Over the last few seasons of job-themed reality television, I've learned about the art of restoration, buying and selling antiques, how pawn shops work, how cakes can be made in the shape of a full-size car, the proper way to trap and kill an alligator for profit and the technique for catching fish without a rod, although I'm not sure whether “Hillbilly Handfishin'” is a job or just a hobby. I feel pretty confident that if I was asked to bid on an abandoned storage locker, I could hold my own.
Just when I thought TV had no more to give in the way of teaching me about unique jobs, along comes “Shipping Wars.” War, in this case, is the battle between independent transporters. Every day, an online auction house posts available jobs, and the shippers have 10 minutes to secure the winning bid. The action follows the winners as they pick up their cargo and attempt to transport it successfully to its destination.
After watching a few episodes, I understand how a 4,000-pound chrome statue of a horse is loaded, driven several thousand miles across the country and unloaded. I know that bulls are touchy livestock when being confined in a trailer for hours, and not just anyone with a rig has the expertise to transport a 7,800-pound sailboat. As far as teaching its audience about a niche job, “Shipping Wars” hits the mark. As far as being an interesting show, well, that depends on how much you like to watch other peoples' stress play out on camera.
Where the visual medium of television is concerned, the actual logistics of shipping is intriguing for about 10 seconds. Ditto for the items being shipped. So where's the drama of “Shipping Wars”? It's not in the thrill of a winning bid. Those scenes consist of the transporters talking to their computer screens. It's not in the editing that allows the shippers to comment on the action as if they are watching it with you, and it's not in the suspense of wondering whether the giant puppet/antique phone booth will fit in a trailer. If there's any drama in this series worth tuning in for, it's in the ways that the transporters deal with their work.
The featured players on this series are oddly watchable because they tap into universal job frustrations that we've all felt. Maybe you deal with an unreasonable boss or unnecessary bureaucracy. They deal with fines, fees, breakdowns, insurance companies, policemen, road rage and clients who are unhelpful, unwilling to pay or randomly shout “coo wee!” for no reason. It's the same stress we all feel from our jobs just with a different delivery system.
Ultimately, the drama in “Shipping Wars” lies in the struggle to do a good job and get paid. And isn't that a battle we all learn to fight?
Page 2 of 2 - 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 and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.