Sweating Bullets or: How We Came to Love the Dreadful

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Between 1991 and 1993, an obscure Canadian action TV series was made. Entitled Sweating Bullets in Canada and Tropical Heat elsewhere, it was based on the adventures of the Hawaiian shirt-wearing ponytail-sporting private eye, Nick Slaughter, and plucky flame-haired detective, Silvie Girard. It was “set” in Florida, but filmed in Mexico, South Africa and Israel which accounted for mountains (unknown in Florida), South African villains (largely unknown in Florida) and El Al aircraft (certainly unknown in Florida) that appeared in various episodes. It was Magnum, P.I. meets Moonlighting. On the cheap. It wasn’t great—ok, it was dreadful—but it was oddly addictive.

I watched the series while living in Serbia when it was under sanctions. Serbia under sanctions could be miserable, but Serbia under sanctions in winter was miserable. Tropical Heat offered an escape and it was lapped up. It showed a tropical lifestyle, safe adventures where the hero (seemly unable to keep his shirt buttoned, let alone on) always triumphed and cocked a snook at authority.

Bizarrely, the star of the show, played by Canadian actor Rob Stewart, became a Serbian hero. During the anti-Milosevic protests in 1996 and 1997 a popular slogan was “Slotera Nika, za predsednika” (“Nick Slaughter for President”, which also rhymes in Serbian). Its popularity passed unnoticed outside Serbia until Rob Stewart came across a Facebook fan group for Tropical Heat. This led to the documentary “Nick Slaughter for President” and Stewart’s visit to Serbia in 2009 where he was greeted like a returning hero. A slavic Searching for Sugar Man.

So where are we going with this story? Almost twenty years later, in 2010 and 2011 long after I became a “we” and we lived in Cyprus, Tropical Heat was back on TV. In Cyprus, there is a requirement to broadcast in Greek, English and Turkish. And if money is an issue, an old cheap series that meets the language requirement ticks all the boxes. Hello, Tropical Heat.

You couldn’t help but draw a parallel: we met the series when Serbia was in conflict, and on second viewing, our seat was in Cyprus; a divided island with an unresolved conflict. In both cases, we were captive (and captivated) viewers.

So, in a Cypriot evening, as in Serbia, Tropical Heat provided something to look forward to—TV’s equivalent of comfort food; not good for you, but irresistible. Easy on the eye, pure escapism, and in English. Once again we were hooked. Perhaps they should consider rebranding the series; Nick Slaughter: Bringing Comfort to Conflicted Countries.

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