“There’s a new breed of trucker in America today,” begins the beef-jerky-tough voiceover at the start of “Shipping Wars.” “All you need is a laptop and trailer, and you’re a shipping company.”
Thus we are introduced to uShip, a company through which independent drivers bid on the right to haul your business around the country. Think of the show as the third installment of a trilogy that has thus far included “Storage Wars” and “Gold Rush: Alaska” — shows that make A&E the equivalent of Bravo for your dad. Instead of watching gay men and bossy women design open-floor-plan living rooms, he can watch braggy straight men design a wooden infrastructure that will support a 13-foot metal horse statue on its journey from New York to Florida.
“Come on, you big [witch],” says Roy “Big Rig” Garber to the horse, which is being transplanted from one Ripley’s museum to another. “Best thing to do is to do what I do best . . . Take over.”
At its most basic, “Shipping Wars,” premiering tonight, is a show that celebrates the victory of a well-packed trunk, acknowledging anyone who has ever stood at the back of a Toyota Camry station wagon surrounded by ten days’ worth of camping equipment. It will all fit, Mary, but the Coleman Grill has to go in last.
Will the 800-pound set piece for a California production of “Little Shop of Horrors” leave enough room for the 1930s-era motorcycle to be picked up in Pennsylvania? (Is the side car detachable?) What about these odd, rotund plaster people that a collector on the West Coast has bought from the Midwest? Can they be wedged behind Audrey II?
These questions are the concerns of Jarrett “the Rookie” Joyce, the “Little Shop” shipper who, in trying to build up his customer ratings, is bidding at gigs below cost. He’s driving a trailer without tags, he’s taking unplanned diversions, he’s underestimating his expenses — and any experienced driver would tell him that this is no way to conduct business. Much of the episode is, in fact, dedicated to this. “What an idiot,” one veteran chuckles when Jarrett accepts the cross-country trip for $1,350. “The guy isn’t going to make a dime.”
This could be the emotional center of the show: the grizzled haulers educating the new haulers, the Boy Scout aphorisms of measuring twice and cutting once, flinty people living out Keruoac fantasies on the open road. Maybe the show will become that; I don’t know — A&E provided only one preview episode. Maybe the show will also become, as “Storage Wars” has, an inadvertent drive-by about our weird relationships with our weird stuff. (The rotund plaster people were statues from an old A&W restaurant; the buyer’s childhood dream — his dream! — was to one day own the whole set).
But that would be later. For now, “Shipping Wars” is mostly about the perfectly packed trunk and the ecstasy of having not an inch to spare.
(one hour) premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on A&E.