“Deadliest Catch,” Discovery Channel's reality series about men who fish the Bering Sea for Alaskan king crab, has been on the air for eight seasons. The stakes have always been high for the crews of the Time Bandit, Northwestern, Kodiak, Wizard and newer additions Seabrooke and Ramblin' Rose. But this season the ever-present question of “Will the crews catch enough to meet their financial obligations?” reaches a tipping point when they find out that their fishing quotas have been slashed by almost half. The skippers are left with a choice. Should they fish the depleted red crab grounds? Or go for the more dangerous but potentially more rewarding blue crab waters?
Harsh economic reality is a cornerstone of “Deadliest Catch” and what, for me, makes it so watchable. It's not that it's entertaining to witness these hardworking fisherman struggle for their livelihoods. Rather, what's enjoyable about the series is that I want to root for them. I want them to overcome the hardships of difficult work and be able to pay their bills at the end of crab season. So it's an emotional journey as much as a logical one. I want them to succeed because money means security and food on the table, but I also feel something for the conditions they experience. So much is at stake that I cringe every time a wave violently washes over the deck, a crew member's mistake brings them one step away from a serious injury or a gear breakdown threatens to send the boat back to shore. I practically hold my breath when each giant steel “pot” slowly breaks the surface of the water, so anxious am I to see how many king crab are trapped inside.
Part of this emotional reaction to the show comes from simple admiration for people who do a job I would never want to do. To me, the idea of being stuck on a boat in rough seas is bad enough without the added stress of having to manipulate giant steel cages while sorting crab. But even if you love the sea and being on a boat, rain or shine, is your idea of a perfect life, you have to admit that crab fishing is a tough job. So to the men of “Deadliest Catch” I say well done. The curious thing is I also think “well done” even when I don't really like some of the crew. While eight seasons of following pretty much the same group of men lends itself to a comfortable familiarity, I'm not always cheering for them because I think they're great guys. Sometimes, they're not likable. But the work they do makes a tangible contribution. At the very least, the show has made me more mindful of how my seafood reaches my plate. But ultimately, what I most appreciate and what will keep me watching for another eight seasons, is the determination of the men who are an essential part of getting it there.
Page 2 of 2 - Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.