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The Best of Pawn Stars

(US DVD: 20 Aug 2013)

It’s hard to pinpoint the most appealing part of Pawn Stars. Much like your neighborhood pawn shop, the HISTORY channel reality show has a little bit of everything: rare items, likeable characters, amusing banter, spirited haggling, desperate fortune seekers, and a surprising amount of historical insight. Maybe that’s why it’s a ratings juggernaut, becoming one of cable’s most popular shows since its debut in 2009. If you’re not familiar with the show, Pawn Stars follows Rick Harrison’s family-run Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas.  It’s like PBS’s Antiques Roadshow injected with equal doses of comedy and testosterone.


With Pawn Stars Rick has now spent six TV seasons alongside his father (simply called the “Old Man”) and his son Corey on what is, understandably, HISTORY’s highest-rated series.


Rick and company are ready to buy anything that they can flip and make a profit on, whether that’s a mechanical calf-roping machine, a spoon made by Paul Revere, or war bond posters from World War II. The gruff, hefty guys are usually sharp enough to spot a faked “antique” weapon or to correctly date a genuine piece of vintage Americana. Plus, they know when to call in the experts.


What you might not expect to find on this blue-collar reality show is the amount of knowledge conveyed by the Harrisons and the variety of specialized local experts they bring in to authenticate memorabilia, estimate an item’s value, and/or assess repair costs. A hefty dose of history is communicated on the program, which is, strangely enough, something of a rarity for the HISTORY channel today.


That’s right, you might actually learn something while watching Pawn Stars, even if you don’t intend to. For example, in a single episode, you might learn that a founding father named George Clymer was the first person to publically advocate America’s total separation from Great Britain or that John Wayne had the lead role in a whopping 142 films.


Rick is, at least on camera, most often the purchaser of the items and he’s a jovial, ardent one at that. Customers of every demographic bring merchandise through the doors and Rick estimates the value and, if he’s interested, starts negotiating the price. If you appreciate the art of the deal, you’ll love the haggling that happens. If not, it’s still oddly intriguing and you’ll be sure to hear Rick’s contagious laugh by the time any deal is done.


Occasionally, the desperate sellers are briefly interviewed and those segments can too be entertaining, like when a tracksuit-clad gentleman has an all-out fit while ranting about how his beloved collection of Pez dispensers is worth thousands.


It’s obvious that the Harrison family loves what they do. This is apparent again and again, like when you witness Rick’s ecstatic reaction to obtaining a book that actually belonged to the famed scientist Isaac Newton.


All in all, the big, intelligent fellas of Gold & Silver Pawn bring loads of personality to what could have been a dull television program, providing plenty of grit, laughter and character.


For example, the Old Man, a stereotypical curmudgeon, is more disgruntled than Oscar the Grouch ever was, which makes his continual state of grumpiness toward his family and his customers all the more inexplicably likeable. Meanwhile, Chumlee, a goofy pawnshop employee who also happens to be Corey’s best friend, is as affable and funny as almost any television character from the past decade, even though his dimwitted actions are continuously ridiculed by Rick and the Old Man.


The relational conflicts, camaraderie, and ridiculous (staged) antics between the employees add a satisfying sitcom-type-feel to the series, which helps it appeal to viewers that aren’t antique collectors or history buffs.


In each half-hour episode, viewers will witness at least an incident or two that has nothing to do with the family business. The Harrisons and Chumlee lose bets to one another testing out purchased weapons at the local shooting range. The guys tease Corey about the absurdly tacky Christmas sweater his grandma made him. They plan a surprise birthday party for the Old Man. The Harrisons yell at Chumlee for mashing grapes all over the floor in an attempt to make wine. And so on.


At the same time, the constant familial bickering between the foursome can occasionally be as grating as it is amusing, depending on the context of the remarks.


The ever-present quarreling, historical insights, and comedic storylines aside, it also must be said that the prolonged effects of the recession in America surely must have fueled this show’s popularity and its many knockoffs (Hardcore Pawn, Auction Hunters, etc.) that celebrate turning clutter into cold, hard cash. So, there’s the added bonus that Pawn Stars could help you figure out if the junk you have is actually treasure worth pawning. Furthermore, it certainly appeals to the materialistic nature of American culture; here is a show where stuff is a big star.


HISTORY has just released a two-disc DVD collection called “The Best of Pawn Stars: The Greatest Stories Ever Sold” and it’s a great entry point into the show for anyone that isn’t already one of its millions of viewers. The DVD features eight episodes including a feature-length HISTORY special called “The Pick, The Pawn, & The Polish” that follows Rick’s purchase of a 1957 Chevy for the Old Man. The special actually also incorporates an entire episode each of American Pickers and American Restoration before concluding with a final half-hour of Pawn Stars.


Whether the DVD actually features the eight best episodes is more than debatable. There’s hardly anything remotely extraordinary about the eight selections (expect for the aforementioned special and the sidesplitting “Secret Santa” episode) when compared to the other 200 that weren’t included in the collection.


There’s not even a fleeting explanation of why these episodes were chosen. In fact, there are no special features at all, which seems like an especially wasted opportunity.


Even so, Pawn Stars is one of the few reality shows worth watching, so Pawn Stars fanatics or newbies might want to pick the new DVD up. It’s a deal worth taking if you’re unable to catch the endless reruns on cable. However, there’s nothing priceless about it either, at least not until the show is history.

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Jeremiah Massengale is an assistant professor of communication arts at the University of the Cumberlands where he also advises the award-winning college newspaper.


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