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TV Series Review

In the holiday classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer tells us that unloved toys go to an island ruled by a flying lion. So where, then, do unloved storage lockers go?

To auction, that's where.

That's the sobering lesson of A&E's red-hot Storage Wars, where the mysterious contents of unpaid-for storage facilities are sold to the highest bidder. It's a little like American Pickers, only with less history and more swearing. Oh, and the quirky owners are nowhere in sight.

Storage Wars—the second-season premiere of which became the highest-rated show in A&E history—focuses on four professional locker buyers who traverse California searching for buried treasure—that is, treasure buried underneath old mattresses and broken lamps. A&E gives each buyer a nickname to help us pigeonhole these characters into handy-dandy archetypes: Dave "The Mogul" Hester, the intimidator who annoys everyone by hollering "yuuup!" as he bids; Darrell "The Gambler" Sheets, the tank top-wearing good ol' boy yin to Dave's yang; Barry "The Collector" Weiss, a bespectacled, Jaguar-driving eccentric who seems to buy lockers on the merest of whims; and the married duo of Jarrod "The Young Gun" Schulz and Brandi Passante, trying to make a name for themselves in this curiously cutthroat biz.

In each episode, these diehard storage warriors bid on storage units—always called lockers here—that have, essentially, been foreclosed: The original renters stopped paying, leaving the facilities' owners free to do as they please with the contents. And what they please is to conduct auctions. The auctioneers allow interested parties a five-minute look-see … but they can't actually go into the lockers or pick up anything, meaning most of the contents are a mystery. An old wardrobe could hold a couple of Monets or a couple of wasp's nests. The dusty safe in the corner might be filled with collectable coins or a few severed fingers. You just never know.

Superficially, Storage Wars bears some resemblance to History Channel's  Pawn Stars and American Pickers. All are hinged to the concept of finding treasure in the dusty detritus of the past. But in those prime-time competitors, the focus is on the stuff itself and the history behind it. An old bat may give Pawn Stars an excuse to talk about Lou Gehrig, for instance. In Storage Wars, a bat is just a bat. These locker relics are rarely so interesting. And a pile of old tools might be all Jarrod and Brandi unearth after a buy. And they're thrilled at the prospect.

Rusty wrenches, of course, can only hold viewers' interest for so long. As a consequence, Storage Wars winds up being mostly about the money—and the competition between the bidders. How much are those still-packaged particle-board desks worth? Will Barry be able to sell that old metal toy for enough to make back the $800 he spent on the locker? Can Darrell drive up the price of a locker simply so Dave'll have to pay more for it? The show dutifully tracks the characters' profit or loss each week. And it's all punctuated by the grinding theme song with the oft-repeated line, "Money owns this town."

No surprise, then, that a certain cynicism permeates Storage Wars. A&E drums up the personal rivalries, giving us the impression that these folks don't like each other much. They curse frequently. Their personal interview segments—where characters share their thoughts and feelings directly to the camera—are often snarky and can feel stilted and staged. Storage Wars may aspire to be Antiques Roadshow, but it more often feels like Real Housewives.

All of which, in a way, accentuates an underlying darkness. Each locker, after all, was once owned by someone who put stuff they valued in it. Then, each locker was, for one reason or another, abandoned. Did the owner die? Could she not pay the meager storage bill? Did he just forget all about it? We never see any of those stories. And that's on purpose. "All you see is misery there, and I didn't want to trade on that," executive producer Thom Beers told USA Today.

As such, these unwanted, unpaid-for lockers feel a little like carcasses left alongside the road of consumerism, and the show's storage warriors are its vultures, swooping in to pick 'em clean.


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Episode Reviews

Storage-Wars: 1242012
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