Mildly entertaining, Storage Wars (2010-present) is produced and narrated by Thom Beers, whose Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers are among the most popular reality shows of recent years. Storage Wars, which seems to have been sold along the lines of Pawn Stars meets Ice Road Truckers, isn't nearly the guilty pleasures those shows often are, partly because so much of it is very obviously staged, scripted, or otherwise manipulated by its producers. The program follows competing buyers prowling storage locker auctions looking for that Big Score.
Reality shows have always been a lot more show than reality; even Robert Flaherty's seminal documentary Nanook of the North (1922) was extensively staged. And even the best documentaries are selective and subjective in their editing choices, camera angles, narration, etc.
On Pawn Stars (not produced by Beers), for instance, the customers are clearly carefully pre-screened in order to ensure interesting items, and the appraising and haggling sequences appear to be filmed on days when the pawn shop is closed, or at least that section of the store is cordoned off, away from the real customers. These particularly scenes don't appear scripted, but the behind-the-counter banter among the show's stars clearly is on at least some level.
If Pawn Stars were, say, 25% scripted/staged/unduly manipulated, I'd wager Storage Wars is closer to 70-80%, and that takes a lot of the fun out of a potentially interesting show.
As has become the recent practice of A&E-owned shows on DVD, Storage Wars first came to video in 2011 with the release of Season 1, but has since been broken up into multi-"volume" releases. Volume Three includes 16 season two episodes. Unlike the previous two releases, these episodes are in 16:9 enhanced widescreen.
Storage Wars is filmed in Southern California, where after three months of unpaid rent the contents of storage lockers are sold off as single lot items to the highest bidder. Interested parties are allowed to peer inside the locker, but cannot go inside to examine cardboard boxes, locked steamer trunks and the like. In other words, it's a crapshoot: you pays your money and takes your chances.
Husband and wife auctioneers Dan and Laura Dotson supervise things, but the show mainly follows the highly competitive bidding and aftermath with professional buyers Dave Hester (billed as "The Mogul," and positioned as the show's coldly calculating antagonist), Darrell Sheets ("The Gambler," the crude philistine with a penchant for tank-tops showing off his hairy, sweaty shoulders), Jarrod Schultz and spouse Brandi Passante ("The Young Guns" and a constantly bickering couple), and Barry Weiss ("The Collector"), a colorful but nonprofessional buyer cast by friend Thom Beers, and portrayed as the show's Robert Evans-like genial eccentric.
The rigidly structured program follows the same pattern week-in and week-out. The Dotsons do their spiel, the four parties compete for storage lockers, often deliberately jacking up the price of lockers they themselves don't want, just to piss off one of their competitors (some argue this technically constitutes breaking the law). The camera typically then follows three winning bids, as the buyer goes through the mostly junk-filled lockers and, invariably, they find one potentially valuable item that might just justify the entire purchase.
The weakest part of the show follows them as they have this one item appraised by an expert, i.e., a local antiques merchant. These scenes most closely resemble Pawn Stars only here the buyers couldn't care less about the item's history, only its cash value, and sometimes their impatience is pretty blatant.
There's a lot that's wrong with this show. For starters, during the bidding, hardly anyone else bids. There's certainly never any serious competition and only cast members ever win anything. By all appearances, these nameless extras may be exactly that, extras, pulled in from off the street.
In the midst of bidding, there are cutaways to studio interviews with the buyers describing their emotions and reactions during the bidding process, as if they are being interviewed right as it's happening. How is that even possible?
After an item is won, a scorecard at the bottom of the screen tallies the purchase price against the value of what's found inside. However, unlike Pawn Stars, in which items are appraised relatively conservatively, dismissing many items as completely worthless, here the value of each item is whatever the buyer wants to make it, and it's always scored at the high end of their price range. In one episode Dave Hester pays several thousand dollars for what turns out to be an essentially worthless locker, and yet he casually tallies everything up ("This is $150. This I can sell for $75...") and miraculously walks away with a $150 profit!
Unsurprisingly, despite its popularity, many insist Storage Wars is essentially fake, some accusing the producers of actually secretly stocking the lockers with those valuable items, working in collusion with local merchants who benefit from the free advertising Storage Wars provides them.
How much of this is true? I have no idea, but even if it weren't scripted at all, there's also something slightly unsavory and distasteful about Storage Wars. Where Pawn Stars in large measure successfully countered the negative image most have of pawn shops by focusing on interesting items of genuine historical, cultural, or scientific value, Storage Wars is all about money, money, and more money. The title song says it all: "Money Owns This Town." At least there aren't any cutaways to broke renters sobbing off to the side as "The Mogul" and "The Gambler" fight over their auctioned-off belongings.
Video & Audio
The 16 episodes of Storage Wars - Volume Three are presented in 1.78:1 and 16:9 enhanced widescreen across two single-sided, dual-layered discs that are up to contemporary professional standards. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is strong and includes optional English and Spanish subtitles.
Supplements include about ten minutes worth of "Bonus Features" with comments from the cast. It's so-so.
Storage Wars is entertaining but about as authentic as pro-wrestling, so viewer discretion, as they say, is advised. 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.