Show of the Day: Pawn Stars

7 Oct

I readily admit that this blog focuses by and large on scripted shows and I’m more than happy with that; scripted shows are far and away what I like better and care more about.  That said, I wouldn’t be human if there weren’t a couple of reality chinks in my armor, and Pawn Stars is one of them.  I’m not the only one captivated either, as Pawn Stars was the second highest rated reality show on cable behind Jersey Shore this year and the highest rated show on the History Channel ever (though I suppose that’s not necessarily saying that much).

Here’s how it works.  A man or woman walks into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas with something to sell, often something unusual, sometimes a collection, sometimes a firearm or a historical object.  One of the employees will talk to the man or woman, and ask him or her a bunch of questions about the object, such as what it is, and where he or she got it from.  Most often the employee will be Rick, the owner of the shop, but sometimes it will be his father, his son, or his son’s slightly dim-witted friend, Chumlee.  If it’s a particularly unusual object, Rick will call on an expert that he knows in the particular area of the item (a handwriting expert for autographs, an antique firearms expert for guns and so forth) and Rick will talk to the camera about how cool the item is and how much he’d like to have it in the store.  After he gets some information from the expert, the employee will ask whether the object holder would like to sell or pawn it, and what he or she would like for it.  They will then bargain, and more often than not strike a deal, but not always.  This will happen four or five times in any episode.  Occasionally, a pawn shop employee will go off premises to check out an item, find out how much it costs to get an item restored, or to try out a new purchase, like a gun, but that’s the general gist of it.

What makes the show so compelling is the combination of the diversity and randomness of the items plus the money angle involved.  It seems simplistic to say putting prices on items just makes them more interesting, but it really does.  Like some other shows I watch, there’s a joy in seeing the familiar but distinct aspects of the show.  I’ve often discussed making a drink game out of them.  Drink whenever Rick calls in an expert.  Drink whenever the seller is angry and thinks his item was worth a lot more than the pawn shop did.  Drink whenever a deal is struck.  Drink whenever they get an item restored.

Most of the items brought to the pawn shop are jewelry, but they rarely feature on the show because that’s less interesting.  Some would cite this as being misleading, but I really couldn’t care less.  I probably wouldn’t want to watch the actual everyday business of a more normal pawn shop (there’s Hardcore Pawn to get a little closer to that if I really want).

What is even better is that as the show has become more popular, the shop has become more popular, and the show then gets more and more interesting items; the longer the show goes on, strangely enough, the better it gets.

Pawn Stars has become a big enough sensation that it’s spawned a plethora of imitators and similar shows.  These include an actual spin-off American Restorations, about the shop of one of the restorers they use, similar History Channel programs American Pickers, TruTV pawn copycat Hardcore Pawn (you can’t make a series with a porn pun) and Discovery Channel’s Auction Kings.  They’re all watchable, and some are better than others, but none of them, unsurprisingly, top the original.

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