Viewers say PBS show carries its weight
Stars and Stripes May 17, 2008
"Carrier," the PBS documentary chronicling the lives of USS Nimitz sailors during their 2005 Western Pacific deployment, is airing Wednesdays on AFN’s Prime Pacific channel through July 2.
Critics and bloggers have offered their thoughts on the 10-part series, but to get a feel for what the true subject-matter experts think, Stars and Stripes asked U.S. Navy sailors and civilians at Yokosuka Naval Base for their opinions.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Effler completed a 2006 Western Pacific cruise aboard USS Ronald Reagan. Now 23, he said he has yet to see the series but has heard glowing reviews from others.
Effler said his father, a retired senior chief petty officer, appreciated the documentary’s authenticity. "My father said it was great, in your face, definitely a lot more real than any of the other documentaries he had seen on aircraft carriers," said Effler, a information technology specialist with Commander Sub Group 7 at Yokosuka.
"I think he thought it was just going to be a documentary about what the ship does and where you only see three people — the CO, the XO, the CMC and maybe Air Boss."
Yokosuka civilians have said the documentary has been a revelation.
Stephanie McKown, a 26-year-old spouse caring for her infant son while her husband makes his first deployment aboard USS McCain, said she viewed the first episode and was surprised by the reprimands made by command leaders.
"Watching [‘Carrier’] educates the non-active duty. I knew sailors got into trouble but I had no idea how pissed off the XO gets. Probably because it’s his [butt] (if something goes wrong)," said McKown, referring to the episode where a glow stick that helps locate anyone going overboard was errantly tossed into the ocean at night, causing a lengthy delay in the ship’s schedule and the furor of Nimitz’s executive officer.
"It’s almost like a reality show, but reality shows rehearse a little," she said. "I don’t think they do that on an aircraft carrier. It’s unscripted."
The documentary also caught the eye of those who never served but have children who did. Jerry Hicks, a 62-year-old civilian contractor, and his wife, Michiko, 55, have a son who did a six-month tour aboard USS Enterprise in the early 1990s.
"We definitely have more respect for those kids," Michiko said. "But they’re not just young kids, the documentary makes them individuals. It gives you a lot of respect for them. They’ve got to know their stuff on the flight deck."
"We think it’s amazing," Jerry added. "We could get bored with it in a few weeks, but right now we love it."
What the critics are saying about ‘Carrier’"Even with such an incredible range of personalities and views on parade under such combustible circumstances, the filmmakers stay focused on the humanity of all of the ship’s residents, from the lowliest enlistee to the captain. The soaring fighter jets put on a good show, but the charms and quirks of the working people on board are what make ‘Carrier’ addictive."
— Heather Havrilesky, Salon.com movie critic
"Its aesthetics are too often those of Madison Avenue. Pop songs, overly loud on the soundtrack, needlessly amplify the obvious majesty of the ship, the seas, the jets and the mission, but more crucially swamp the series’ small, delicate, human moments, making sentimental and ‘cinematic’ what would otherwise be plainly moving."
— Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times movie critic
"I just watched Episode 1 and I’m hooked! It’s one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in the last several years. I would hope that it finds its audience … or is everybody still watching ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ instead? I could do with a few less pop songs on the soundtrack though. Also it seems like overkill giving us 10 hours in 5 nights. Me thinks it would be best spread out over several weeks. Thank God for my Dish DVR! I’m still greatly looking forward to the remaining episodes."
— Mike Stewart, Blogger.com contributor
"Finished watching Carrier last night. If it tells you anything, I actually recorded Lost in favor of watching the final episode of Carrier live. Best documentary I think I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think anything would ever rival The Civil War for sheer scope and power, but this was utterly amazing. And the Navy got a hell of a recruiting film out of it."
— Robin, Blogger.com contributor
"I wanted to write an eye-rolling review about how PBS has gone into the recruitment business with this miniseries … ‘Carrier’ starts out like a high-def paean to American military adventure. But the longer you watch ‘Carrier,’ the deeper it goes. What begins as a gung-ho portrait of six months aboard the USS Nimitz develops into a more faceted take on sexism, racism, the strains of hierarchy, homophobia, and the psychic costs of living in an isolated subculture — what one sailor likens to a prison. The miniseries isn’t an expose or a political statement, but it is a bottom-to-top warts-and-all profile of a crowded, high-stakes world comprised mostly of 18- and 19-year-olds."
— Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe movie critic
‘Carrier’ producer says Nimitz sailors were not what he expcted
Mathew Akers, one of the on-the-scene producers of "Carrier" and a director for the Peabody-winning "Nimrod Nation," which follows the progress of a small-town Michigan high-school basketball team called the Nimrods, gave Stars and Stripes his take on the documentary.
On filming Petty Officer 3rd Class Christian Garzone on "Carrier":
"Garzone was totally amazing. He’s hysterical. He could probably have his own show on MTV. He’s unique because he can make fun of people but in a nice way. He’s not mean spirited. He just asks great leading questions when he’s interviewing people for his videos."
On whether his view of the Navy has changed:
"I’m in the arts so I never considered joining the military. I had my own stereotypes going in. I thought the military was all ‘rah, rah, USA, freedom,’ But I learned these people are not so political. For a lot of these sailors it was about joining the Navy to escape a bad situation at home, or to get money for education. A few were also there to fight for freedom, but you root for guys in the military not just because they are fighting for freedom, but because they are willing to do a job few are willing to do. That made a huge impression."
On the spirit of the movie:
"We didn’t want to do another ‘Boys with Toys’ documentary. That had already been done. We weren’t out to destroy careers or anything, we just wanted to tell the real story."
On military brass allowing the filming:
The "Carrier" final product is a "tribute to the leaders in Washington who trusted us. We were given more access than any other (outside film crew) ever has."