The year is 1998. Mase and Chumbawanba are tearing up the pop charts. People all over the world are lining up around movie theaters to see James Cameron’s Titanic. Two Stanford University PhD candidates have just founded a new technology start-up called “Google.” And Pamela Anderson, after ending her five-season run as lifeguard C.J. Parker on Baywatch, has moved on to her next project, a campy syndicated action series titled V.I.P, in which she plays Vallery Irons (the show’s titular V.I.), a California hot dog stand employee who ends up as the face of the country’s most famous celebrity protection agency. The show will go on to run for four seasons and 88 episodes, most of which feature her wearing a neon miniskirt and low-cut top while accidentally saving the day by firing a rocket launcher or something all willy-nilly all over the streets of Los Angeles. It was preposterous. A ton of the episodes are on YouTube. You should watch a few.
But back to 1998.
The show’s pilot episode, “Beats Working At a Hot Dog Stand,” lays the groundwork for all the mistaken-identity, automatic-weapon-related hijinks to come. Here is the short version: Vallery Irons gets hit on at work by a movie star named Brad Cliff, who invites her — again, a hot dog stand employee — to his movie premiere that night. At the premiere, a gunman from the Texas Mad Dog Militia tries to kill Brad because he ad-libbed some less than complimentary lines about them in a recent film. Vallery fights him off by bonking him on the head with her handbag. Blah blah blah she’s mistaken for a bodyguard blah blah blah a fledgling bodyguard agency hires her to be the face of their agency blah blah blah the Mad Dog Militia storms their headquarters to try to kill her.
Also, Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris from Breaking Bad both play major roles. I may have buried the lede here. Either way, let’s talk about it a bit, shall we?
Bryan Cranston plays a washed-up actor named Colt Arrow whose name I promise I am not making up. Colt has used his status as a TV tough guy to open Colt Arrow Security, which employs three very capable bodyguards to cover up the fact that he has no training or experience. In the above screencap, he is putting the moves on Amber Smith from Celebrity Rehab in the cabin of a yacht while his team engages in an aquatic firefight with a group of machine-gun-wielding bad guys who are trying to make off with millions in diamonds. This is not the most ridiculous thing that happens in this episode.
He’s also in deep trouble with the IRS. We learn this a little later when he says this actual collection of words to his lawyer while speeding down the highway in his convertible: “Oh, poppycock. How could they get me on tax fraud? I don’t pay any taxes!” This leads to him fleeing to Grand Cayman after tricking his team into taking legal control of the business in lieu of payment. Exit Colt Arrow.
Anyway, this is what sets off the whole Pamela-Anderson-running-a-bodyguard-agency chain of events. The team, now saddled with debt and without any fancy name recognition, chooses to bring in a woman who is being mistaken for a bodyguard all over the news because she used her purse to clobber a violent militia member who was trying to kill her date because of words he said in a movie. Which brings us to Dean Norris.
Dean Norris plays Texas Mad Dog Militia leader Jackson Lasaar, whose name I also promise I am not making up. That’s him carrying a bazooka into a downtown Los Angeles office building so he can murder an actor and his famous bodyguard. Jackson’s plan is foiled because no one on his team notices the busty blonde sneaking up behind him in knee-high boots and shiny short shorts and carrying a giant automatic weapon that she secretly has no idea how to use. Also, at one point during the battle, a member of Vallery Irons’s team blows up an entire hallway in their own office to ward off the militia, and the ensuing CGI explosion is so awful that it looks like it might have been made in MS Paint. “Ozymandias” ain’t got nothin’ on this.
So, to recap: A full decade before starring as opposing forces in one of the greatest television dramas ever made, Bryan Cranston and Dean Norris played integral roles in establishing a hot-dog-selling character Pamela Anderson played in a cheesy syndicated action series as a flashy bodyguard to the stars. How far we’ve come.