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Reviewed by Will Harris
eality series are a dime a dozen on cable, of course, and the History Channel has been quite notorious for throwing on any old program and falling back on the excuse that pretty much anything that’s been going on for awhile now can technically be considered “history.” (I’m looking squarely at you, “Ice Road Truckers.”) With “Pawn Stars,” however, they’ve managed to find a way to provide legitimate historical information within the context of a reality series that’s filled with a cast of entertaining regulars. It might be a guilty pleasure at times, but there’s no denying that it’s a pleasure nonetheless.
“Pawn Stars” takes place at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, a family-owned establishment in Las Vegas, NV. Started by Richard Harrison – henceforth to be referred to as The Old Man – in 1986 and run by his son, Rick, the store sees a lot of business on a daily basis. Indeed, Rick observes that you never know what you’re going to see when you run a pawn shop, and although this point is obviously played up on a regular basis within the series, anyone who’s ever set foot into one of these shops knows that they really are filled with some weird stuff. So what kinds of things do you see brought into the shop? Oh, man, the list goes on and on, but by season’s end, you’ve seen a boat, a plane, a bike, cars, motorcycles, comic books, magazines, guns, swords, guitars owned by Chuck Berry and Robert Duvall, an antique Coke machine, a suit of armor, and even a KISS pinball machine – and that’s really only scratching the surface.
One only needs to watch a few episodes of “Pawn Stars” to get the feel for its general format: customers bring in items for sale, and if they’re at all interested, then either the Harrisons attempt to broker a deal on the spot or concede that they need to call in an expert to evaluate the item before trying to set a price. As with a lot of these series, you can easily set up a drinking game revolving around recurring bits: take a sip whenever Rick says he knows a guy “who knows a lot about this stuff”; take two sips when a customer demands an outrageous amount for their item; chug when someone’s item turns out to be a fake; and drain your cup when Chumlee makes a ridiculous bet and actually comes out the victor. (The Old Man never misses a chance to refer to Chumlee as possessing subpar intelligence, but in fairness, Chumlee displays that particular trait on a regular basis.) Just because you know what to expect, however, doesn’t mean that this isn’t a fun viewing experience.
By the end of the first season, the show does begin tweaking its formula a tiny bit, testing the waters on exploring the occasional buyer, but the focus is clearly on the items that are being brought into the store. Rick’s various buddies are experts in their respective fields, so regular viewers will get a bit of education about a lot of different aspects of history. That’s not to say that Rick himself doesn’t possess a wealth of knowledge, though. When he refers to himself at one point as a “blue collar historian,” it’s an apt choice of phrase, and his knowledge serves him well at the store, no doubt leaving many customers flabbergasted – and in some cases probably a bit disappointed. You have to figure that some of them go in with the presumption that they might be able to pull the wool over Rick’s eyes and get more money out of their item than it’s worth, but between what he knows and what his friends know, that never happens.
“Pawn Stars” is like “Antiques Road Show” for the working class, and I mean that as nothing other than a compliment. It may not be the deepest program on the History Channel, but it’s unquestionably one of the most addictive.
Special Features: The set offers brief featurettes on each of the show’s four main players (Rick, Corey, Chumlee and The Old Man), as well as a few which gives a look into telling the difference between real and fake items (gold, silver, and Rolexes). There are also several deleted scenes, but the funniest of the bunch is definitely “Dagger Dude,” in which Rick basically shreds a poor kid’s dreams of riches by revealing that the supposed Vietnam War era dagger that he got from a friend is actually from the ‘90s and isn’t even from Vietnam. Ouch.