weatherly, Billy Warlock, Erika Eleniak, Peter Phelps, Brandon Call, Holly Gagnier, Monte Markham, Gregory Alan Williams
Suspense/Thriller, Crime, Television, Drama
17 Hours 15 Minutes
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David Hasselhoff is Mitch Buchannon, a single-parent lifeguard who is the mentor for a crowd of hip, young, attractive bikini wearing lifeguards (except the blokes naturally) as they come and go, keeping the Los Angeles County beaches and shoreline safe for the masses of daily visitors.

The series caught the imagination of teenage and family audiences alike as viewers were not just drawn to the show by the lifeguards battling the elements and beach crime. They were captivated by the fizzling chemistry between the lifeguards, which often sent temperatures soaring and which always kept everyone guessing as some of the characters would sink deeper in love.

Week in, week out, there's some crisis on either the beach or within the group of lifeguards to solve. The problem could be kidnappers, terrorists, criminals, earthquakes, love in the ranks or just some poor regular folk drowning in a raging sea or simply being dragged out to sea in one of its riptides that seemed to appear on a regular basis. But it's not a problem for this group of super fit youngsters, and with helicopters, fast boats, floats, guidance councillors and a bevy of beauties in revealing bikini's at their disposal, the beaches of Los Angeles have never been in such safe hands. Care for a beach holiday in sunny California?

The picture quality has that typical American NTSC to PAL look to it - basically too much contrast and compiled by a technician who likes to use colour red in vast quantities. As a result, it becomes quite a test for the DVD encoding process and, when put together with a below average bit-rate, it can all become a bit of a mess - with the Pilot episodes suffering particularly badly.

Whilst things aren't too brilliant here, with a transfer with far too much contrast, grain and picture noise making certain scenes a complete mess, it manages to be your typical television to DVD conversion with source material from a pre-digital era. Still, whilst the pilot episodes do let the side down somewhat, the other episodes are much improved and, on the whole, it's just about passable.

Sound wise, Baywatch is nothing worth getting all excited about, but then again you can't really go expecting an explosive and mind melting Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack from your average television series. You can certainly discard your fancy and expensive home cinema system for this particular box-set. Never the less, the 192Kbps Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack presented here more than meets its needs and contains some clear dialogue and an unobtrusive soundtrack - even if some of the music is pretty cringe worthy at times.

The menus across each of the six discs are the same uninspiring static and silent affairs - with only the ability to play all or select a single episode for viewing. There's not even any subtitles to be had - possibly to save on production costs and valuable disc capacity in order to shoehorn the complete season one episodes onto the smallest number of discs possible. Still, it's hardly the way to respect such a groundbreaking and widely appreciated series - albeit not for the acting abilities of the various cast members.

Extras wise, things are about as plentiful as a bikini clad lifeguard on a chilly Blackpool beach - that would be none then. However, this release does contain a bit of quirk that can be sort of classed an extra, and even boosting it's import popularity in America. When the first series was originally aired in the United Kingdom, ITV spotted its possibilities and paid some money towards the series development. As a result, licensing the DVD rights in the US became a bit of a nightmare and left them without the pilot episodes (although they have subsequently appeared as extras on later season releases) and no season one release whatsoever. So for that reason, you could class this entire season one DVD release as an extra - and a poke-in-the-eye to the ridiculous licensing constraints that deny true fans what they desire.

The Americans have the very good knack of creating a successful television series out of all sorts of subjects, so it goes without saying that only the Americans could dream up a series about lifeguards - and then proceed to make it interesting. However, the Baywatch waters weren't always warm and inviting as, during research for this review, I discovered that it was initially cancelled after the pilot. And don't even get me started on trying the fathom out those ridiculous syndication rights that have left the Americans with a DVD release that actually starts from season two (even though it's packaged as season one).

So, the clothes are awful, the hair styles laughable, the music questionable and the acting is hardly Oscar material, so what made the show so popular the world over? After all, at its peak, Baywatch was a global phenomenon and was the most viewed TV series in the world with an estimated weekly audience of more than 1.1 billion people in 142 countries. Now, that's an awful lot of people, and an awful lot of countries. It's no wonder it's listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most watched television programme in the world. Not bad for a series threatened with cancellation - and kudos to Hasselhoff for supporting the series with his own money.

Surely, it couldn't be down to the ropey scripts or, let's face it, David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff and his hairy chest fresh from his Knight Rider days. Nope, the show that launched the careers of Erika Eleniak, Yasmine Bleeth, Carmen Electra and the one and only Pamela Anderson was all down to those very same hotties in their weekly slow-motion run down the beach in their bikinis. It's no wonder that the majority of the female cast made their way to the cover of Playboy magazine and became the fantasies of nearly every teenage boy across the planet. That DVD "pause" facility is certainly going to come in handy as teenagers of yesteryear reminisce about their misspent youth - and get a clip around the ear from the wife.

Two hundred and forty three episodes later, Baywatch may have left the small screen, but there are rumours of a big screen outing with DreamWorks announcing plans for a theatrical version. Now, just imagine all of those bikinis on the big screen!

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