By Ken Tucker
Updated March 17, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

If I worried about such things as the collapse of the culture, I’d be wringing my metaphorical hands over the fact that one of the silliest shows in the history of television, Baywatch, now has a transcendently silly parody of it in Son of the Beach, a new half-hour sitcom that is the sand-gritty fruit of Howard Stern’s latest foray into TV production. Meanwhile, Baywatch itself has yielded an inadvertent self-parody in Baywatch Hawaii, a syndicated thong-fest featuring high-drama lines like ”A lifeguard dating a victim is a potential time bomb!”

It is this sort of poker-faced melodrama, combined with years of familiarity with the middle-aged pectoral clenching of star David Hasselhoff and the seismic chest heaving of Pamela Anderson Lee, that has inspired Son of the Beach. The exact TV equivalent of a good MAD magazine spoof, Beach stars Tim Stack, seen most recently as the fake talk-show host of Nightstand With Dick Dietrick. Here, Stack, who’s also a writer and producer for Beach, plays head lifeguard Notch Johnson, a scrawny buffoon with skin the color of oatmeal and delusions of sun-dappled grandeur. As he proved on Nightstand, Stack has a gift for absurd solemnity, and he utters his intentionally cornball jokes and single entendres with all the gravity of a big wave crashing into the surf. When a character says, ”I was reared by my grandmother,” and Stack’s Notch responds with soulful quietness, ”Really? I was reared by two uncles,” you know that Howard Stern’s brand of strenuously adolescent humor has found an ideal performer.

As you’d expect from a Stern project, the female lifeguards are all Lycra-bursting babes, with special camera attention paid to the show’s Anderson Lee knockoff, Jaime Bergman, who plays B.J. Cummings with chesty assertion but rather less comedic skill than Stack. Funnier than Bergman, but less intentionally so, are all the actors in Baywatch Hawaii. Anderson Lee, the ultimate bouncing beach bunny, left Baywatch a few years ago to launch her highly successful bodyguard-in-platform-heels show V.I.P. She and most of the original cast have been replaced, in relocating from California to Hawaii, by a platoon of pretty boys and girls whose acting ability is somewhat below the requirements for the daytime soap opera Passions.

Go to the Baywatch Hawaii webpage and you’ll find this description of the show’s randiest minx, Brandy Ledford’s Dawn: ”a complex, intelligent, and sensual woman. A physiology and kinesiology specialist, she knows everything about the human body, and her role on the team is to try to maximize everyone’s potential.” In the episodes I’ve seen, the only thing Dawn has maximized is the number of ways one can shake one’s hair to let the sun glint off it.

Baywatch episodes have never been brow-furrowing epic poetry, but lately they’ve become nearly wordless and wholly suspense-free. Two recent examples: (1) Woman falls into a sulfurous air pocket in the water; three Baywatchers dive in and get her — plot complete. (2) Interchangeable Baywatcher Jason (Jason Momoa) meets an actress; they go out to dinner. Cut to commercial. Then Jason gives her a lei (hey, hey get those smutty Son of the Beach-type jokes out of your head!), and she gets on a plane back to L.A. — plot complete. While it may be true, as Anderson Lee recently told Jay Leno, that ”it’s not about the dialogue,” an hour-long TV show does require some minimal amount of drama; Baywatch Hawaii, however, is more like a listless behind-the-scenes photo shoot for Victoria’s Secret swimwear, with the occasional brandishing of a snorkel for authenticity.

It’s no wonder that, while Hasselhoff is still in the show’s opening credits, he doesn’t appear in the show for weeks on end. Scheduled to leave at the end of this season, the ol’ Hassler is reportedly miffed that the script calls for him to die in an explosion. But he’s blowing up just in time, because after people get a load of Son of the Beach‘s definitive deconstruction, no one will ever be able to look at syndicated lifeguarding with even the smallest suspension of disbelief again. Son of the Beach: B+ Baywatch Hawaii: D