Shipping Wars

Shipping Wars debuts tonight on A&E at 9 p.m. Eastern.

How crucial is Storage Wars to A&E’s current programming strategy? On the day of this review’s publication, the cable network is leading into a primetime lineup that includes a pair of new Storage Wars episodes (plus a fresh edition of its spinoff, Storage Wars: Texas) with a marathon of the fluky, addictive hit about abandoned storage units and the kooks who purchase their contents at auction. Smuggled comfortably within that deluge of “Yuuup!”™ and Jarrod-Brandi bickering are the first two episodes of the network’s second attempt to clone Storage Wars: Shipping Wars, where a cast of colorful characters bid for the privilege to haul the future contents of Storage War containers across the United States for big-ish bucks. No one’s going to confuse one War for the other, but the Shipping Wars cast certainly seems chosen on the basis of the archetypes established by its predecessor. There’s an overbearing, takes-himself-too-seriously Dave Hester type (mustachioed wonder Marc Springer), a silver-haired loner with ample, Barry Weiss-esque confidence (Roy Garber, who lacks Weiss’ lounge-lizard charisma but more than makes up for it with the fact that he drives around WITH A LAP CAT), and even a couple, Scott and Suzanne Bawcom, who combine Hess’ business acumen with the fact that, oh hey they’re a couple and everything.

It might be unfair to compare the two shows, but given the scheduling and the similar titles, A&E definitely wants viewers to equate Shipping Wars with its incredibly popular big brother. It’s a strategy younger siblings have employed for years—though in the case of Shipping Wars, the association isn’t always beneficial. For instance, the bidding scene in tonight’s première lack the crackling energy of its Storage Wars counterparts, based largely on the participant’s lack of proximity. (And it’s bound to be a good long while before anything as pithy/aggravating as “Yuuup!” passes Springer’s upper-lip drapery.) Since the bidding for shipments is run through Austin, Texas’ Uship.com©—which is in the odd position of receiving prominent product placement that could actually scare away potential business—and the participants/stars located in far-flung corners of the United States, we’re treated instead to several cut-together instances of people tapping wildly on their keyboards while muttering curses at people they’ve likely never met IRL. That feeds the inter-show rivalries in intriguing ways, as more experienced haulers like Springer and Garber are alternately freaked-out and entirely dismissive of young guns like former livestock transporter Jennifer Brennan and wannabe golf pro Jarrett Joyce. As indicated by the second of the two bids, Garber has no reason to fear Joyce at this juncture: The latter allows the former to whittle his bid to bring a San Diego production of Little Shop Of Horrors its Audrey II puppets to a paltry $1,350.

That sets up a classic expert vs. novice narrative for the remainder of the episode—and the show is much, much kinder to wily veteran Garber. As it’s edited together here, Joyce’s cross-country trip with the mean, green mother from outer space is a comedy of errors, the first beat of which has him towing an unregistered trailer that’s just big enough to hold Audrey in all her various incarnations. Through a magic trick of editing, he’s later able to fit three sizable pieces of fast-food sculpture into the trailer—this despite being previously unable to pick up a much smaller motorcycle-and-sidecar combo. The series is taking pains early on to paint Joyce as the hapless rookie, which can’t be good for his ego or his Uship Rating®, the user-satisfaction metric by which these warriors of shipping live or die.

While I’m confident that the type endearing/aggravating personality quirks which hook viewers into Storage Wars will eventually emerge on Shipping Wars, that’s a tall order for a series première. As such, the shipments threaten to overshadow the shippers—and since Megalomeida sold Shipping Wars to A&E rather than History (in that timeline, the show is naturally titled American Shippers), we don’t get to spend much time learning about the artifacts Joyce and Garber are strapping to their rigs. For the pop-culture junkies, Joyce’s shipments obviously hold the most allure (the apparently due dilligence-wary Joyce could’ve benefited from any amount of research into the items he picks up), but Garber’s chrome horse is its own Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!-endorsed brand of curiosity. At the very least, we could’ve stood to learn more about the item as an artifact of that now forgotten B.T. (Before Tebow) era of the Denver Broncos. And coming to the show without any knowledge of Little Shop Of Horrors, you’d have no idea Joyce is hauling essential pieces of a legit Broadway production.

But it is not Shipping Wars’ aim to inform—the show is here to entertain. And it intermittently succeeds in that goal, if only at the most base levels. Joyce’s ill-preparedness is a crack-up, but he has a potential for a redemption story. (The stakes of which are sadly undercut by footage of Joyce calling his father to assist with some accumulating, trip-related debt.) And Garber definitely scores some “laugh at the crotchety rebel” points, and he’s obviously being positioned as the breakout star of the series. As such, it’s no surprise he factors heavily into both episodes airing tonight. But what Shipping Wars’ appeal boils down to is this: the vicarious thrill of watching these characters bet the house on dragging ridiculous things from Point A to Point B. “No matter what, you just have to bite the built and do the load,” Roy says in a talking-head interview near the end of the première. “You just gamble.” Ironic, coming from a show that seems to be a pretty safe bet for the network.

Stray observations:

  • Another crucial facet of Storage Wars missing from Shipping Wars is the element of surprise. Sure, the open road holds countless rude awakenings for the shippers, but there’s nothing quite as satisfying as the reveal of a storage unit’s contents—or the hidden treasures tucked in the corner.
  • Joyce bears a striking facial resemblance to current insurance pitchman/former 30 Rock monarch of outdated electronics, Dean Winters. Looking like Mayhem certainly can’t help the guy’s reputation as a safe, reliable shipper.
  • Roy’s partner, after the horse statue clears the ceiling of the Lincoln Tunnel: “She’s close, but she’s not rubbing yet.” That’s what he said?
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