New History Channel Show: Pawn Stars

Pawn Stars

Airtime: Sundays, 10 pm EST
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: History Channel
Air date: 2009-07-19

The History Channel is about to launch a new series focusing on the somewhat unpromising subject of a pawnshop. The series goes by the rather prurient but, I suppose, amusing moniker of Pawn Stars and features three generations working together in the pawn business, a business that served as the main form of credit in the United States until about 1950 and remains one of the oldest forms of banking. This particular business is apparently the only family-run pawnshop in Los Angeles and indeed the family tensions and camaraderie make up a large part of the premiere episode. Thus the History Channel enters the world of (quasi-) reality TV in a manner in which only The History Channel could -- mixing family and business dynamics with a genuine interest in historical artifacts.

Richard Harrison (often simply called “the Old Man”) started his “Gold & Silver Pawn Shop” in 1988 after losing millions in real estate. He dresses, at least for the credits, as an underachieving mob boss and because of his poor eyesight (presumably) he squints no end. Supposedly, he assesses the value of any piece of merchandise with remarkable exactitude (at least according to the press material) but in this episode he is exposed as having made a rather serious gaffe—he priced a Carson City coin worth roughly $500 at a mere $50 because he could not accurately read the back of the coin. His son and grandson finally convince him to visit the eye doctor but he insists on driving to the appointment!

Rick Harrison seems to be the center of the business. In this episode, he is the one that goes out to view the merchandise (here a cannon and a humungous table saw) and makes the offer. He is an enthusiastic purchaser and knows when to call in the experts. Now for those of us interested in the history aspect of shows presented by the History Channel, this is where the show earns our interest.

Rick considers buying an 1890 Horchkiss Cannon that may have been used in Cuba for the attack on San Juan Hill. Only 50 such guns are in existence. Justifiably Rick has his doubts. So he calls in an expert to verify its value. Here we learn how one assesses the value of cannons (apparently they have to fire -- I want to know who is firing these things off) and we also get a great deal of information regarding this specific model. It truly is intriguing—but it is a rather small portion of the episode. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the reality-show nature of the series forces Rick and his actual work into second place behind the antics of his father and his son.

Ahh... his son. Cory (also known as “Big Hoss” but I refuse to call anyone by such a ridiculous name) works the shop, which basically means he tries to catch his grandfather’s mistakes and humors the shop’s resident moron, a guy by the name of Chumlee but who is called “Chum” (as if that improves matters). Chumlee identifies himself immediately as an idiot (“but I’m your idiot” he says adoringly to Cory) and all of the other employees continually lament his presence when any real work is to be done. If I were more cynical, I would say that he was hired specifically to add a goofy character for the show. Actually, I am that cynical and that is what I am saying. If I am wrong and he is a bona fide employee, so much worse for the company. Cory himself is not much better. He is a tattooed, motorcycle-riding, sarcastic cartoon.

This is the problem with the show. It contains a real figure of real interest (Rick, but you knew that) book-ended by two caricatures. I suppose Richard and Corey represent the human element or better yet the “reality” element but history ought to be reality enough. OK, fine. So I have outed myself. I am a History Channel nut. I love this channel.

But that is precisely why I cannot and will not give them a pass to dress up a lame reality show with the vestiges of historical insight. Yes, I want to know how dealers appraise valuable (or not-so-valuable) objects. Yes, I want to know more about the details of various cannons and their rarity. Yes, I want to understand why a Superbowl ring is more valuable (I can hardly write this) than a Picasso drawing!! But I don’t want to sit through twenty minutes of bullshit for two minutes worth of information.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.