Thanks to internet streaming services, it’s becoming easier and easier to piece together entire stretches of one’s childhood. Whether it be a whole TGIF lineup from the early 90s or a Saturday afternoon of syndicated television from the early 90s, there’s no limit to the kinds of memories a person can relive through the likes of Netflix and Hulu, provided those memories are of watching television (or, in the case of Netflix, being murdered).
To that end, Amazon Prime now features the entire series of Baywatch in a special remastered edition, which is just like the original series, except with 25% of every shot cropped out to fit into a 16:9 aspect ratio.
It’s a shame about the widescreen format, too, given that today’s induction centers on a guy who could really use that extra vertical space on the TV screen: none other than Jorge “Giant” Gonzalez…
…who guest-starred on the Season Four episode, “Blindside”.
The plot begins radly enough as head lifeguard Mitch Buchannon and his son Hobie stroll the boardwalk.
There, Hobie spots a sign for “Manuel the Argentine Giant”, a muscular brute who bears a striking resemblance to Giant Gonzalez…
…’s Hasbro action figure.
As a responsible adult, Mitch insists that there are no such things as giants. Keep in mind that in this season of Baywatch alone, the beach plays host to a sexual predator ghost and a killer octopus that cures bulimia, but at the possibility that there exists a really tall person, Mitch draws the line.
Still, Hasselhoff relents and plunks down the two bucks to see the giant with his son and a bunch of kids.
Once inside, the carny pulls back the curtain, and the giant yells and shakes the bars on the cages. That’s a pretty lame show, to be quite honest, even for a dollar a head.
Manuel’s handler thinks so, too…
…berating the giant for not chasing after the kids.
It soon becomes apparent to Hobie, who offers his snow cone in vain, that this “giant” is nothing more than a very tall, sad man dressed to look buck naked.
While I’m not sure whether that’s illegal, Mitch asks to see the carny’s permit anyway, which he provides with a suspiciously sinister laugh.
It just goes to show that you might need a permit to run a sideshow attraction, but you don’t need a permit to be a jerk.
Later, Hobie and his friends find Manuel under the pier with a knife in his mouth and a pelican in his arms, which frightens off the marks. Hobie stays.
It turns out, Manuel, or Manny, is simply rescuing the bird from a plastic six-pack ring. Gonzalez is lucky he responded to the casting call for a litter-hating WWF wrestler before Ludvig Borga could scoop up the role.
Manny’s escapades in the outside world spell trouble for him professionally; Valdez, his carny handler, demands that the giant stay hidden from view and not interact with his new friend Hobie, lest he expose his gimmick. Who would pay to look at a savage giant when they know he’s just a regular guy? It’s good to see that some promoters still believe in kayfabe.
Like any promoter, be it in the sideshow biz or the wrestling biz, Valdez seriously stiffs his workers on their cut of the action. Not that business is all that good; every bill in that stack is a single.
Of course, I can’t talk about this episode without mentioning the “A” plot, which sees former series regular John D Cort return out of the blue on horseback to wrangle up a no-goodnik.
But this time around, Cort seems different somehow.
Is he less sexy? Oh my goodness no, as an in-show music video can attest.
But he is rather aloof, snubbing Newman’s handshake like the poor guy’s Dean Malenko or something.
Mitch, always a stickler for etiquette…
…chucks a medicine ball at his chest.
Cort also fails to spot a drowning victim, and when he eventually tries to run to the rescue, he bumps into a whole bunch of people.
“That’s never happened to me before,” he later pleads to his woman. (He’s talking about the lifeguarding error)
Clearly, something is wrong with this man’s vision.
I mean, on a romantic picnic with Pam Anderson, he pours cream soda into wine glasses.
I kid! While he does indeed pour soda into wine glasses, that kind of product placement is absolutely normal in the world of Baywatch, where plugs for A&W soft drinks are shoehorned into as many real-life situations as possible.
It’s so subtle you’ll barely notice!
What is cause for alarm is when Cort moves in for a kiss and knocks over his and CJ’s drinks.
By God, the A&W!
But the biggest red flag of all is when, as CJ explains to Mitch, Cort nearly runs over a woman on his motorcycle, though we never see the incident, or the woman, or the motorcycle…
…and I thought this guy rode a horse.
Concerned with his friend, Mitch encourages Cort to see an eye doctor…
…by pulling this total dick move!
The doctor tells Cort he has retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that causes tunnel vision. When I told my brother I would be writing up this episode, he asked, I kid you not, if it was also the one where the lifeguard has retinitis pigmentosa. Don’t ever tell me this show isn’t educational.
On a less educational note, Cort decides to leave town and say goodbye to CJ forever, his logic being that guys with bad eyesight make lousy lovers. “CJ is destined for an incurably romantic man”, he reasons. “All I have to offer is an incurably blind one.”
An odd turn of phrase, but I suppose it’s better than the original script, where I believe he stated that CJ deserved a man with a degenerative romantic condition affecting one in 4000 people.
Back in the “B” plot, Manny’s cruel handler is still keeping him on a tight leash. Valdez demands that he frighten the “brats” so they’ll pay a buck a pop to watch him shake a cage for 15 seconds – which, as I have already mentioned is not that great a gimmick.
The way I see it, to just have fans come look at Giant Gonzalez, the carny might be able to charge a dollar, but to have fans come look at Giant Gonzalez *and* watch him wrestle, he could charge 75 cents.
Fortunately, Baywatch’s writers knew enough about El Gigante’s in-ring career not to actually have him wrestle on the show. Instead, the giant carves countless rad pelican statues out of driftwood.
In a heart-to-heart talk with Hobie, Manny reveals that it was his late father who first taught him to love pelicans. In fact, he has a very special pelican statue that he carved in his father’s memory, which he keeps near to his heart. It would be touching if the damn thing didn’t look like it came from the Flintstones.
But Valdez is not impressed, stooping so low as to not only call Manny a stupid pelican man, as one does, but to smash one of his works-in-progress to pieces.
Contemplating man’s inhumanity to man – and to nature – Giant Gonzalez clutches his beloved pelican statue to his bosom.
Knowing how cruel his new friend’s boss is, Hobie pulls Manny into the light via yet another musical montage. This time, it’s not a sexy montage, but a sappy montage about the power of friendship.
In scene after scene, Jorge Gonzalez uses his amazing natural coordination to win all the carnival games and rack up the big prizes for his little buddy.
But the fun and games come to an abrupt end when a swarm of hoodlums, upon spotting the biggest, tallest man they’ve ever seen, decide it would be a good idea to pick a fight with him.
Manny flaps his wings in a panic and falls backwards over the guard rail, even though his stunt double clearly drops off the pier feet-first in the next shot.
By the time the lifeguards reach Manny, who, again, is seven and a half feet tall, he is already standing, making their rescue mostly pointless. Come to think of it, the whole scene is pointless, except to fulfill the show’s rescue quota. Nothing even happens to the gang of troublemakers.
But at least viewers get to see Jorge Gonzalez’s trademark brand of spastic, jerky selling.
(Not to be confused with Randy Savage’s trademark brand of spastic jerky-selling)
At the end of the episode, Manny, having developed from a shy man who was drowning into a confident man who is not drowning…
…is doing big business, striking out on his own selling his pelican statues on the boardwalk.
And as for his carny boss who said he’d never make a dime if people saw him as a sensitive human being? Hobie says he took a hike after Manny sat on him.
And Manny smiles.
And the show ends.
WWF fans got to see the softer side of Jorge Gonzalez when the episode premiered on the first weekend of October 1993.
And how did his promoter Vince McMahon react? He let his contract expire later that week, and Gonzalez never wrestled in the WWF again.
So I guess the carny was right.