Judge Mike Rubino can tell the difference between a real DVD review and a fake.
"And the horse you rode in on!"—The Old Man
When I think of a pawn shop, I see a seedy, urban boutique: windows filled with neon signs, a small counter behind prison bars, and outcast musical instruments lining the walls. They're like bizarro antique shops. Then I watched The History Channel's cleverly named reality series, Pawn Stars. Set in the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, the family-run business is a bright and welcoming well of rare and historical items. Thanks to the guiding, unseen hand of television producers, this odd little show offers up some cool bits of history with a side of cheese.
Each episode of Pawn Stars features three to four pawns per episode—think Antiques Road Show with more open collars and gold chains. The customer presents his or her item to one of the four pawn brokers: there's Rick Harrison, the show's star; his father, "The Old Man;" Rick's son, "Big Hoss" Corey; and the comic relief, Chumlee. Together they have great chemistry and plenty of historical information to dispense on any given product (except for maybe Chumlee, he's more or less there to get into trouble). Occasionally the authenticity of an item needs to be verified, so the shop brings in various experts to assess the situation. Then, after the truth is revealed, Rick either haggles for a price or sends the customer packing.
The show's format is simple and effective. In fact, the 20-minute episodes seem to blow by almost too quickly. As with any antique appraisal show, the most interesting segments revolve around the inspection and explanation of the item at hand; enhancing the explanations are factoids that pop up on screen. This first season has a lot of variety in each episode—any given installment could contain a 200-year-old gun, a rare autographed something-or-other, or a semi-truck. You really can pawn almost anything.
Where the show stumbles is in the "reality" portions. Clearly, the show's producers wanted to stress the personalities of those involved, so Pawn Stars features plenty of on-camera testimonials and staged conflicts. I don't really see a need for Rick to give a testimonial about what he's going to do next, only to have the show cut to footage of him doing just that. They're telling and showing, and things can get redundant. The same could be said for each episode's meager subplot. Whether or not a cannon works is vital to its worth (factoid: a cannon's value decreases 50 percent if it doesn't fire), so I don't mind seeing their tests each episode; however, it's the staged stunts, like Chumlee making his own nasty wine and The Old Man wearing Ed Hardy jeans, that have me rolling my eyes.
Pawn Stars: Season One consists of 14 episodes spread across two discs, and the series looks and sounds about as good as any other modern cable show. The second disc also contains three featurettes totaling about 25 minutes. The first is "Meet the Pawn Stars," which offers brief biographies of each of the four stars. "Real or Fake" is a cool series of clips where the guys give tips about spotting fake silver, Rolexes, gold, etc. Lastly, there are some additional clips and pawns not featured in the show. The three featurettes may be brief, but they add some cool insight into the pawn industry and the workings of the show.
Despite the show's occasional foray into "manufactured reality," it remains a brisk and entertaining endeavor by The History Channel. They manage to teach the audience a little bit about random bits of history, while also reminding us that pawn shops don't have to be so scary.
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