Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mariners in Review: Couch Potato Edition

Realistic depictions of life at sea are rare on television. The original Love Boat series may have done more to distort the public's idea of maritime affairs in general and cruise ship operations in particular than anything else on television, but it continued a tradition running from Adventures in Paradise to Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. The success of Deadliest Catch has somewhat reversed that trend, and several good recent series show a more realistic view of life on the water.

One warning: I was part of the filming of a reality show on a cruise ship I commanded four years ago and saw how different the final result can be and how little "reality" can play a part. Staged shots (often filmed over and over), scripted "interviews", and heavy editing all go into a show to make it "better television." One of the constants of life at sea is the long periods of boredom, "hurry up and wait," and "standing by to stand by" that go on. All the shows listed below are worth a look, but many are much faster paced and dramatic than real life.

Carrier. (PBS) This series follows the aircraft carrier Nimitz on a six-month deployment and features all areas of the vessel's operations. The crew is surprisingly frank about life on board. Lots of quick shots and a music-heavy audio track make this series more stylized than the Discovery Channel shows below. Click here for complete episodes and clips.

Cruise Ship Diaries. (National Geographic Channel). There have been many cruise ship documentaries, but most focus on the fun and amenities available to passengers. This six-part series follows the crew of the Costa Serena as they deal with the challenges of running a floating resort. Clips available here.

Deadliest Catch. (Discovery Channel). This long-running show features the crews of several vessels -- more than 20 over the history of the series -- involved in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry. The show has become a phenomenon, to the point that crew members have become celebrities, their vessels tourist attractions, and the show and vessels the subject of merchandise. The show's website here features hundreds of free clips.

The Merchant Navy. (STV) Scottish Television's fascinating series follows the early careers of several young merchant mariners from their academy days to their first assignments at sea, some on a supertanker and others on a large new cruise ship. Click here for complete episodes.

Swords: Life On The Line. (Discovery Channel). The success of Deadliest Catch lead Discovery Channel to head East, to the New England-based swordfish long-lining fleet. Among the captains in this series is Linda Greenlaw of The Perfect Storm fame, and author of The Hungry Ocean and its sequels. Lots of clips available here.

Victory at Sea. (NBC). This series, broadcast in 1952 and '53, traces the story of World War II naval history in both theaters. Although it follows the war from more of a big picture viewpoint than that of an on-the-deck sailor, the series is a pioneering work of television documentary. Its score, penned by Richard Rodgers, became a hit in and of itself. For complete episodes, click here.

Whale Wars. (Animal Planet). This controversial series follows the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's attempts to stop Antarctic whaling using direct confrontation at sea with their two vessels. The Sea Shepherd ships are crewed by volunteers, most with little maritime experience. However you feel about whaling or Sea Shepherd's tactics, the show is an object lesson in the importance of safety and training at sea. Lots of free clips here.

No comments:

Post a Comment