Ice Road Truckers - Season Five (2011) is yet another year of better-than-it-ought-to-be collection of episodes following truckers braving perilous, often temporary ice roads, delivering vital supplies to some of the most isolated communities in North America.
Producers of this History Channel series quickly recognized the program's greatest asset: the colorful, often conceited, and highly competitive drivers plying this uniquely stressful and dangerous trade. The initial shock of the appallingly hazardous driving conditions these drivers face daily has worn off a little, and there's little that's fresh in Season Five, but the drivers keep it interesting.
This History Channel release, distributed by NewVideo, includes the entire, 16-episode season of roughly 45-minute episodes. They're presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen and about 19 minutes of additional footage is included as an extra.
Clearly straining to come up with something new, the producers of Ice Road Truckers have this season decided to cut back-and-forth between two entirely different locations, environments, and even countries. The first group - Lisa Kelly, Tony Molesky, Dave Redmon, and Maya Sieber - drive Alaska's Dalton Highway, mostly the route between Fairbanks and Prudhoe, which had also been the setting for seasons three and four. The second group - Hugh "The Polar Bear" Rowland, Alex Debogorski, and Rick Yemm - are back in Canada, where seasons one and two had been filmed, this time hauling freight from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to mostly tiny and remote communities to the north, many inaccessible by land vehicles the rest of the year.
Canadian veteran truckers Hugh and Alex have been with the show from the beginning. Fellow Canadian Rick also appeared in seasons one and two, then disappeared until last year's Ice Road Truckers - Deadliest Roads, filmed in the Himalayas, and where Alabama native Dave made his series debut. Alaska native Lisa has been with Ice Road Truckers since season three (she also appears on IRT: Deadliest Roads), while veteran driver Tony and ice road neophyte Maya, a New Yorker, made their debuts here.
Series Five quickly falls into an expected but nevertheless entertaining pattern. Hugh, in past seasons an insufferable, conceited blowhard, has dialed his personality back several notches, and at last one can appreciate his qualities as a trucker. Like a shark he's constantly moving forward, knows what he's doing, and is generally methodical (though always pushing himself to the limit). Clearly nobody works harder than he does.
Rick all but worships "Hughie" but has none of his best friend's stamina or patience. As in past seasons, Rick bellyaches constantly, gets himself sick in the middle of a critical job, and beats the Hell out of the trucks he's driving and/or loads he's hauling. He's a fascinating character. Away from Hugh's influence during IRT: Deadliest Roads, Rick was revealed as a generous, thoughtful personality impossible to dislike, but back on the ice roads, Rick comes off as a completely unreliable flake. A highlight of the season comes early when Hugh and Rick are tasked with co-hauling an entire airport terminal (broken up into three massive modular units) through impossibly rough terrain. I won't spoil the surprise but let's just say you wouldn't want Rick driving the moving van transporting all your worldly possessions.
For all of Hugh's faults, he takes life as it comes without much complaint. When his truck won't start, he'll just dive right in until what's broken gets fixed, unlike Rick and Dave who vent their spleens endlessly on the trucking companies' overworked mechanics. In this season Dave is convinced that they're even sabotaging his truck just to piss him off, an attitude similar to Rick's in an earlier season. Like Rick, Dave came off very well on IRT: Deadliest Roads. He and Rick bitched endlessly about the horrendous driving conditions in India, but with good reason. And when push came to shove, the two stuck together and were charmingly protective of Lisa. On Season Five, however, Dave comes off as a real hothead. His personality instantly clashes with Tony, sitting in as Dave's escort/ice roads driving instructor at the beginning of the season, but Dave carries that chip on his shoulder for the rest of his run.
Alex remains Alex, the breezy, quietly religious father of 11 children who laughs heartily at his own corny jokes, who has all of Hugh's patience but little of his competitiveness and none of Hugh's conceit. Last seen on IRT: Deadliest Roads, Alex was the first to drop out, a move that said much about his character (i.e., nice guys and India's mountain roads don't mix).
Lisa, the ambitious young ice road trucker eager to learn, anxious for the next challenge, remains a popular character but, having reached many of her goals in past seasons, she's of less interest here. Probably aware of this, the producers have added another, very different young woman to the cast. Maya is an experienced trucker from New York but new to the ice roads, and brought in for blatant cheesecake value. (She even strips to a bikini for the cameras, bathing at a hotsprings, something Lisa never had to do.) The narration (by the show's executive producer, Thom Beers) implies Maya brings a big city attitude, specifically sassiness, to the ice roads, but judging by the episodes this reviewer has seen so far, she's actually a lot more timid and easily shaken than the more experienced and determined Lisa.
Tony's introduction, sparring with Dave, is fascinating. Both are veterans with 19 and 26 years of trucking experience, respectively, though Dave is new to the ice roads. Tony is clearly overly-anal, disinterested and dismissive of Dave's record, and when the two lock horns Tony doesn't come off any better than Dave, though Dave ultimately comes off worse because, in the end, he can't seem to get along with anybody.
In some respects the characters on Ice Road Truckers aren't dissimilar to those found on any job, but the harsh driving conditions and the dangers tend to accentuate the tensions, and require the kind of colorful/foolish/brave types that keep things interesting.
Video & Audio
Ice Road Truckers - Season Four was released to Blu-ray as well as DVD, but, so far at least, Season Five is DVD only. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen image is strong throughout, showcasing the picturesque Alaskan and Manitoban scenery, while the 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo is strong for what it is. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are included.
The only supplement is about 19 minutes worth of "additional footage," deleted scenes, all of which are interesting though quite reasonably edited from the series.
Despite a certain cheesiness and tendency toward hyperbole (invariably reaching a fever-pitch at each cliffhanger commercial break), Ice Road Truckers is a fun and interesting show, and Season Five is consistently watchable. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.