Friday, July 23, 2010

Reality TV at its Best--Capt. Phil Dies on "Deadliest Catch"

Reality TV has been around for a while now. "Survivor" set both the stage and standard for reality series and it seems that they have become prolific. Some of them are quite good like "Survivor", quite popular like "American Idol", gastronomic like "Top Chef" or pretentious and affected like any of the "Housewives of Wherever."

Discovery has had its share of excellent "reality" series including 2 of the most popular shows on cable networks, "Dirty Jobs" and "Deadliest Catch." And now "Deadliest Catch" has shown us the ultimate reality. The reality of when one of the show's main characters dies during the filming of the season.

Capt. Phil Harris of the Fishing Vessel Cornelia Marie died during taping this last January. His conflict with his sons, his health problems, his passion and ultimately his demise were captured on tape over the last several seasons for everyone to see. It wasn't comfortable, but it was real.

No scripted show could have captured the drama because no one can either write a script or act with that level of realism--because this was real and it was raw. It showed people as people really are and it doesn't matter if it's a profane, cigarette smoking, pasty faced fishing captain or not. Those who have watched this show regularly know the main characters well and yet we were both surprised and touched by what was transpiring.

This man had 2 sons both of whom fished with him on his crab boat. One, Josh, was growing into a responsible man taking on increasing responsibilty. The younger, Jake, was smart-assed, spoiled and a bit of a slacker--the prototypical youngest son. He was also a drug addict. This was something we learned in the episode where his father, Capt. Phil, caught him using and stealing his own prescription meds. And just a little while later in this episode Capt. Phil was stricken with a stroke. Fortunately, Cornelia Marie was in harbor at the time.

The following episodes showed the captain/father in a hospital room. He was med-evaced from an island in the Bering Sea to Anchorage and then was joined by his sons. He had brain surgery to remove part of his skull to relieve swelling. He was getting better. Then he had another stroke. One son was handling the pressure and the responsibility. The other didn't--he got high. Guess which was which.

A side story was another Captain (Jonathan Hillstrand of Time Bandit) who needed to get off his boat to take a break. He was returning to Seattle when word was passed to him that Capt. Phil had suffered a stroke. This guy, who I have always thought to be a major jerk, cancelled his plans to be there for his fellow captain and for that captain's sons.

The long and short of it is that last week's episode where Capt. Phil died generated 8.5 million viewers. Arguably, this week's did as well or better. This week's show featured the reactions of fellow fishermen to the passing of a friend. Their reactions and emotions were real and genuine not contrived and artificial and definitely not scripted. Sig Hansen's speechlessness upon learning the fate of Capt. Phil was nearly as gut-wrenching to watch as it must have been to actually experience.

"Deadliest Catch" has always been a macho, testosterone laden show. Capt. Phil once said, "you ain't a man 'til you've pulled out your own tooth with pliers." And his son Josh, who had a horrible toothache and no way to get to a dentist complied.

This show which features men who are decidedly blue-collar; who are neither learned nor ignorant showed us the love that men can have for one another.

This is Reality TV at its finest for it was totally real and raw. It's deserving of award, recognition and watching. What's also interesting is the number of people from all walks of life who watch and talk about this show. Most of us never risk our lives at work, never suffer the biting cold and pain of working on the water in extreme cold and never rely on the vagaries of crabs to earn our living.

I'm glad I've been following the show this year. I wonder what's going to happen to the sons of Capt. Harris now? Will Edgar Hansen give up fishing and stay on shore with his family? Will the Hillstrands continue as a fishing family. A lot of us are looking forward to next season to find out.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe a little hard on Jake, but otherwise I enjoyed reading this post. I also have the same questions? :) Keep up the good writing.