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Time Bandit Deckhand Mike Fourtner rests before work during the King Crab season on Deadliest Catch season six. (Rick Gershon/Rick Gershon/Getty Images)
Time Bandit Deckhand Mike Fourtner rests before work during the King Crab season on Deadliest Catch season six. (Rick Gershon/Rick Gershon/Getty Images)

Andrew Ryan: Television

The hard work continues on Deadliest Catch Add to ...

Have you given up on career satisfaction? Still wishing you had gone to grad school, or at least obtained your real-estate licence? Are you wasting work hours wondering whether your job is really as good as it gets?

All those who are disenchanted with their work existence should spend a day in the gumboots of the crab fisherman toiling on Deadliest Catch (Discovery, 10 p.m.). It turns out the worst day fishing really isn't better than your best day at work.

Each day is harder than the one before it on Deadliest Catch, which launched in 2005 and still ranks among the most-watched shows on American television. When broadcast on the U.S. Discovery Channel last week, Tuesday night's seventh-season opener hauled in 4.3 million viewers - one of the higher-rated episodes of all time.

What makes Deadliest Catch different from most reality programming is that people aren't embarrassed to admit that they watch it. More documentary series than reality TV, the show has a no-frills premise that faithfully details the workday routine aboard vessels in the Bering Sea during the Alaskan king crab fishing season.

The new season begins on a sombre note with a farewell to Captain Phil Harris, certainly the best-known personality to surface since the show launched.

Hard-living and hard-working, Captain Phil passed away after a stroke last season at the age of 53. The first new episode opens with his burial service. All seven crafts in the crab-fishing fleet, including two new boats, gather in a circle for a memorial service, after which his ashes are sent out to sea.

Although the sendoff is clearly heartfelt, there's not a lot of sermonizing from Phil's sons or fellow fisherman. Anyone who has watched the show will know that Phil would have wanted it that way.

The old fisherman's departure sets up the tone for the upcoming season, which looks to be a competition between the crab-fishing veterans and the fresh-faced rookies.

As before, there is ample human drama on Deadliest Catch. The two new boats, the Ramblin' Rose and the Seabrooke, are helmed by Elliott Neese and Scott (Junior) Campbell, respectively. Both look like college students.

But these laddies know their jobs, and avail themselves of technology. Campbell uses digital maps and other high-tech modalities in his search for the fattest king crabs. Only a few days into the month-long crab season, the Seabrooke has pulled in the biggest haul of any of the boats.

The baby-faced Captain Neese, meanwhile, is saddled with a crew even younger than himself, and none of them well-behaved. In one of the more uncomfortable scenes, he is forced to fire an irresponsible deckhand for getting wildly drunk.

But things aren't going swimmingly for the older fishermen, either. Crusty Captain Johnathan Hillstrand frets about making his quota, likely because he took his boat, Time Bandit, to the same spot for the fourth year in a row. Old seadogs Captain Sig Hansen (the Northwestern) and Captain Keith Colburn (the Wizard) are also coming up empty in the early going.

The first episode also devotes significant screen time - too much, perhaps - to the attempts by Captain Phil's sons, Josh and Jake, to rebuild their father's ship, the Cornelia Marie. The legend continues and so forth.

In short order, the Cornelia Marie is ready for its first expedition without Phil at the helm. The sons hire a no-nonsense skipper, Derrick Ray, who reveals his plans to fish in an untouched the northernmost region of the Bering Sea. He also announces his intent to regularly test Jake's urine for drugs (his past addiction problems being a matter of public record).

None of which is likely to inspire anyone to take up a career in commercial fishing. Unlike most reality programming, Deadliest Catch does not gloss up the work routine of crab fishermen.

How could you possibly romanticize a job that requires you to slide around a frozen boat deck in roiling sea waters while handling live crustaceans - and all toward the cause of five-star restaurants bumping up their menu? Crab fishing is neither a job nor an adventure. It's work.



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