Release Date: April 29, 2003
Holed up in a darkened computer room, watching the DVD on my Macintosh, I tried to suppress my snickers over an episode of Son of the Beach so as not to attract too much attention. Coincidentally, my wife walked in just as I closed up the window. Though not my intention, I looked furtive and guilty.
Her eyes narrowed. "Were you watching porn?" she accused.
"NO!" But evidently that wasn't an honest enough answer. "It's produced by Howard Stern!"
So really, it wasn't the best defense ever mustered by an embarrassed husband.
But then, FX's Son of the Beach wasn't exactly a show fit for the whole family, or even just for husbands and wives. A sometimes extremely clever parody of Baywatch, at least at first, this brainchild of fringe comedian Tim Stack looks mostly like a lad magazine come to life. And it does often feel like Mad doing softcore.
Honey, it's funny.
Fox recently released a three disc set of the series, labeled "Volume 1," that appears to cover three mini-seasons. It's all gloriously stupid stuff.
Set in the fictitious town of Malibu Adjacent (like Malibu itself is real…), Son of the Beach chronicles the adventures of lifeguard extraordinaire Notch Johnson (Stack), a David Hasselhoff clone without the hair, tan, muscles, or charisma. With his lifeguard unit ("It may not be the biggest unit, but it's the best…"), Notch patrols the beaches, fights crime, and generally rights social injustices.
Occasionally he locks horns with the Mayor, quasi-evil Anita Massengill. But mostly he offers advice and life lessons to those under his tutelage: blonde virgin B.J. Cummings (Jamie Bergman), German exchange lifeguard Chip Rommel (Roland Kickinger), street smart Jamaica St. Croix (Leila Arcieri), and traitor turned dedicated assistant Kimberlee Clark (Kim Oja).
From the character names, you can see the humor isn't exactly high-brow. Every episode overflows with dirty (but circumspectly so) jokes. You may not laugh so much as snigger. Not snicker. Snigger. But constantly.
Some sample episode titles: "With Sex, You Get Eggroll," "Silence of the Clams," "Eat My Muffin," "Remember Her Titans." There are titles even more overt, that promise nothing more intellectual than a Three's Company episode. Except I'd take these any day.
Son of the Beach is one of those shows in which almost too much happens. For a comedy, though, that style works. As in the late Police Squad, if one joke falls flat, three more have already lined up to take its place, usually some overt sexual pun. Eventually, you give in and laugh.
It does get the details of whatever it's sending up exactly right. Though owing the obvious debt to Baywatch, it's done as if produced by Quinn-Martin. And played absolutely straight.
For a cast this good-looking, it's amazing how talented they are at comedy. Long a veteran of offbeat comedy, Stack of course carries the show with a practiced oblivious earnestness. But the big surprise is Bergman. Playing the Pamela Anderson role, Bergman has a sense of irony lacking in her Playmate predecessor, and could probably rise above the campiness if she wanted to do so.
The production also loads up with guest-stars, not necessarily huge celebrities but recognizable, willing to utterly despoil their images. From The Sopranos, Vincent Pastore sends up every Mafioso he has had to play in serious projects. As a semi-recurring villain, Rod Petrie (aka "The Divine Rod"), Mark Hamill proves he has a knack for comedy that few directors have tapped.
This DVD release does include plenty of extras, but they're really beside the point. Having various cast and crewmembers provide commentary does little; this is not the kind of comedy that needs clever analysis. Nor does it get any. Mostly the commentators have a good time, proud of their work but little else.
Each disc has an introduction by Notch Johnson himself, kept short. Stack knows when not to overwrite a bit. There are a couple of "Behind the Scenes" featurettes, but none of it really taken seriously. Nor do the outtakes really spark many laughs - when the actors get it right, that's funny. Call it the curse of Cannonball Run II.
However, the disc includes montages, a blunt rip-off, er, parody of the Baywatch staple, and they're worth a look. Or two. Or five. Pay attention to the third disc, with the montage carrying the warning "Too Hot For TV." Not that I watched it, honey.
If you're not a fan of stupid humor, or are easily offended (ah, those e-mail watchwords…), skip Son of the Beach. But if you're here this far, we probably share a certain sensibility. Honestly, I look forward to Volume 2.
So get this set, and remember to ride the big one.