While no one is risking death on “Storage Wars,” (A&E, Wednesdays) the stakes are high as a group of small-business owners bet money on other people's discarded junk.
When reality TV isn't helping people win jobs with the music or restaurant industries, it's highlighting dirty jobs or difficult jobs like fishing for giant crustaceans. Both types of programs, the competition-based ones and the documentary style ones, are about showcasing a skill and hoping to be rewarded for it. On competition shows, being rewarded for outstanding job performance means hoping you'll hear the phrase: “In it to win it!” or a chef sees your vision when assessing your braised quail. On documentary/work shows, rewarding job performance means hauling steel cages of crab in freezing temperatures and giant swells without killing yourself. It's high stakes either way. On the one hand, your dream of being the next pop idol or master chef could die, on the other hand, you could actually die by falling into the Bering Sea.
While no one is risking death on “Storage Wars,” (A&E, Wednesdays,10 p.m. EDT/9p.m. CDT) the stakes are equally high as a group of small-business owners bet money on other people's discarded junk. The show follows several California-based professional buying teams. They are the high rollers of the storage auction world, traveling from town to town to bid on abandoned lockers. With instinct, luck and the right appraisal, they could turn a $500 bid into a $2,000 profit.
The potential profit however, is just part of the suspense. The bidders are only allowed to view a unit for five minutes from the outside before the auction begins. So the real drama starts when a unit's lock is snapped off and its door is opened for the big reveal. Admittedly, it's a let down. Most units are so jam-packed, it's as exciting as peering into the home of a hoarder. But then one guy says he spots something shiny in the back and another guy whispers that he sees a wooden leg poking out. Could it belong to an expensive dining chair? When the auction begins, some of the bidders yell out with no intention of buying just to play mind games with the competition while others break their budget just to stay in the game. It's victory, defeat, thrill and regret — a cycle that's repeated when they sort through the junky treasure they won. Suddenly, they find a coin collection. Score! Then a safe is uncovered. The door opens. It's empty. It's a crushing blow but — wait for it — the safe itself is worth money! On it goes from unit to unit.
“Storage Wars” is a treasure hunt worthy of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie but with a gambling element and guys who look less like Johnny Depp and more like cellmates from Block A. It's an unpredictable adrenaline rush that makes the suspense of other “job” shows feel manufactured. Plus, it's fun and free of danger. Unless a few boxes tumble onto someone's head, I'm pretty sure everyone on “Storage Wars” will live to bid another day.
Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @MelissaCrawley.