The calendar has turned over to June and the network TV season has ended, which means it’s time for History Channel to bring back Ice Road Truckers. Its previous four seasons have been set variously — in the Yukon territory, the remote northern coast of Canada, and Alaska’s treacherous Dalton Highway, which runs from Fairbanks to the North Slope. However, changing the location doesn’t change the series’ fundamental problem: it’s not very interesting to sit in a cab with a driver for hundreds of miles at a time. Sure, the conditions are hazardous and the temperatures go way below freezing. But the novelty of each place soon wears off and Ice Road Truckers is stuck trying to manufacture drama from small incidents.
The fifth season changes the setting again. Canadian truckers Hugh and Alex have returned to their native country, this time to drive the remote roads of northern Manitoba. Joining them is Rick, a veteran driver from the first two seasons who sat out the show’s foray into Alaska. Alaskan trucker Lisa is back for another season on the Dalton Highway, along with Dave, who has never driven the ice roads but has 25 years of experience in the continental U.S. and a year with the 2010 spinoff series IRT: Deadliest Roads. Also new to Alaska is New York City-based driver Maya, who has all of three years of trucking experience.
The two-hour premiere, airing 5 June, focuses on three drivers who are new to Winnipeg, and that gives their stories some verve. The roads in northern Manitoba are a mix of rough dirt tracks, partially frozen bogs, and icy river crossings. Because this spot is further south than those in previous Ice Road Truckers seasons, the ice tends to be thinner and the winter hauling season is much shorter. This means the drivers are under intense pressure to deliver materials to the remote villages that are inaccessible for the rest of the year.
Hugh and Rick have a long, sometimes contentious history together, but they get along well driving together in this premiere episode. Alex also has a long history with Hugh, but he’s driving for a different company than the other two this year, so he has little contact with them — apart from a scene, obviously set up by the History Channel, in which all three try their hardest to act surprised to see each other when clearly, they knew in advance they’d all be on the show.
Over in Alaska, Maya appears to be cast for her rookie perspective, and, it seems, her good looks. Other newbies have appeared on Ice Road Truckers in the past, but Maya is not only green, but also seems completely ill suited for the Dalton Highway. She spends much of her first trip freaking out about how steep the roads are and how cold the winter is. The other newbie, Dave, has many years of experience including driving in India during Deadliest Roads. His mentor Tony has other ideas, treating Dave like any other Dalton Highway rookie. Dave takes Tony’s advice as personal insults to his driving ability, so sparks fly between the two.
Like other roads in other seasons, those in Manitoba will assuredly begin to look routine over time, leaving show creator and executive producer Thom Beers to rely again on exaggerated danger, overbearing music cues, and personal conflict to provide the drama. At least with Beers’ flagship show (and Truckers competitor) Deadliest Catch, he can count on both the ever-changing Bering Sea and the tensions among a small crew trapped for days in a small space together to conjure troubles.
It’s telling that the Deadliest Roads series was by far the most compelling that IRT has ever been. That show also featured an exotic location, but included as well a set of fragile, underpowered trucks, a language barrier, insane traffic, and roads that were far more dangerous than most anything in North America.