The Northwestern and its crew work to catch king crab...

The Northwestern and its crew work to catch king crab on the Bering Sea during king crab season on season six of "Deadliest Catch." Credit: Getty Images

The flagship series of male-reality production kingpin Thom Beers heads out for the 2010 crab season, still looking and sounding epic. Drums crash dramatically on the soundtrack as waves crash dangerously over the hundred-foot crab boats. "Battle-tested skippers" face "the fleet's rising stars" to see who can score the season's most serious haul from dozens of crab pots sent baited overboard in staked-out waters. "The red crab quota's getting smaller every year," grouses a veteran, "and so's the men on the boats that are fishing here."

Familiar boats and faces return -- Captain Sid, the Hillstrands and the sons of Captain Phil Harris, whose on-duty death powered last season's emotional roller coaster. These guys look yet more grizzled. And two new boat captains come off super-cocky -- a 36-year-old second-generationer touting his "horsepower," and a 28-year-old with a crew of young yahoos proudly detailing a history of punctured lungs and over-rail tumbles.

Older guys like Captain Phil successor Derrick Roy know the real deal of leadership lives in less-thrilling moments -- like making sure your workers pass their drug tests.

MY SAY Weird thing in this season premiere is, the most riveting moments have absolutely nothing to do with the captains we know or their deckhands we meet. It's the hour-ending cliffhanger of a Coast Guard chopper crew desperately trying to save a severely injured worker from a nearby container ship, battling roiling seas to hoist him up for a MedEvac.

What's this massive floating warehouse got to do with "Deadliest Catch"? Not explained. But after six seasons of testosterone docusoap reliability, this show gets a long leash.

BOTTOM LINE Feels like a rebuilding year here. Veterans trying to hold their spots, rookies working to make the team. Whether a winning lineup coalesces remains to be seen.

GRADE B

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