Tuned In

TV Tonight: The Floating Soap Opera

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On duty in the Persian Gulf. / PBS

This week, PBS is airing what—if it had run it one hour a week like most networks do—would be called a reality or documentary series, Carrier, about life on the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. Instead, airing two hours a night for five nights most places (check local listings), you could call it a “special” or a “miniseries” or a “megadocumentary” or “pretty much what’s on PBS primetime this week.” [Update: Should note the show debuted last night; sorry to weigh in late—still catching up from vacation. The series is fairly episodic and easy to jump into, however.]

This kind of scheduling is frustrating, because it likely turns off many potential viewers who don’t have the time to commit in one week. But that’s what DVRs are for, I guess, and if you do have the time—and interest in the daily life and culture of one of the military’s floating cities during wartime—it seems worth the investment. (Disclaimer: I’ve watched four hours so far.) Filmed with surprisingly broad latitude in 2005 (the producers had full editorial control, though the Navy screened the show for potential security breaches), the series speaks frankly with shipmen and -women about the experience of serving in the middle of (and in active support of) two wars.

Even more so, the series is a fascinating picture of the culture, and culture clashes, in an armed service that is now much more female and includes a wide swath of ethnicities. (Early episodes look at the Nimitz’s enforcement of fraternization rules and the story arc of a crew member who runs into disciplinary problems over his blatant—and openly admitted—racism.) If you History Channel buffs can tear yourselves away from Ax Men for a while this week, I think you’ll be glad you did.