Captain Glenn addresses his crew from the deck as an azure sea and the island of Sardinia stretch behind him. “It’s good to have you gathered here again. You are all very special to me. For some reason, no matter how hard we try, things often go wrong on this boat. But, though we face adversity, my expectations for this crew is high. We have to get this boat up and running for a bunch of rich ladies. Our first mate, Cuddles, is sick with Covid. The engine is broken. We have to make a big dinner. Also, you are all chimps.”
We cut to seven chimps dressed in little sailor suits. The title flashes up on the screen: “Chimp Boat: Season IV.”
This is my pitch for a reality-television show called Chimp Boat. I would definitely cast clean-cut Captain Glenn from Below Deck Sailing Yacht (available on Hayu – there are so many hungry streamers to feed nowadays) in the role of skipper because of the way he stoically maintains the illusion that he’s running a regular old yachting business. He never seems to notice that his crew of hunks has been cast for drama and high jinks by a television production company that cares not a whit for the ocean waves. Indeed, he barely seems to notice that there is a television production company on board at all. I’m pretty sure he’d be similarly relaxed about a crew of chimps. He’d just get on with it. The man is a saint.
Yachting involves a handful of rich people putting their lives in the hands of underpaid servants who surely have no grievances
Being on a yacht is a really strange thing that rich people like. A yacht is a medium-sized B&B that makes you seasick and that you can’t leave. Yachting involves a handful of rich people putting their lives in the hands of underpaid servants who surely have no grievances. This all happens far out at sea, away from the laws of man. I say to rich people everywhere: Keep doing this. What could go wrong?
Captain Glenn’s boat is named Parsifal III, which suggests that something terrible happened to Parsifals I and II in earlier seasons. (I’m jumping straight in at season IV.) It is named after the virginal knight of Arthurian legend, which is ironic, because I doubt he would stay a virgin very long on this boat. Love triangles are too simple a geometric form to map the complex amorous engagements to be had here. It’s Euclidean, so it is. And we frequently, as is tradition, watch them in grainy night vision while they sleep or share berths and snog. This is fine. I’m sure it’s healthy for us.
This bunch sure know how to have fun. “We like to stay up late and just giggle all night,” says Colin, the chief engineer, to newcomer Chase, with whom he shares a cabin. Chase seems fine with the prospect of hysterical chortling in lieu of sleep. I guess chuckling all night on a boat is better than his previous job with the Paw Patrol.
Everyone introduces themselves with the bio presumably given to them by the casting director and not the one suggested by the recruiting agency. Alex, a hirsute crewhand, tells us he’s the “chaotic black sheep of the family”. Lucy, a junior steward, pronounces her name “Lucky” on being introduced; then we get a montage of her having accidents. Mads, the other junior steward, tells us that she wouldn’t be opposed to romance with her crewmates. (I’m cleaning up the language here because of how delicate you all are.) There is no human-resources department on Parsifal III.
In the first episode Gary, the first mate, is absent (he returns later) because he caught Covid. He frets in a video call to Captain Glenn that he will catch Covid again from himself, because he’s breathing Covid into the air he’s breathing. “I don’t think it works like that,” says Captain Glenn, but of course he can’t know for certain; he’s a sea captain, not a physician. There is no doctor on board, which is strange given that their business model seems to be “Ply rich people with drink, then take them out in a small boat for aquatic horseplay far from a hospital”.
If I were the official artist for a small aquatic soviet (and someday, please God, I will be) I would put these films in a gallery and call them, collectively, The Worker on the Eve of Revolution
In fairness to the crew, although there is drunkenness and weeping and snogging and frequent injury, there is also a lot of hard work. While the rentier class demand luxury and say things like, “I own three units in Trump Tower in Manhattan,” and, “I’m on a yacht, motherf***er, see my chain, bitch” (which you’ll recognise, of course, as a Seamus Heaney quote), the crew toil on malfunctioning engines and sumptuous feasts and they literally dance for them. Sporadically we see crew members labouring around the boat in Star Wars-style split screens.
If I were the official artist for a small aquatic soviet (and someday, please God, I will be) I would put these films in a gallery and call them, collectively, The Worker on the Eve of Revolution. It does not seem impossible to me that the communist Utopia might begin on a boat like Parsifal III, maybe sparked into reality initially by a snarky comment from long-suffering Irish chief steward Daisy. There may yet be future episodes of Below Deck Sailing Yacht in which Daisy, wearing a tech entrepreneur’s skull as a hat, leads raids on coastal resort towns. Not a court in the land would convict her. (Lawyer’s note: they probably would convict her, actually.) And Captain Glenn would take it in his stride. Nothing fazes him.
Succession (Now and Sky Atlantic) is the only drama about rich people I’ve ever seen that depicted yacht life in its luxurious soulless dreariness. Those episodes were back at the end of series two. There’s been a lot of water under the yacht since then.
Series four is among the best television I’ve seen. Each episode is a tense, darkly hilarious, weirdly claustrophobic and emotionally fraught set piece in which the billionaire Roy siblings act out their damage on each other but also, in the most recent instalment, on the American people. That episode is about election meddling. In contrast to The West Wing’s verbose walk-and-talks, in Succession the cameras swirl around stationary people who skewer each other more concisely. Every character is ridiculously self-important, heartbreakingly broken and frighteningly amoral.
There’s a fine line between stupid and clever, to paraphrase David St Hubbins. One minute we’re watching Greg (Nicholas Braun) use lemonade to wash wasabi from a minor character’s eyes and the next we’re watching democracy being subverted. There are two episodes left, so it’s unlikely either of them will be set on a sailing yacht, but I still have hopes that luckless Connor Roy (Alan Ruck) might end up chartering a Chimp Boat.