Thursday, June 24, 2010

All Gilligans, No Professor

American television viewers, unlike their British counterparts, prefer characters with redeeming qualities. Consider, for example, the two versions of “The Office”. In the original BBC show, the boss, David Brent, is played by Ricky Gervais as a selfish oblivious buffoon with few sympathetic qualities. In the NBC series, the boss is Michael Scott, played with considerably more likeability by Steve Carell. The British are willing to laugh at the pathetic David Brent, while Americans prefer laughing with nice-guy Michael Scott, despite the fact that the BBC series is actually funnier.

I have no idea whether the Animal Planet reality series “Whale Wars” is popular in Great Britain, but it seems like a perfect fit for the British sense of humor. One difference is that even the British version of “The Office” had some likeable characters (just not David Brent) – “Whale Wars” has none. Imagine “Gilligan’s Island” with all Gilligans (self-righteous a-hole Gilligans) and no Professors or Skippers – and certainly no Gingers or Mary Anns.

Whale Wars” is a reality series now in its third season of following the crew of the anti-whaling organization, Sea Shepherd and their ship, the Steve Irwin, as they attempt to disrupt Japanese whaling operations in the waters off of Antarctica. They see themselves as non-violent bad-ass pirates (their flag includes a skull). If you tune in, it is highly likely that you will soon be rooting for the whalers. If it were possible for whales to watch the show, it is highly likely that they would end up rooting for the whalers.

“Whale Wars” produces comedy based on the formula:
(unbounded self-righteousness + self-delusion) * extreme incompetence = comedy gold!

The Sea Shepherd ships never really come close to stopping the Japanese whalers or even slowing them down much. It is obvious that Sea Shepherd has not stopped the killing of a single whale, but that does not stop them from celebrating and congratulating themselves for throwing stink bombs onto the whaling ships.

Sea Shepherd claims that the Japanese whalers are acting illegally, but the show’s narration points out that the Japanese are exploiting a loophole in the anti-whaling treaty – whales killed for research purposes may be sold commercially. The Japanese declare their ships research vessels and examine the whale’s stomach contents before filleting.

The Sea Shepherd organization aims to stop them through laughably ineffective means.

One of the Sea Shepherd tactics is to use prop foulers (a heavy rope that could entangle a ship’s propeller) to disable the whaling ships. This is not likely, as the Captain of the Steve Irwin, Paul Watson, admitted in this exchange in last week’s episode:

“How effective are these prop-foulers?”
Captain Paul Watson:
“It’s more the threat of it than the actual effectiveness.”

Another ineffective tactic is to buzz the whalers in an inflatable speed boat. This led to the following piece of amusing narration in last week’s show:

“While the Shonan Maru 2 circles them, the deck crew prepares to launch the Delta [a small inflatable speed boat]. The Delta will be driven by Chad Halstead, an art student from New York. This will be his first time driving a small boat over the freezing Antarctic waters.”

I may be mistaken, but I believe Blackbeard prepared for his career as an anti-shipping activist in the Caribbean by studying art in New York.

The highlight of season two was when the Japanese whalers harpooned several whales as the crew of the Steve Irwin looked on impotently. I stood up and cheered the advancement in whale research! For that brief moment the crew almost seemed to realize that they are ineffectual and pathetic – but only for that brief moment.

The ante is upped in the third season, now airing. The Sea Shepherd fleet has added two more ships. In addition to the Steve Irwin, they now have the Bob Barker, and the Ady Gil. Former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker threw away $5 million to purchase a decrepit former whaling vessel for the Sea Shepherd fleet. The Ady Gil is a long distance speed boat that looks like something James Bond might drive.

The Japanese whalers have also added a security ship that has so far been effective in keeping the Sea Shepherd fleet away from their whaling activities. No word on how many extra whales the Japanese will have to “research” to pay for the addition of the security ship.

A quick google search reveals that yuks will keep coming. In upcoming episodes, the Ady Gil will collide with the Japanese whaler’s security ship and be destroyed (if you can’t wait, video and news story here). After the collision, the Captain of the Ady Gil, Pete Bethune decided to Jet Ski over to the Japanese ship and arrest its Captain. Instead, Bethune was detained, transported to Tokyo and charged with trespassing, damage to property, assault, forcible obstruction of official business and possession of an illegal knife. He faces up to 15 years if convicted.

Even the writers of “Dumb and Dumber” couldn’t have come up with that one.

If you like a touch of cruelty to your comedy, check out “Whale Wars”, Fridays at 8 PM central on Animal Planet.

South Park’s spot-on parody, “Whale Whores” can be viewed here.