PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

'Pawn Stars' Is Reality TV Gold

After six seasons, Pawn Stars has had the good fortune of being one of cable’s most popular shows. And rightfully so; it’s addictively watchable.


Pawn Stars

Distributor: A&E
Release date: 2013-08-20
Amazon

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.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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