Remember when A&E was the classy cable network? Ballet and opera on the weekends, critically acclaimed dramas like the original Cracker and Lovejoy during the week. Those days are long gone now that reality shows dominate the schedule. From Gene Simmons’ personal issues to scary in-laws to drug addicts to hoarders to colourful exterminators and hog hunters among many others, with the exceptions of edited Sopranos episodes, CSI Miami, Criminal Minds and the occasional movie, traditionally scripted Television is notably absent from the Arts & Entertainment line-up these days.
But one such reality series has become a real standout, an unexpected gem in an overcrowded field. Storage Wars invites us into the competitive world of storage unit auctions where thrift store owners, swap meet regulars and collectors alike bid on forgotten items long abandoned by their previous owners. When rental fees aren’t routinely paid, the contents become available to the highest bidder, hence these auctions which are quite common. (Thousands take place every year in the United States.) Much to the annoyance of my Mom who might be the most tolerant wife in human history, my Dad, a connoisseur of reality shows in general (Survivor, Amazing Race, Celebrity Rehab, Pawn Stars, etc., etc.), watches this show religiously. And having seen many episodes myself, I’ve gotten sucked into the damn thing as well.
Why do I love Storage Wars? Let me count the ways:
1. That catchy theme song by the British group, Alabama 3. (Remember “Woke Up This Morning”, the song used for the opening titles in every episode of The Sopranos? They did that one, too.) The bluesy voice that sings “Money Owns This Town” is tattooed on my brain. It’s fun to sing, too, even if it does hurt your throat.
2. Barry Weiss, AKA The Collector. If Bill Maher, Jack Nicholson and Robert Evans had a three-way that resulted in a child, this former antique picker would be that child. Alternately suave and cheeky, he’s the funniest and most eccentric of all the featured buyers. And also the oldest at age 60.
3. Barry’s skeleton gloves which he always puts on before investigating the unit he just bought.
4. That old pic of Barry with the bitchin’ long hair.
5. Darrell Sheets, AKA The Gambler. A veteran of storage auctions for more than 30 years, he appears to have a permanent sunburn that gets redder during the course of the series.
6. Dave Hester, AKA The Mogul. He could easily pass for Drew Carey’s evil twin. Unafraid to talk trash about the other buyers (who aren’t afraid to dish it right back to him), he seems to thoroughly enjoy being a colossal pain in the ass much of the time. Despite his bad reputation for being a jerk, this smart and ruthless thrift store/auction house owner makes consistently good choices about the units that are worth fighting for. Every drama needs a villain. Hester might be the most memorable one since Omarosa.
7. Despite his supreme confidence, The Mogul can be remarkably thin-skinned on occasion, especially when tweaked by Darrell, who calls him a “rat bastard” during one contentious auction (which Dan the auctioneer humourously repeats at one point). Using a hat and a t-shirt to mock his business really sets him off in two other episodes. Their battles supply most of the drama on the show.
8. “Yep!” Hester’s memorably annoying method of bidding. Curiously, it’s spelled “Yup!” on the back of his ballcap.
9. “The wow factor.” Darrell’s catchphrase regarding a hidden storage treasure worth a ton of dough. Like that amazing comic book collection he bought in 1991 that he wished he hung onto.
10. Barry’s friendship with Aerosmith guitarist Brad Whitford who appraises some valuable old guitars and an amp during one episode. During another, he wears a Toxic Twins T-shirt in reference to his friend’s bandmates, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, and their infamous drug addictions during their 70s heyday.
11. Barry’s hilariously uncomfortable car ride with his cantankerous 82-year-old mother while en route to visit a doctor friend who he wants to appraise what he thinks is a medical antique. Unfortunately, he’s way late and the doctor is long gone by the time he gets there.
12. Auctioneer Dan Dotson’s hair. That can’t be real, right?
13. Dan’s impeccable Porky Pig impression while he’s auctioneering. Thank goodness for closed captioning.
14. Dan’s charming wife, Laura, who’s even more likeable than Barry. She takes bids herself when her husband is absent.
15. “Don’t forget to pay the lady!” Laura’s instructional catchphrase after the conclusion of every auction. She’s the lady you have to pay, by the way. Cash only, folks.
16. The occasional dumbness of Jarrod Schultz, one of The Young Guns. When he discovers an old safe, he becomes crestfallen when it’s empty, thinking it’s completely worthless. Darrell has to inform him that the safe itself is worth a few thousand dollars. In another episode, his beautiful partner Brandi, the other Young Gun, buys a unit that has a horse head made out of golden tin. Jarrod thinks it can’t be worth more than a hundred bucks. After being appraised by Barry’s pal, Dennis, the proprietor of Off The Wall Antiques, we find out it’s worth $3000. Way to go, baldy.
17. Dave’s evil laugh. Every good villain should have one.
18. Barry’s occasional music theme with its pornoriffic wah-wah guitar lick, appropriate considering his jokes about “head” and “big chests”.
19. The friendly rivalry between Dave and Barry that sometimes leads to good business deals like the profits they split on some furniture Weiss couldn’t unload on his own and the furs he gave away to Hester who promptly priced them and put them on display in his consignment store.
20. Dan’s opening speech before every auction begins. A helpful reminder of the strict rules put in place before every unit is opened up for bidding. They’re not always followed, either. Some buyers can’t keep their hands to themselves sometimes.
21. The cut-throat nature of storage auctions. Bidding people up on units you don’t want just so they’ll have less money for the ones you do. Lying out loud about the quality of the contents to throw off your competitors. The sneaky way Dave slips in a bid just when Dan is about to award it the highest bidder. And the comments made by the buyers directly to the camera about specific items that aren’t seen by the others.
22. The big scores: Those rare comic book action figures, Star Wars toys and $500 dollars in poker chips acquired by Jarrod & Brandi; the vending machines, those huge stacks of newspapers commemorating Elvis Presley’s death, that stack of skeletal bones, the collection of Bill Graham rock concert advertising posters and old hickory golf clubs bought by Dave; that freaky head, Suge Knight’s famous red jacket and rare pool stick holder Barry snagged; that sports memorabilia collection and rare coin collection purchased by Darrell.
23. The big disappointments: Dave’s “frankenstein” Schwinn bicycle; Barry’s worthless reproduction of the first issue of Hot Rod Magazine; Darrell’s outdated textbooks and Hemingway novels, and Jarrod & Brandi’s damaged 50 dollar gold certificate, not to mention that first edition 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System bought by Mark Balelo that would’ve been worth between $10,000 and $15,000 if it still worked. It didn’t.
24. The revelation that just one valuable antique discovery, often not seen before the auction begins, is all it takes to make a decent profit on a unit that’s mostly filled with useless junk.
25. The revelation that making your money back on a locker is often very difficult and not always possible. It truly is a crapshoot whether you’ll hit pay dirt or not. Your gut instinct isn’t always right.
26. Despite being an unrepentant villain during one-on-one interviews and the auctions themselves, Dave isn’t above performing good deeds like honestly appraising a couple of valuable items from a unit Jarrod outbid him for and donating that batch of clothing he couldn’t sell to Goodwill. He’s a more complex character than you might think.
27. The mysterious feud between Dave and his brother. We see the latter outbid the former in one episode and then later on that same show, we learn that The Mogul actually trained him and shared his personal trade secrets only to have the guy go into direct competition with him.
28. The one-on-one interviews with the buyers and the auctioneers. The most candid moments of every show.
29. New episodes are currently airing in Gene Simmons Family Jewels old time slot for the foreseeable future.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, November 17, 2011
CORRECTION: Brandi Passante is actually Jarrod Schultz’ partner, not his wife as I originally wrote for number sixteen. Although they have two kids together, they are not legally married. All references to the couple as “The Schultzes” have been changed to “Jarrod & Brandi”. My apologies for the mistake.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, April 3, 2012