Bravo, the network known for depicting the antics of the insanely wealthy, has finally decided to make a show about the working class. Naturally, it takes place on a $20 million mega-yacht.
Certain elements of “Below Deck,” a listless docu-series that follows the staff of a 164-foot charter boat, seem so scripted — the stereotypical spoiled crew members, the neatly wrapped-up “plotlines” — that it’s hard to take seriously, even in the dubious cable reality show genre.
The photogenic 20- and 30-somethings who make up the yacht’s crew might have a nicer view than the typical office worker does, courtesy of the sparkling waters of the Caribbean. But working on a yacht isn’t a literal day at the beach, we’re told. Multiple times.
That comes as a shock to some, such as 25-year-old Sam, who has a degree in industrial engineering and is thrilled to escape the cubicle life. “I get to this stupid 9-to-5 job and they’re paying me $32,000 a year to, like, waste away in an office chair,” she gripes. “I really felt like it was just killing me.”
Therefore, Sam is none too pleased when Adrienne, the perpetually frowning chief steward and middle manager, slaps down thick binders filled with rules and guidelines, including manuals for the proper table-setting techniques. Likewise, Adrienne can’t hide her disgust that Sam doesn’t have any crew experience, except helping her family on their catamaran. (Apparently, coming from a “yacht family” carries a stigma within the industry).
Adrienne manages to compose herself. “It’s just about figuring it out and me having patience, which I’m not very good at,” she says tersely, laughing in that I’m-kidding-but-I’m-really-not-kidding kind of way.
Power clashes are everywhere. First Officer Aleks is immediately put in his place by Lee, the no-nonsense older captain. “As you’re aware, there can only be one captain on a boat, and on this one, I’m it,” Lee says. Aleks, 27, can barely keep his eyes from rolling.
Lee suffers no fools, so he will clearly have a tough time this season. Exhibit A: Eddie and Dave, the jokester deckhands who generally exist to offer embarrassing sound bites. “I’ve been sailing my whole life. My family first came over on the Mayflower,” boasts Eddie, who we’re guessing is the only person ever to list an event from the 17th century on his résumé.
In between long scenes serving to prove that there’s work that goes into preparing a yacht for charter (doing laundry, cleaning bathrooms, scrubbing floors, washing the exterior, cooking gourmet food, pouring champagne), the show promises drama when the hard-partying crew takes a day off — but drama also comes with the rich and ridiculous guests who board the yacht every week. Early on, we meet a troublemaking Los Angeles photographer who goes by the name Johnny Eyelash; he and his entourage immediately start drinking heavily and generally wreaking havoc.
Later, a drug scandal causes big trouble for the staff and their guests. It plays out just the way you would imagine in a regular office, from a whistleblower’s revelation to a higher-up’s unpopular but effective solution to solve the problem. Only in this case, you have some extremely hung-over man swanning around in a bathrobe, demanding answers.
For all its faults, “Below Deck” serves as a lesson for all the office-dwellers out there wishing for an escape. Even during a life at sea, you still might end up spending your days dealing with squabbling co-workers, toiling for an unamused boss and cleaning up after a guy named Johnny Eyelash.
(one hour) premieres Monday at 10 p.m. on Bravo.