Review: 'Arctic Waters'

If you live in the United States, you might not realize that the big Discovery Communications media empire includes channels of all genres spread across much of the world. While programming produced in the U.S. is seen globally, until recently very few of the television shows produced and/or airing on a Discovery network outside of North America have aired here in the U.S. Discovery has recently aired several Australian reality shows and Motor Trend also picks up some British automotive shows. But that's been just about it until now.

There are a couple of challenges when you try and bring an international show to American audiences. Sometimes cultural differences or even accents can get in the way. But it's also the case that generally speaking American reality shows are driven more by conflict and faster editing than the typical international series. And all of those challenges come into play with "Arctic Waters," a series that originally aired in 2017 on Discovery's U.K. Quest Network and is now streaming on the Discovery Go app and Hulu.

The show centers around the struggling remote village of Veidnes, in northern Norway. With only 30 inhabitants remaining, the town is on the brink of extinction and fisherman Svenne decides the only solution is to bring in fresh blood. So he runs the Norwegian version of a Craigslist help wanted ad and he hopes that "even one out of every ten people who applies will work out."

While reality shows based around some sort of fishing are pretty common in the U.S., is a very different type of show. The overall pacing show fits the grim and often dreary look of the winter seas north of Norway. Everything is dark and cold and the show does a solid job of portraying just what a supreme slog it is to try and make a living fishing from a tiny town like Veidnes. But there are some long, slow stretches as fishermen spend time wrangling over the proper way to deploy a net or when to switch gear. Think "Deadliest Catch" on Benadryl.

But there are also some things to recommend the show. For one thing, the fish they are searching for are just enormous. These Norweigan cod are the size of a small dog and it's just amazing these magnificent fish are still being caught anywhere in 2019.

I was also drawn in by just the sheer will exhibited by Svenne and the other fishermen of the town. They need to bring in new fishermen and their families. And as much as that search is driven almost by desperation, they are also self-aware enough to realize that their lives are not for everyone. In fact, 99% of the people anywhere wouldn't be able to cope with the loneliness of the town and the level of effort required to make a living in the winter waters of the North Sea. As the season progresses, you get to see how the grind of the life crushes some potential fishermen. But for the rare candidates, the challenge of the situation raises them up to efforts they didn't think they were capable of giving.

"Arctic Waters" isn't for everyone. I watched the six episodes of the show over the course of a week, but my wife bailed after two episodes. She thought the show was just too flat and boring, and I can understand that reaction. But if you're a more patient viewer - or are just looking to watch a reality show that is a bit different - than there is much to recommend it.

And as a side note, I would be thrilled to see Discovery add more international shows to their app. There are some amazing programs available globally that I think at least some portion of the American audience would love.