Saturday, May 27, 2023

Barons, on CW

They went from being stoner draft-dodgers to running sweatshops in Southeast Asia, allegedly. Presumably, this Australian import series does not get that far. As a highly fictionalized, twentynothing soap opera riff on the early days of the Billabong and Quicksilver surf fashion rivalry, it will encourage most viewers to wear Ocean Pacific instead. Creators Michael Lawrence, John Molloy, and Liz Doran take us back to the birth of board shorts in Barons, which premieres Monday on the CW.

Snapper Webster built his surfing goods line off the proceeds of his mates’ annual surfing expedition to Bali, if you know what I mean. He is tightly controlling of the business, yet perversely averse to risk and change. That frustrates his best mate Bill “Trotter” Dwyer, who is brimming with new ideas.

Inevitably, he sets out on his own, with the help of his newlywed wife Tracy, who is awkwardly Webster’s ex. To compile the insults, they launch their company with seed money Tracy borrowed from Webster, ostensibly for her wedding. Webster takes it badly, launching a very public feud. Meanwhile, several of their mutual friends are sweating out the draft. The vociferously anti-war Dani Kirk has even offered herself for sham marriages, even while she questions her own sexual identity, especially after meeting acclaimed surfing photographer Shirley Kwong.

would have been much more watchable if it had more Endless Summer and less Hair. Honestly, its New Left anti-war politics look overly simplistic and self-serving, especially when considering the subsequent plight of the Vietnamese Boat People and the oppressive corruption of the current Communist regime.

Unfortunately, the subplots focusing on deserters and questioning draftees detract from what could have been a deliciously ironic depiction of the peace-and-lover surfers growing into cutthroat capitalists, at least judging from the first two episodes, “Paradise Lost” and “Gone Surfing.” Instead of embracing the characters’ inner Gordon Gekkos, Doran and co-writers Matt Cameron and Marieke Hardy basically give us a shallow “Dawson’s Wave.”

Dwyer calls his company “Lightwave” and extolls the “light-weight” virtues of his shorts. That description also applies to the underwhelming ensemble cast, who are interchangeably low-impact. Sophia Forrest brings the most on-screen energy to
Barons as Kirk, but her character is such a tiresome CW cliché.

If you like surfing, there are some nice interludes of action in the waves, but the choice of music is weirdly pedestrian. It might have been too much to ask for Bud Shank’s jazz themes for Bruce Brown’s surfing documentaries, but at least give us something with some rhythm that evokes the classic surfing era. It is all pretty dull, when it isn’t annoying. Not recommended,
Barons premieres this Monday (5/29) on CW.