Flipping through the channels one day, I stumbled upon “Storage Wars” (season premiere Wed. at 10 p.m. on A&E) and instantly rolled my eyes. The show follows a bunch of guys (and a few girls) who troll storage locker auctions for finds. Why not make a show about middle-aged soccer moms surfing the aisles of a 99 Cent store (wait, that one might be in development)?
Not familiar with storage locker auctions? They happen when some unfortunate soul who’s stuck their belongings into a storage space can’t or won’t pony up the rental fee, and the contents of their locker are auctioned off to scavengers, I mean, the general public. The idea of actually paying for someone’s moldering sofa cushions or college wall art doesn’t hold much appeal for most people, but the characters in this show gleefully pick through the bags of old baby clothes and dusty boxes, hoping for valuable figurines or forgotten artwork.
Sure, it’s a hobby, I guess, but a TV show? Come on.
But go figure. On average over 2 million people tuned in last season, so it’s definitely a hit by basic cable standards. And, for the most part, it works.
In the vein of “Pawn Stars” or even “Antiques Roadshow” or “American Pickers,” this is all about the hunt for buried treasure. We, like the storage locker bidders, only get to glance into an empty locker (the limit for bidders is five minutes) to see if it’s worth a bid – and if so, how much to offer is another question. We can eyeball the boxes, guess at who the space belonged to (a college kid’s locker is always a ‘no’) and then be just as surprised as the winner of the auction at what they discover once they take their haul to an expert or resale shop.
But what is most interesting about the show is, yes, the scavengers. Though I initially assumed it would be a cast of weirdoes and misfits (and I’m not saying it isn’t), they’re petty, strange and oddly endearing enough to at least hold my interest even when they’re irritating. Barry, who could be Robert Evans’ stunt double, is damn fine for a guy in his 60s, and seems almost too refined to be picking through garbage bags. Darrell and Dave are pros (Dave has a store and 15 employees; Darrell has unearthed four Picassos and “the world’s most lucrative comic book collection” through storage auctions) with a bitter, petty rivalry that is more annoying than entertaining and gets more airtime than it deserves, but it’s hard to look away. Jarrod and Brandi are the cute/bickering married couple who could have fallen out of a prime time sitcom.
And then there’s the stuff. You have to admire people willing to drop hundreds of dollars on what could be a locker full of bed bugs and spoiled food, but this is a high risk, high reward game (note the Picassos mentioned above). When Dan discovers SCUBA equipment worth over $5,000 in a locker already tossed away by Darrell as a lost cause (and at a big loss), it’s enough to make you (depending on your allegiance) give a victory hoot or groan in frustration. Barry’s big find – a collection of vintage 78s – seems promising until he lugs it to a record store. While he’ll still make several hundred bucks for his Edison disc and assorted vinyl, it’s nowhere near what he needs to recoup his investment on the storage locker. The show strangely tallies up investments versus return as if this were a reality TV competition, but I guess it’s just a way to stretch out an episode.
It’s these highs and lows that make this oddball show watchable. Is it must see TV? Hardly. But I’m inspired to hit the neighborhood yard sales in any case.