Saturday, February 5, 2011

Capsule Review Cavalcade: Buy & Sell

Television goes through a lot of fads. The most recent centers around the notion of hidden treasures. Regular people find or sell irregular things, and make regular fortunes doing it. The first show we'll cover is one of cable's highest rated shows, surely making its benefactors as happy as the customers.

Pawn Stars; History Channel
Welcome to the Gold & Silver pawn shop in Las Vegas, Nevada. Presiding over the counter are the Harrison family - owner Rick, son Corey, and Rick's father, "The Old Man." Also along for the ride is Corey's childhood friend, and plus-sized comic relief, Chumlee. In each half hour episode, this core group of four provide background information and prices on customer items ranging from vintage cars to historic documents and kitschy collectibles.

"Pawn Stars" has a definite formula, but it's a delightful formula. Two of the guys will entertain a seller's pitch on some piece of merchandise, often fanning claims that the piece is from a certain period in history and that it's super valuable and rare. The pair look it over and insist on calling "a buddy" to give it a proper once-over. After cutting to a few purchases that resolve themselves, the expert comes in and gives their analysis. The customer will ask for the full value as determined by the expert, while the men behind the counter scoff and talk him down because "they got to make a profit." When they arrive on a price, a firm handshake and a trip to "write it up" seal the deal. Imagine all of that punctuated by breathy, but boisterous laughter from Rick.

The items are great, and the Harrison family are a lot of fun to watch. An added bonus are the occasional restorations of old items, from more of Rick's "buddies." Think of it as a testosterone version of Antiques Roadshow, with a little bit of the before-and-after reveal typical of makeover and home design shows - only here it's usually a vintage vehicle. "Pawn Stars" is easy to pick up for hours at a time, and deserving of all its success. You feel a charge whether somebody just made thousands off an attic treasure, or Rick has to tell them it's not worth anything. Vegas thrill without the colossal risk.

Storage Wars;
Here's a business you might not knew existed. When people default on paying for storage lockers, the contents go bye-bye in a public auction. "Storage Wars" follows four groups who turn around these lockers for profit in California.

These are some great, great characters. Dave Hester's deep pockets, bid-up techniques and snide attitude make him the villain. Jarrod & Brandi are a young couple just entering the field. Darryl and his son are Dave's closest competition, but are portrayed in a far more favorable light. Barry Weiss is the wild card. The only player without a store to sell these wares, Barry targets collectibles that draw a high dollar.

The auctions teem with human drama. Post-game interviews reveal the fortunes and intentions behind every bid. Buyers are only permitted five minutes to look before bidding, and they can't go beyond the door to see the contents. After the sale, we see if the risk was worth the reward, as the winner digs and digs for something special. What turns up can vary widely. Sometimes a fortune in jewelry can be found; other times, the finds are just gross.

Between the delightfully over-the-top reality side, and the amazing discoveries in the lockers, "Storage Wars" is a great half hour. The episodic tracking of the profits adds to the fun, although it shines a light on the show's only flaw. The supposed "value" of the items often comes from appraisal only.

American Pickers; History Channel
Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz travel the country in their Antique Archaeology van to pick through garbage. Deep within abandoned farms, or amidst wrecked vehicles in a big backyard, the Iowa-based pair find rare items to sell.

While "Storage Wars" uses a supposed value on occasion to draw its conclusions, "American Pickers" is guilty 99% of the time. This makes the alleged success of a pick unsatisfying to me.
Also, the show's stars appear opportunistic compared to their contemporaries on the above-mentioned shows. They openly revel in getting a low price for an item they can turn around for three times as much in their store. Mike & Frank most often deal with collectors like themselves. With both parties knowing the worth of their items and looking out for their own gains, the dealing is seedy by comparison. Personal enjoyment of the show almost relies on an interest in what they're finding. Mike & Frank treasure old signage and pumps from the gas stations of yore, and even find value in dilapidated bike parts they can sell to other eccentric junk collectors.

Not a bad show - a worthy companion to "Pawn Stars," in fact. But these oddities, combined with a one-hour run time, make it less easy to pick up and enjoy. ***

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