Before the rise and global domination of prestige television, TV used to be an ocean of forgettable, weird syndicated procedurals. The all but forgotten mad dream of the creators of Baywatch, one show ran for a single season before fading into the dusty halls of ignominy. A show starring former wrestling superstar and future Gawker foe Hulk Hogan and Hollywood legacy Chris Lemmon. The show was called Thunder in Paradise. The Deadshirt series—wherein Max Robinson and Jake Arant discuss the scant episodes we can find on the internet —is called Boat Dinks.
Max: Boat Dinks! The readers of Deadshirt ordered more Boat Dinks! For this week’s installment, Jake and I skip ahead from the pilot to episode 12 (“Identity Crisis”) which is, uhhh, bonkers. Jake, what the hell is going on with this one?
Jake: Max, this episode cements Thunder in Paradise as one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen, and I’m kind of starting to like it. We open with what appears to be the Hulkster using his extremely deep-voiced computerized speedboat to … steal a missile from the government? The action in this show is across-the-board underwhelming, and while I concede that it’s probably more difficult to make a boat look thrilling than, say, a talking Firebird, our time with Miami Vice proves you can still make nautical action pop on a TV screen. That said, the lack of on-camera fireworks is somewhat balanced out by talent (?) onscreen. Max, this show is absolutely stupid with professional wrestlers. Sting is the bad guy!
Max: Skipping ahead was a good call because not only is WWE superstar Sting playing the bad guy in this episode, he’s a recurring antagonist named HAMMERHEAD. Sting steals this whole episode. He’s like a beefcake Moriarty to the Hulkster’s hot dog-skinned Sherlock Holmes. The entire premise of this episode is Hammerhead, using a magic Mission: Impossible mask and remixed audio obtained after Hurricane agrees to promote a fan boat(???) in a radio ad, frames him for a missile ransom. Jake, there is a LONG sequence of Hulk Hogan test-driving a fan boat while some very smooth royalty-free music plays.
Jake: And how sweet it is. At times, this show is basically the visual equivalent of royalty free music, a generic riff on something that came before that makes you wish you were watching what it was trying to emulate. I WILL say that I find this whole experience a lot more palatable as a 45-minute show than as an almost two-hour pilot, because it dispenses largely with the bland filler and give us nothing but the good stuff. You want wrestling legend Jimmy Hart as a cabana DJ? You got it. You want a frankly bizarre subplot about two lovers separated by the Witness Protection Program unexpectedly reuniting? It’s here. You want Hulk Hogan escaping from a jail cell and somehow surfing on a gigantic chunk of brick wall? It’s ALL in this show. It’s not good, but it sure as hell kept my attention, which I can’t say for the pilot.
Max: This episode was like an hours-old McDouble, a tasty treat compared to the soggy footlong sub of the pilot. UH, so an insane thing about this episode is that the paint-drinking writers of this show actually gave the whole episode a unifying theme? Hulk gets framed by an imposter Hulk, but they kinda bury the lede with this B-plot where Jamaican bartender Trelawny is revealed to be some lady from Detroit putting on an outrageous accent because she saw a murder three years ago. Can you imagine if a regular TV show introduced a character like this and had them DRAMATICALLY REMOVE THEIR WIG TO REVEAL A WHOLE DIFFERENT HAIRCUT UNDERNEATH? There are fleeting moments of this episode that operate on like a Mad Men level of identity ennui.
Jake: Some of the underpinnings of this thing mystify me. There’s a moment where Bru (Chris Lemmon, who worked hard for his paycheck on this) tells Hulk’s (now retconned to be biological) daughter Jessica that he and Hulk had served together in Vietnam, and that they were like brothers. This offhand comment uses the Vietnam War in such a different context than shows that touched on it before, basically as a namedrop to legitimize the depth of their bond. It’s a far cry away from the darker, more troubled explorations of the lives of Vietnam vets in TV beforehand, stuff like Miami Vice and Magnum P.I. Perhaps it’s more a sign of the progress of history at that point more than anything else, but I for some reason found it off-putting to go from a show that explores the challenges guys faced coming back from war to a country that didn’t want them, to … this. GOD, Chris Lemmon is terrible in this show, Max. I don’t even think it’s his fault, all the way.
Max: The whole dynamic of this show is that Hulk Hogan just shows up and semi-convincingly reads some dialogue exactly as written and Chris Lemmon CONSTANTLY does weird voices and shtick. It’s fucking garbage and I love it. Thunder in Paradise certainly puts then-contemporary shows like Vice or Magnum P.I. in context: Those shows had moments of real depth or earned emotion, and Thunder in Paradise was written by cokeheads in a Disney World resort supply closet. We get way more on THUNDER in this episode than in the pilot and, buddy, this boat talks like ED-209 and can apparently ALTER THE ATOMIC MAKEUP OF MATTER with the push of a button.
Jake: Oh, I KNOW. Crowning moment of this episode: Hulk demands they take Hammerhead alive, which is immediately succeeded by them using some sort of ray to DISINTEGRATE a speedboat like an episode of Star Trek, after which they disable Hammerhead’s speedboat by ramming through it so hard that it explodes? I bet you everybody making this show was absolutely trashed on Keystone Light 24/7. I bet you there were long stretches of open sea just full of empty cans and Slim Jim wrappers. How did this get made? How did they make so many? How simple was it to get a TV show made? We could make this in a weekend, Max. I bet you we could make this in a weekend on a $1,000 budget and still have some left over to make bail.
Max: God I bet shooting this show was a disaster, just because of how much of it has to take place on the water. It’s like if you had to shoot a weekly 45 minute version of Jaws and also make sure Hulk Hogan doesn’t drop a hard R near any kids. The unintended hyper-surrealism of Thunder in Paradise is such that Hulk Hogan is framed for a federal crime, breaks out of jail and is fine by the end of the episode, but a side character reveals her entire life is a lie and just quietly goes back to that? I can’t get over this horrifically depressing B-plot. They hid a kind of crappy version of Before Sunset in the middle of a show about a talking boat.
Jake: It’s such a surreal thing to watch, honestly. This show is a soulless cash grab with a lot of aging wrestlers in it, and it often reaches to be things that it has no chance of being, but … shit. I’m kinda getting comfortable with it, Max. Feels almost like the camera could pan across Carol Alt’s beach bar and for an instant, you’d see us disheveled writer boys staring down into our watery margaritas and smoking cigarettes. Max, this show is invading my life in a way I did not anticipate and do not respect. But I think we have to keep going.
Max: I followed Hulk Hogan on Twitter recently, and he had an amazing series of tweets about how he got locked outside his house in his underwear and how he drank like three Modelos. With this in mind, Thunder in Paradise seems like the purest philosophical translation of Terry Bollea to the screen (sorry, Rocky III). Being two episodes into this show is the exact feeling of when you get caught in a thunderstorm walking home and it’s been like 20 minutes, so you’re still soaked, but you’ve made peace with it. This is that, for us, but as a TV show that basically only exists on YouTube as a weird artifact.