Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reality TV done right

PBS is airing a series called Carrier. It's a look at a 6-month cruise of the USS Nimitz and an intimate view of some of its crew members, their struggles, and the issues the ship faces in the line of duty.

It comes on late at night here and they play episodes back-to-back. Every episode is an hour and there are no commercials on PBS, so it's a full hour of reality. I stay up very late because I'm addicted.

What strikes me is how young the crew is and how working in the Navy is just like working in any other full-time low-skilled job, you just do it on a big boat far from home 6 months out of the year. Many of the kids are straight from broken homes, slums, or are orphans in some way. The Navy was a ticket out of gangs, drugs, and minimum-wage work back home.

The F-18 fighter wings on board are also profiled. The pilots are all commissioned officers, college-educated guys in their 30s and 40s with families. They sharply contrast with the enlisted men servicing their planes.

The Marine air wing is doing its first-ever sea-based tour, so they are learning to fit in with the Navy guys, and sharply contrast with everyone else.

There aren't any battle scenes, the pilots haven't dropped any bombs on Iraq (which they are unhappy about). But, there are lots of other interesting things.

Last night they profiled all the worship services that take place on the ship. Pentecostal, Catholic, generic evangelical, and even Wiccan. It showed the role of religion in the crew members' lives and the role that the chaplains play. It profiled some recent converts on the ship, including a very outspoken one who clearly fell into sin on a shore leave in Australia and had to learn to deal with it.

It's all very real-world with real conversations and real mundane moments. I highly recommend.

Some other random thoughts on the series:
The carrier is "a floating high school" with gossip, drama, relationships, discipline problems, etc.
When people go overboard it gets hard to find them.
It's hard to land planes on a deck rocking from really stormy weather (probably the best, most intense moments in the whole show).
The life is really monotonous.
One of the main characters has a pregnant girlfriend back home who doesn't appear to care for him.
The pilots all have great senses of humor.
The captain has the best job in the Navy.

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