Hook, Line, And Sisters

Hook, Line, And Sisters

Hook, Line, And Sisters debuts tonight on TLC at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Certain trends seem to pop up when naming television shows. For a while, seemingly every program had to include a vague description of what the lead character did. From that trend sprung The Closer, The Cleaner, The Mentalist, and a dozen other shows that followed suit. (Had Revenge come out in 2006, it would undoubtedly have been called The Revengerer, and it would have starred Jason Statham. Which makes me retroactively sad that this never happened.) Lately, the naming trend has steered towards reality shows feeling the need to include family-centric puns in their titles to make the show more appealing. Sons of Guns and Kitchen Cousins fall under this category, and now we can add TLC’s Hook, Line, and Sisters

I focus so much here on the name at the outset because it’s unclear, based on the series premiere, that it was chosen for its applicability as much as for its marketability. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except that the title hints at a particular direction that might actually be interesting. Using it as a cutesy way to draw people in isn’t the name crime that Terriers and Cougar Town unwittingly committed, but it does highlight some potentially fascinating material that the show itself doesn’t really address in its initial hour. Hook follows the Anderson family, third- and fourth-generation participants in the fishing industry. Dean, the father, serves as captain on their boat. His wife, Susan, helps tend to the finances and keep both ship and crew running smoothly. Rounding out the family are the titular sisters, Sierra and Memry. Yes, that’s the latter’s real name. Spellcheck isn’t any happier about this than you are. 

If there’s a “lead” in this first hour, it’s definitely Sierra, who as older sister has more responsibility on her shoulders than her flightier, more fashion-savvy sister. Sierra is the link to the potentially fifth generation of Andersons who have sailed up and down the Alaskan coast in search of herring, salmon, and other fish that come up in the course of a season. While Memry barely registers in this premiere, Sierra serves as a way into the family dynamics at play while also serving as guide to the minutiae of her profession. Hook isn’t a master class in fishing by any stretch, but there’s plenty of attention paid to the task at hand: a four-day stretch in which multiple boats compete in the same waters for herring. Said herring is shipped primarily to Japan as high cuisine (they like the eggs, apparently), but the recent tsunami has driven down demand, and therefore price, considerably. That, in turn, leads to even more competition (and confrontation) amongst the rival boats. "They almost use their boats as weapons,” Susan says at one point. “This is combat fishing!" 

Well, at that point, all I wanted to do was turn off Hook and watch a show called Combat Fishing! At the very least, I started to wish video game producer David Jaffe were working on a game called Combat Fishing! as his next project after the latest iteration of the Twisted Metal franchise is released. Not only does that name promise awesomeness, but it also suggests a point-of-view desperately missing from this program. As I mentioned before, the title suggests a look at the sisterly dynamic at play in this fishing family. Or, perhaps, it might hint at ways in which their gender would play a role in the testosterone-fueled world of this profession. Instead, Hook is a mishmash of many things, all tethered around the four-day search herring expidition. There’s a little bit of all the above, interwoven awkwardly with footage of their boat being rammed at one point by an anonymous competitor.

That attacker’s anonymity points to another problem for the show: unlike on The Deadliest Catch, which intercuts stories from various vessels, we stick only and ever with the Andersons here. For better or worse, this is their story. But their story seems to involve a curious history of other boats colliding with theirs. This turns things into an aquatic version of Steven Spielberg’s Duel, which is semi-interesting to be certain. What would be MORE interesting would be seeing the Andersons through the eyes of their competitors. So much of what the Andersons experience is constricted to their own world view. There’s certainly enough drama in the family mix to make things interesting. But while Dean certainly comes off as a son of a bitch in this premiere, it’s clear many of his competitors view him closer to the Antichrist. But why? And more importantly, given the name of this show, how do they view the abundance of women aboard his ship? Do they view it as a disadvantage? A sacrilege? We never see their faces, therefore never get their perspective.

It seems near the end of tonight’s premiere that Dean himself has qualms about the composition of his crew, as he sends his wife and daughter off to do errands while an all-male crew set about repairing the latest damage to their boat. "Sometimes it's just a man's job," he laments, while staring at the cracks in the hull. It’s never expressed that he wished to have sons instead of daughters, but the fact that he didn’t in many ways justifies the existence of this program. Having other boats perpetually playing bumper cars with him makes for decent television, but Dean and his daughters coming to grips with the intersection of family, gender and profession should be in the forefront at all times. And yet, rather than show the family’s interplay, Hook often resorts to single interviews in which family members are separated from each other. Doing so removes opportunities to watch the family in action, in both happy and tense times. It’s obviously easier to stage each episode around the particular job they are performing, but without the familial emotional through line augmenting the latest gig, it seems as if the family is an afterthought to the fishing.

That’s too bad, because overachieving but underappreciated Sierra makes for a compelling character. Memry, for her part, seems more like a studio note than an actual human being, which is odd considering this is a reality show. But there’s plenty of time to shade in her personality in subsequent episodes. We’ve seen plenty of shows depicting laborious, dangerous jobs on land, sea, and air. But we’ve never seen those worlds through these sets of eyes before. So it’s a shame to see the show waste that perspective in lieu of more traditional reality storytelling. If Hook, Line, and Sisters actually takes advantage of the opportunities inherent in its chosen subjects, this could well rise up above the crowd and define itself as something special. But for now, I’m far from hooked.

Stray observations:

  • Memry has a tattoo on her finger that says, “Shut Up!” on it. Sadly, it’s not the finger that would make the message most effective.
  • There’s some really interesting stuff about the effects of a global economy when it comes to the price of herring in 2011. No, seriously. There is!
  • I can’t stress enough how exciting Combat Fishing! would be. The countdown to the start of each day’s herring opener already had my adrenaline pumping.
  • Given how dire their financial situation seems throughout the episode, it’s weird seeing them drop over $6K in Costco at one point. A better sense of their yearly cash flow might help in future episodes.
  • At one point, the Coast Guard gets involved to settle a dispute about a crash. Dean, the episode’s loudmouth braggart, stays curiously quiet while Susan fights with the officer. Why the switch? It’s fascinating, yet completely unexplained.
  • "He's one of the hardest working fisherman. Not always the smartest!"
  • "That's why they call it fishing and not catching."