Well, it's been about 3 1/2 weeks since a new Alaska reality show hit the airwaves, which is maybe a new record. But have no fear -- National Geographic Channel has come to the rescue with "Big Fix Alaska."
"Big Fix Alaska" is about a two-pack-a-day smoking mechanic who travels around the state fixing boats, tractors and other broken equipment. The lead character, Jim Evridge, swears like a sailor, smokes like a chimney and eats puffy Cheetos like a boss. It's great. There is a whole cast of side characters that help balance the show, but Evridge is the star.
"Big Fix Alaska" definitely has a sense of humor. For example, they explain Anchorage as "moderately populated urban sprawl" instead of a "city on the edge of the Last Frontier" or some other platitude about Alaska. They did try playing the "filling freezers for the winter" card when he was in Kodiak fixing excavation equipment, which was a bit trite, but you gotta get it past the executives somehow, I guess.
There is also a lack of censorship, especially when it comes to expletives. Evridge almost had a breakdown when a few of his bags did not arrive in Kodiak … and one of them was the bag with his cigarettes. And again, because Nat Geo seems to be in on the joke, they started a cigarette countdown.
It was a bit suspicious that a boat broke down near Emmonak, right by where there happened to be a crane to help replace a massive, heavy engine. But as I've said before: Reality TV isn't completely "real" and I'm willing to look past timelines for a good story.
All in all, I have zero interest in the subject matter of this program, but Evridge and the editor who came up with the cigarette counter get an A+.
There is another new show in the works on the Smithsonian Channel called "Alaska Aircrash Investigations," about six fatal plane crashes in summer 2015. Based on this interview with the National Transportation Safety Board's Alaska Region chief Clint Johnson, the show sounds respectful. Johnson goes out of his way to say that it isn't a "reality show." But it still seems slightly voyeuristic to me.
It feels in line with all the "true crime" series ("Making a Murderer," "American Crime Story," etc.) that seem to be having their golden moment right now. I appreciate that they sometimes call attention to serious problems, like the failures of our criminal justice system. However, if not done well, they seem exploitative in how they deal with the families of victims.
I'll still give it a shot. Thankfully I have the most baller of GCI cable packages, so I magically get the Smithsonian Channel.
Emily Fehrenbacher lives in Anchorage, where she reviews Alaska reality TV. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ETFBacher.