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A Rip-Roaring ‘Baywatch’ Spoof With Howard Stern’s Sensibility

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s not deep. It’s not classy. It’s not subtle. It’s not even original. It’s just really, really fun. You’ve gotta be in the mood, but if you are, FX’s new spoof “Son of the Beach” (tonight at 10:30) is one rip-roaring way to spend a half-hour.

Warning: It’s produced by Howard Stern. You know the drill. Babes. Lingerie. Sex jokes. Bad taste. Really bad taste. Really, really bad taste. And real wit. I like to think of Stern as a jocular genius who too often uses his powers for evil. This time around, everybody’s definitely in on the joke, and it’s completely good-natured. This show is as sunny as its oceanside California locale, which just happens to be the same beach on which they used to shoot “Baywatch.” And the characters just happen to be shapely lifeguards led by a less-fit guy who takes himself way too seriously.

At least these laughs are intentional. Head honcho Notch Johnson--think that last name might inspire some low humor?--is played by Timothy Stack, who produced and starred in the dead-on daytime talk parody “Night Stand.” He’s less clothed here, but no less pasty-white, balding or fortysomething, and no less sober about his on-screen bizness.

In classic ‘70s-TV crime-fighting style--straight-faced and preposterous--Johnson and his fleshy “unit” (that would be his four trusty lifeguards) manage to capture crafty criminals while also entertaining sick kids, saving Cambodian refugees, and fending off their devious archenemy, the jealous Mayor Massengil, and her Playbill-reading, disco-humming son Cody.

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What? You sense cliches? Stereotypes? Well, I hope so. “Son of the Beach” sends up not people’s ethnic or character traits, but the hackneyed pigeonholing others employ to demean them, and it does so with equal-opportunity aplomb. Dim leader Stack’s lifeguards include a bosomy dumb blond (Jaime Bergman) nicknamed B.J. by the guys for obvious reasons, a jive-talking inner city babe called Jamaica St. Croix (Leila Arcieri), a muscular German exchange lifeguard with fascist leanings named Chip Rommel (Roland Kickinger), and average-shaped straight woman Kimberlee Clark (Kim Oja). The show starts with an on-screen graphic placing the first scene “in the Orient"--oops, it politically corrects itself, “Asia"--where cackling local crime lords speak English but are subtitled anyway.

Just how shameless is “Son of the Beach”? A sports announcer covering the climactic chase scene (on scooters, then jet skis) raves that all those sick kids are seeing something exciting “with the exception of the blind boy.” There’s also a gratuitous scene of sighing lifeguards smoothing on their sunblock, a visit to a house of prostitution, and a cheap sign-language sex joke.

But just how clever is “Son of the Beach”? I vote for all of the above. Stern and Stack deliver precisely what they mean to--a breezy, bawdy burlesque. Stack said at a recent FX news conference that the “impetus” for the show was, “Let’s do something that just is funny. There’s nothing redeeming.” So if you’re gonna do a sunblock-smoothing scene (and of course you must), why try to justify it? Extra credit for resourcefulness goes to interspersed visual and aural gags involving thought-bubbles, Johnson’s “8 million saved” sign, “The Dating Game” theme, Chinese food ordering, and Osama bin Laden (we should never let our guard down against terrorism, anywhere).

There’s always something being savaged, in true “Airplane!” and “Police Squad” style. Like the latter, “Beach” makes lots of savvy nods to vintage TV, starting with the credits voice-over of announcer Dick Tufeld, familiar from many ‘60s and ‘70s TV promos (as well as the “Lost in Space” robot). “It’s like a throwback to shows like “F Troop,’ ” says Stack, while Stern calls it “ ‘Get Smart’ meets the beach.” He knows “my name will bring people to a show for probably exactly one episode. So we made sure to make this show funny.”

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Stern is so into the production process--Stack credits his collaboration with improving the scripts and the casting--that when the three female lifeguard actors came to his hotel room for a production meeting, “I wanted to have a menage a four,” Stern says, “and I couldn’t because I’m trying to be a responsible producer.”

And you know what? He is. He says, “The show stands on its own,” and it does. Yet it’s crucial consumer disclosure to have Stern’s name prominently attached. Those who like him should love “Son of the Beach.” Those who loathe him should stay well away from shore.

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* “Son of the Beach” can be seen tonight at 10:30 on FX.


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