Hitting the Road: Five Awesome Trucking Shows

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I am mildly embarrassed to admit I didn’t know trucking TV shows were a thing.

Oh, sure, I’d heard of Ice Road Truckers. But I’d never seen it, and being a creature who enjoys warmth, my brain switches off whenever anything cold or icy is involved. But here I was, with a break in work at the end of December and the discovery of a new television genre.

Yes, this is a little outside Fullbay’s usual offering. But hey, it’s been a wild year for everyone – why not cap off 2020 with a little much-needed entertainment? Trucking shows: the much-needed ice cream sundae to end one year and kick off another.

The shows I ended up watching were all easily accessible via the streaming services I had. I did find shows that I wanted to watch but were behind paywalls – Trick My Truck looks like fun, for example – but I think I ended up with a pretty good cross-section of shows.

I was surprised by how different some of these shows were from each other. In some cases, the only thing they had in common was that they featured trucks. Since I had some idea of turning this into a listicle, I came up with some loose criteria that each show had to meet:

Truck Factor: How many trucks were there? Did the show actually center on trucks, or were trucks a backdrop?
Characters: It feels odd calling real people characters, but when you’re on a TV show, that’s what you become. Were the people interesting? Did they bicker amongst each other? Was I rooting for them?
Storyline: Was there an actual storyline, and did I care about it? What was at stake?
Watch Factor: Am I, a non-trucker, going to go back and watch this show?

With those four factors in mind, here are five cool trucking (or truck-related) shows I watched in 2020.

THE SHOWS

RoadLife

MackTrucks.com & Amazon Prime

Each 20-minute episode of RoadLife follows different facets of the truck world. It’s presented by MACK, so it follows MACK trucks and their drivers. The first episode dealt with keeping New York City running (think garbage trucks and so on) while the sixth was about long-haul trucking.

Truck Factor: The trucks are a huge component, but the focus is on how they fit into the overall landscape of the city and the lives of the people who drive them.

Characters: If you’re looking for drama, look elsewhere. This show featured talented men and women doing their jobs. A running theme is the sacrifices truck drivers – even local drivers – make for their jobs; social lives and family life always takes a hit.

Storyline: If you’re waiting for a storyline like, “Can Jack get this shipment to New York on time?!” you probably won’t find it. There isn’t an overarching plot; it’s tiny slices of life from all over the industry.

Watch Factor: Would I re-watch this show? Probably not. It’s informative, and certainly interesting to the right audience, but…oh, I’ll just say it. I want some drama.

BONUS: Ode to Coffee is my new anthem.

King of the Road

LongHaulTrucking & Amazon Prime

These 20-minute episodes are presented by Long Haul Trucking to put a spotlight on their drivers, their trucks, and the lifestyle associated with the industry. It’s part news roundup, part advertisement.

Truck Factor: Enormous. The first episode centers around characters’ efforts to win a new Peterbilt 567, so we got up close with that vehicle and several others. Trucks are presented here as an integral part of drivers’ lives.

Characters: We got a more varied bunch of characters here, and I understand they change frequently in later episodes. They really zoom in on the trucking lifestyle, and it was here that I noticed a theme that ran through a lot of other trucking shows I watched: at least one driver/character grew up around trucks and/or had a trucking parent, and many of them really, really love the open road.

Storyline: There didn’t seem to be one. Since different individuals and trucks are spotlighted in each episode, it’s more of a documentary than a story.

Watch Factor: It’s a cool collection of what’s going on in the industry and the people involved in it. Absolutely worth checking on now and then.

BONUS: There is another show called King of the Road. It is about skating.

Shipping Wars

Amazon Prime

This is not strictly a trucking show, but it does have a big rig, and it goes into the often-weird world of independent shipping. Potential customers list items they need shipped from Point A to Point B on uShip; the characters bid for the jobs. In the episodes I watched, the shipments included small yachts, Audrey II, and hamburger statues.

Truck Factor: I am still early on in this show, and sadly the big rig has not had much to do. It’s expensive to operate and the owner needs to bid on the right projects. We do see plenty of trailers and pickup trucks.

Characters: They all seem to despise each other, even though from appearances they’ve never even been in the same room together. There is a definite rivalry between those who have shipped freight for years vs. the younger upstarts. There’s some light trash-talking at the beginning of each ep, and one standout, Roy, isn’t afraid to share what he thinks about his customers. Is it all manufactured? Who knows, but it did sate my longing for drama.

Storyline: Because each job has a time limit, there’s automatically urgency built into the storyline. Each episode is self-contained and there isn’t really a “story” beyond “will so-and-so get this bid?” or “will they actually reach their destination intact?”

The haulers that have been around for years know their stuff and do relate to the audience things that any trucker has to think about: the costs (gas, insurance, tires) of driving cross-country vs. how much a shipper is willing to pay you, for example.

Watch Factor: Yes, I would watch this again, if only to a) finally see what they use the big rig for, and b) listen to Roy smack talk everyone he knows.

BONUS: Do you hate weigh stations? Episode 2 is for you.

Ice Road Truckers

History Channel

Here it is, the granddaddy of all trucking shows. Okay, maybe not the granddaddy, but Ice Road Truckers is pretty famous. Even people who have never looked at a truck or been anywhere colder than Southern California have probably heard of it.

IRT is definitely more exciting by design: plenty of drama stems from the crazy setup that is straight from a video game: big rigs must cross impassable territories to deliver much-needed supplies to diamond mines.

Yes. You read that right.

Truck Factor: Huge. Trucks are the only way to get supplies up to those remote mines, and the environment they have to pass through – only accessible for a couple months a year – is brutal on machinery, so there’s a lot of emphasis on keeping your rig in shape and making fast repairs.

IRT scored some trucking points by showing us how these truckers winterize their rigs to get them ready for the ice road. The #1 problem for trucks in the north is moisture in the lines (if it ices up…you have no brakes). Heavy-duty antifreeze and tarps help out, but in the first two episodes we had two trucks end up at the mechanic for cold-related issues.

Characters: The people willing to make treks like this are bound to be interesting. Maybe it’s the -40-degree temperatures, maybe it’s living in somewhat isolated areas; either way, these guys are kooky. The show trims down on the cursing and some of the more ribald comments, but I was reminded of a pack of sailors on shore leave more often than not.

Storyline: Each episode focuses on new challenges faced by one or more characters. Because they all have the same basic goals (get supplies to the mines, don’t fall through the ice, and get $$$) you do get a sense that they are working toward (or away from, in the case of ice) those things. Because the season is short and the ice road itself is temperamental and dangerous, there’s a built-in sense of urgency.

Watch Factor: OMG I must see more. Maybe it’s not fair to compare IRT to the above shows, as they definitely have a bigger budget and are designed from the start to have storylines and drama. But dang, I was sucked in.

BONUS: There appear to be several spinoff shows, and this thing ran for a long time, so I have many icy adventures ahead of me.

OUTBACK TRUCKERS

Netflix

The absolute winner in my trucking show binge was Outback Truckers. It takes place in Australia, but don’t let that stop you; aside from the occasional kangaroo encounter, the truckers (or truckies in Aussie vernacular) Down Under face a lot of the same problems as drivers on the North American continent.

“If the trucks stop, the nation stops,” one driver says early on. The show follows numerous drivers – including two married couples, a lone wolf, and a company owner – as they haul goods across the country. Often they must deliver things to remote places. It has tinges of Ice Road Truckers…but with fire instead of ice. You do also run the risk of hitting camels (yes), kangaroos, and “bush turkeys” which might look like this.

Truck Factor: A good chunk of the show takes place in the trucks, watching the drivers navigate the various roads (or road-like items) in the Outback. In the episodes I saw, we had a truck suffer with lighting problems, and another combating various engine issues. The show also emphasizes safety for drivers and those on the road. It’s refreshing to see.

Characters: The characters we’ve met so far are a pretty lovable bunch overall. They’ve been at this for years and they know their stuff, and we see how their lives have entwined with their vehicles. Let’s take Mark and Claire, who are one of the married couples featured. Their entire romance began because she liked his truck (more than she liked him, or so she says!) and he taught her how to drive it. Now they make all of their trips together (along with their small dog), switching off on driving so they can work around the clock.

Storyline: Episodes are usually self-contained with some “spillover” (a story continuing from one episode to another). The focus is on the drivers themselves and the life; the drama may come from jerks on the road (entirely relatable) or the truck getting stuck in mud left over from flooding (and the exhausting efforts to get it loose).

Watch Factor: I will 100% keep watching this show. Loved the idea, loved the characters, and love and fear Australia. I’m all in!

BONUS: They don’t censor the occasional bad word (actually, this might be more of a warning than a bonus).

SHARE YOUR FAVORITE SHOW WITH US

I know, I know: there’s only five shows featured. Watching a few episodes of each one drank down most of the time I had set aside during winter break. There are also other shows behind various paywalled services that I just didn’t get into. But hey, new year, new truck shows, right? And by the way, if you’d rather watch something about repairs, have no fear; we’re also looking at several repair-centric YouTube channels that we’ll feature in an upcoming post.

Do you have a favorite show that didn’t turn up on our list? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!

BONUS: If you’ve scrolled this far down, you’ve probably always wondered what happens when you strap jet engines to a Peterbilt. The answer is Shockwave.

Suz Baldwin

About Suz Baldwin

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she’s written all sorts of copy for brands big and small while consuming enough coffee to paralyze a dinosaur.

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