Pawn Stars (2009-present) is an enormously entertaining reality series - this in spite of the fact that the "reality" aspect is highly suspect. Airing on the History Channel, the series follows the appraising and haggling of rare and oddball items at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, a surprisingly upscale joint in Las Vegas, by co-owner Rick Harrison (who resembles Michael Chiklis), his acerbic, often surly father Richard ("the Old Man"), and Rick's not-too-bright son, Corey (also known as "Big Hoss"). Corey's even dimmer-witted pal Chumlee also figures prominently. Their multi-generational bickering and other misadventures comprise each 22-minute episode's "B-story," while the process of authenticating and placing a value on two or three key items are the show's backbone.
I can just imagine the pitch meeting: "It's Antiques Roadshow meets The Pawnbroker!" Well, not exactly, but that's a pretty fair description. Fans of the series, such as colleague Paul Mavis in his review of this same Season Two set, still complain that too much of the show is obviously staged and sanitized. You'll get no argument from this reviewer, but does it matter in the slightest? Not really. More below.
The DVD, distributed by New Video, is unremarkable. Though filmed in high-definition, the discs are 4:3 matted to 1.78:1 and are not enhanced. There's absolutely no good reason for this, though there are signs the History Channel is gradually moving away from such foolishness. Deleted scenes are included as an extra feature.
If you're like me, you probably were expecting a pawn shop that was old, dark, and musty, something maybe like this:
Instead, the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is bright and attractive, and (here's where the feeling of unreality begins setting in) Rick is especially warm and friendly. Rick's gregariousness seems genuine. He frequently flashes a big toothy smile and snickers constantly, like Muttley the dog on Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines. Even when he gets down to business, haggling with customers unprepared for the cold realities of commerce, who don't have a clue about the items they've brought in but make unreasonable demands anyway, Rick's always like your bestest pal.
There must be some kind of complex screening process, because nearly every customer seems to walk in with something extraordinary - something rare, often one-of-a-kind, and always interesting: a wooden propeller supposedly once owned by Charles Lindbergh; a treasure chest off an 18th century ship; a hand-made quilt with dozens of squares signed by varied celebrities; an antique barber chair; a prisoner's ball and chain from the old chain gang days. You never see anything like what you'd expect to see at a pawnshop in Las Vegas: gambling addicts desperately trying to pawn their wedding bands, all sweaty and anxious to get back to the craps table.
No, Pawn Stars' customers are laid-back and perhaps naive, but surely in no hurry, and that's a good thing, too, because Rick frequently calls upon his pals to authenticate the arcane merchandise: classic car expert Wally, timepiece repairman Ferdinand, antique firearms authority Sean. They swing by the pawn shop like the genial residents of Mayberry R.F.D. Both they and Rick offer authoritative background on the object in question, Rick unrealistically coming off as an expert on absolutely everything. Though I'm sure he's highly knowledgeable about the usual sorts of things one brings to a pawnshop, when he starts rattling off factoids about 16th century muskets, there's little doubt he's working off scripted, researched material.
The depressing cutthroat haggling one associates with pawnshops, where the seller is always at a disadvantage, is also absent. Rick and the others are scrupulously honest - customers never ever doubt the value Rick's "pals" place on items; no one ever suggests Rick and his buddies might be conspiring to lowball an item. He pretty consistently offers around 40% of an object's appraised value, usually starting lower and inching up near 45% only on objects Rick's really hot on, which is often. There's no pressure to sell low, no misleading appraising. And yet when was the last time you got 45% for your used DVDs? More often than not, customers walk in with an item they found in somebody's garbage can, know nothing about, and when it's appraised at $4,000 greed kicks into high gear and they're crushed when Rick offers them $1,600. (Invariably: "How much were you looking to get for this?" Rick will ask. "$5,000?" asks the customer. Rick laughs like Alan Hale, Sr.)
Complaints aside, Pawn Stars is a lot of fun. Every item has its own unique story, their histories are fascinating, and there are often interesting surprises. That treasure chest which even expert locksmiths couldn't open turns out to have a hidden keyhole that's unlocked instantly. A valuable timepiece that hadn't worked in years is fixed in about 10 seconds. Junky items are lovingly restored and become extremely attractive and valuable.
Richard, Rick, Corey, and Chumlee are colorful, if self-styled and exaggerated characters. Their backstage bickering likewise feels like a put-on, a la Siskel & Ebert, Jack Benny & Fred Allen, but it's amusing and acceptable as entertainment.
Video & Audio
Pawn Stars - Season Two is pointlessly presented in 1.78:1 matted widescreen with no enhancement. That said, even zoomed on widescreen TVs the image is fairly acceptable, as is the 2.0 Dolby Stereo. There are no subtitle options per se, but the discs are closed-captioned. The set includes 32 22-minute episodes on four single-sided, dual-layered discs.
The lone supplement is 30-plus minutes of deleted footage, most of it as good as anything on the show itself.
Caveat emptor. Like the poor sap hoping to make a quick buck at the pawnshop, selling the family jewels, viewers are advised to watch Pawn Stars with both eyes open. It's a great deal of fun even if it's not honest either in trying to generate possibly faked backstage stories and humor, or in the misleading ways it depicts the pawnshop milieu. But the fun factor is high, and despite the lousy unenhanced transfer this is enthusiastically Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.