Will television ever exhaust the viewing public’s appetite for people picking through trash to find treasure? Trend-spotters have pointed to the economic slump as the reason for the recent proliferation of “You’d be amazed by how much this old shoe tree is worth!” shows, but even when times were bonny, people tuned in to the likes of Antiques Roadshow, because there’s innate entertainment value in watching ordinary folks discover that their marginalia has actual value.
As these sorts of programs go, A&E’s Storage Wars has a strong hook. In Southern California, an eclectic group of junk-store proprietors and hobbyists attend the auctions that storage facilities hold whenever renters fail to pay their bills, and we watch as the attendees trash-talk each other, bid strategically, and make educated guesses about what might be hidden in the lockers’ unseen corners. Then we see them unpack their winnings, isolate possible “wow factor” items, and take the weirdest ones to get appraised. (All this in about 22 minutes.) The bidders who get the highest return on their investments “win,” though each of the auction-goers—the eccentric rich dude, the shrewd entrepreneur, the burly agitator, and the struggling young businessman and his wife—have reasons that go beyond money for making these deals.
The problem with Storage Wars is twofold. First off, it has the usual exhausting reality-show conflicts, as the auction regulars bicker exaggeratedly in front of the cameras, and then have stilted, obviously scripted “interviews” in which they “angrily” recount their version of what happened. Secondly, there’s something a little suspicious in the way nearly every locker in every auction contains something singularly unusual. What are the odds that the same five folks at the same auctions would keep finding one-of-a-kind Eskimo Pie containers and such each time they win a locker? Also, is it fair to say that any of these people made money on their winnings when we never see them actually sell the items? After all, an appraisal is not cash in pocket.
Still, the characters of Storage Wars are fun to watch—from Dave Hester’s cocky “Yeeeeeeep!” bids to Barry Weiss’ genuine pleasure at finding something “cool”—and the show’s tight auction-to-sorting-to-assessment structure makes it easy to watch one episode after another. It also makes the episodes kind of hard to tell apart after a while. Is this the one where Barry decides to keep what he’s won because he likes it? Or the one where Dave drives the bidding up to send a message to his competitor? Nine times out of 10, the answer to both questions is “Yeeeeeeep!”
Key features: Noooooope!