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Archive for Friday, January 27, 2012

‘Bering Sea Gold’ goes to extremes

January 27, 2012

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Cable has become a place where men and women go to get away from each other. Every night, there are millions of women watching marathons of shows about cakes, weddings and dresses, while guys wallow in macho daydreams like “Gold Rush” (8 p.m., Discovery) or its more extreme and ridiculous incarnation, “Bering Sea Gold” (9 p.m., Discovery).

On old-school sitcoms, Ralph Kramden (or his many sitcom descendants) would hatch a harebrained, get-rich scheme in act one, run amok in act two and have Alice dutifully reel him back to reality as she read him the riot act by act three.

On cable, and in Alaska, the men are pretty much left to their own devices. And things get out of hand. Right away. All the time.

‘‘Bering” introduces most people to a rather novel way of mining. Ships leave Nome, Alaska, and either dredge or vacuum the sea bottom for tiny gold nuggets and sandlike particles. Even if this took place in Miami’s Biscayne Bay, it would be a difficult, dangerous and highly mechanized effort. But this is Nome, where the water temperature rarely gets above 45 degrees, even when it’s “nice” outside.

Common sense dictates that industrial mining near the Arctic Circle is no place for a solo freelancer. But common sense makes for bad reality TV. Four boats appear on “Bering,” one more jerry-rigged than the next. A sunken one belongs to Ian, a burnt-out social worker. The largest craft, the Christine Rose, has lost its steering and propulsion mechanism, so the genius crew decides to venture forth, “paddling” as they go with the scoop of an enormous backhoe. It works well. Until it doesn’t. The Wild Ranger has functional motors, but a dysfunctional crew.

The most adventurous mining rig, the Clark, looks like a glorified rubber dinghy laden with equipment. It’s captained by Zeke, a bearded dreamer, and his nongirlfriend companion, Emily.

Like most stars of these kinds of shows, Zeke is desperate for cash, having recently run up nearly $190,000 in hospital bills.

That little detail makes one wonder: What if Zeke had health insurance? He might not be so broke and so motivated to be on a show as foolish and contrived as “Bering Sea Gold”! And that would surely be a blow to American exceptionalism.

• “Great Performances” (8 p.m., PBS) presents “Tony Bennett: Duets II,” featuring collaborations with Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah, Michael Buble and others.

Tonight’s other highlights

• On two episodes of “Chuck” (NBC): Sarah’s secret (7 p.m.), Chuck’s last hurrah (8 p.m.). The second is the series finale.

• A return to some past triumphs on “Kitchen Nightmares” (7 p.m., Fox).

• “Need to Know” (7:30 p.m., PBS) looks at the Florida GOP primary with an emphasis on the concerns of older voters.

• Inventions related to cats, trucks and sales are unveiled on “Shark Tank” (7 p.m., ABC).

• A girl exhibits a gift of prophecy on “Fringe” (8 p.m., Fox).

• A couple goes to extreme lengths to get their son into an elite school on “Portlandia” (9 p.m., IFC).

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