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The Weather Channel, which has been diversifying its content away from covering just weather for years, has added to its slate of original programming a spin-off to its successful Coast Guard Alaska series. Coast Guard Florida mirrors the content of its Alaskan brother and shares the same producers, but this time expands the scope — instead of focusing on just one Coast Guard station, it splits its time among outposts in Miami, the Keys and Clearwater.
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At its best, the show offers up a kind of “How Stuff Works” approach to the Coast Guard. Beyond rescuing stranded divers or sinking boaters, the crews at the bases also patrol for illegal drugs coming in through busy ports, some of which are incredibly close to international waters. The men (there are not, as of yet, any women featured) of the Coast Guard explain the operations as we see them unfold, such as how they approach a vessel that may be harboring contraband, or walking us through the steps of an air-lift rescue of a nearly ill-fated diver.
Such scenes do not play out as heart-pounding so much as educational, though, and occasionally feel somewhat uncomfortably like an extended advertisement for Coast Guard enrollment. This is particularly true in the story of two young cadets in Miami, who get some extra screen time explaining their feelings about training. But when a senior officer points out how much they have gotten to do even as new cadets (in this case, go along on a drug bust), one begins wondering if the two’s “special” journey may have been specially padded for the cameras.
On the other hand, the cadets also go through a training sequence where they are purposefully exposed to pepper spray and must fight off simulated attackers, “working through the pain.” Afterwards, flushing out his eyes with cold water and looking miserable, one of the cadets moans, “why are they filming this again?” while the others laugh. It was the most personal moment of the pilot, and a look into what the series could into in the coming weeks, which is more of a focus on the members of the Coast Guard themselves, a move that would help enhance the experience of tagging along on their operations.
It was a nice, personable moment too when during the Clearwater base’s rescue of a diver with a collapsed lung (in a tense moment, the helicopter crew could not find a safe place to lower down a crew member onto the boat) someone on the comms said, “I mean … she’s unconscious, dude.” Later, on their way back to the base after the eventual success of the mission, another crew member joked, “I saw that email about diving lessons for us but now I’m like …uh, I don’t know about that!” The action may draw viewers in to the series, but the personalities behind the operations will be what gets us to stay.
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There is very little talk of weather for a Weather Channel series besides cursory graphics as the crews head out on their operations, and the series feels in many ways like the sort of show that could easily run on Discovery, TLC or the History Channel (whose programming rarely matches the name of the channel anymore, either). There’s nothing about it that makes it feel specific to the Weather Channel, who also produces weather-related series such as Storm Stories, but on the other hand, weather and the Coast Guard are inextricably linked. Choppy waters means a difficult day, and though we haven’t seen any stormy rescues of capsized boats yet, it’s certain they are to come.
Coast Guard Florida may not entice those who are not already fans of the format, and it may not be reinventing the genre, but given the network’s success with its Alaskan series, it seems worth a watch; especially for those longing for warmer climates and enviable beach scenes. And to paraphrase one of the Clearwater crew members in the aftermath of their rescue mission, “seeing a life saved is not a bad way to spend the day.”
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