I was pretty underwhelmed by Storage Wars (2010-present), an A&E-owned show that unimaginatively tries to combine some of the elements found on the popular reality series Pawn Stars (haggling over junk that might just be priceless) and Ice Road Truckers (larger-than-life, competitive characters vying to be king of their specialized hill). Storage Wars also struck me as unforgivably phony and staged, even by the not-so-high standards of reality television. For that reason I didn't hold out much hope for Shipping Wars, yet another Pawn Stars-Ice Road Truckers hybrid.
Happily, Shipping Wars turns out to be immensely entertaining in all the ways Storage Wars is not. Some of it is still obviously staged and the reverse-bidding prologue that opens each show seems rather pointless, but the meat and potatoes of each episode, moving strange and unusual items across the country, is informative and very often funny.
Shipping Wars - Season One includes ten 22-minute Season One episodes spread (unnecessarily so) across two single-sided DVDs. It's in 16:9 enhanced widescreen and comes with several minutes of "bonus footage."
The show works like this: six independent shippers operating out of different types and sizes of vehicles vie for unusual loads acquired through uShip, an online auction house service truckers use. The shippers are Roy Garber (nicknamed "The Handyman" in the credits), Marc Springer ("The Big Rig"), Jennifer Brennan ("The Cowgirl"), Jarrett Joyce ("The Rookie"), and Susie and Scott Bawcom ("The Veterans").
Episodes typically follow two winning bids through their long and often disaster-plagued odyssey from pick-up and loading, through their often-arduous journey, and tension-filled final delivery. The items consist of oversized boats, awkwardly shaped and ungainly sculpture, extremely heavy, fragile, and/or otherwise high-maintenance items. Episodes here include such things as a crumbling antique caboose awaiting restoration, a hip-hop dance arcade game, full-size Star Wars vehicle replicas, a decommissioned British tank, and various livestock including an unwieldy, temperamental camel.
Viewers quickly learn to appreciate the extra time and effort involved in transporting these treasures from one part of the country to another, and the stories behind them and their sellers/buyers frequently is interesting.
However, the show really rests in the personalities of the shipper themselves and Shipping Wars here succeeds in ways similar to Ice Road Truckers at its best. Roy, the most interesting of the six, is a misanthropic, conceited grouch; at least he's depicted that way on the show. He complains constantly and, unlike the others, has no use for the personal stories behind each shipment, nor is he willing to gab with his clients at the end of each haul, often curtly vamoosing as soon as he's paid. And yet he's devoted to his teenage son and stable of household pets, including a beloved cat that rides with him on each run.
Equally interesting is Jarrett, a luckless country boy often way in over his head, who courts with disaster by foolishly underbidding, and he makes frequent huge and costly mistakes. By the end of the season I wouldn't trust him with a pile of bricks. Jennifer is to Shipping Wars what Lisa Kelley was to Ice Road Truckers and, like Lisa, Jennifer proves more than capable with her preponderance of livestock shipments. Susie and Scott are fun particularly in one episode where absolutely everything seems to go wrong for them and Scott ends up vomiting diesel fuel (see the show). Marc, socially Roy's opposite number, agreeably spends a lot of time stopping to smell the roses, taking in a local carnival and visiting Mount Rushmore.
The show resembles Storage Wars not only during the bidding process, but also in the way episodes tally up each driver's revenue vs. expenses at the end. There are also talking head inserts, with the driver's constantly talking trash about all the others, which seems forced and a little bit scripted. Why is everyone so needlessly negative?
Video & Audio
The 10 episodes of Shipping Wars - Season One 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 twenty-one minutes worth of "Bonus Features" that plays like an eleventh show, albeit one made up of outtakes and extended footage.
Shipping Wars turned out to be a lot of fun and even a bit addictive, a pleasant surprise. 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.