"Remember back in the day when things were made by hand, and people took pride in their work? My name's Rick Dale, and I bring these things back to life. Every restoration has its own set of challenges. There's no owner's manual for what we do, but there's no job we can't handle." -- American Restoration's opening narration
If you've caught more than a few episodes of the History Channel's popular Pawn Stars, you'll understand why the idea of spinning off semi-regular Rick Dale and his metal antique restoration business into its own series is such a natural, one practically begging to be made. The result, American Restoration (2010-present), predictably follows Pawn Stars' format, more or less, but the new series is at least equally entertaining, at times fascinating in ways one wouldn't think possible.
As with the latest release of Pawn Stars, the History Channel's DVD of American Restoration - Volume One consists of an incomplete season, in this case all four episodes from an abbreviated season one and the first 12 of season two's 30 episodes. Presumably Volume Two, if there is one, will include the remaining 15 shows. The packaging mentions none of this, much less indicates which episodes are included, although a running time of 5 hours, 52 minutes is listed. Episodes are 16:9 enhanced widescreen and the set has no extra features.
The reality series stars Rick Dale, the soft-spoken, genial, but ruggedly handsome - he reminds me of actor Scott Bakula - owner of Rick's Restorations. His Las Vegas-based company restores predominantly metal antiques, usually stuff from the 1920s-1960s: old gasoline pumps, antique toys, soda machines, candy dispensers.
Customers are willing to fork over big bucks, sometimes upwards of $5,000, to make these items look off-the-assembly-line new, for various reasons. Some are collectors attracted to items for their rarity and/or resale value, which is often considerable. For others the reason is pure nostalgia, to recapture a childhood memory, the way you'd pull a glass bottle of Orange Crush out of a '50-era soda machine, or the buttery smell of an old-time movie theater's popcorn machine. Rick himself is a great enthusiast of this older style of Made in America manufacturing, when appliances and toys were mostly metal, built to last, and had style to spare, attributes lost in this cost-effective, utilitarian age we live in now.
Other customers have even more personal reasons. Sometimes the item connects to an otherwise receded past: something that connects the customer to a recently-deceased parent, for instance, or maybe an old bicycle a father and son had always planned on fixing up together until the father died and the son now feels compelled to finish what they started. In one show, an old man spends several thousand dollars fixing up that aforementioned popcorn machine from the now-closed movie theater he frequented as a boy, all because he wants to be able to enjoy the same popcorn with his grandchildren.
As the son of a welder, I wouldn't have thought spending 22 minutes watching Rick and his crew sandblasting and disassembling broken-down refrigerators and toy trains would be all that entertaining, but the restoration process turns out to be extremely informative and fascinating. In wanting to retain as many of the original parts as humanly possible, the process is labor-intensive and painstaking. They can't afford to mess up; many parts are simply irreplaceable.
Inevitably, the final results are breathtaking. Rusted-out, broken-down items that to most would seem completely unsalvageable look brand-new by the end of each episode. Here Rick's propensity for theatricality is apparent. He takes obvious pride in presenting his work in big "Ta-Da!" reveals.
Like Pawn Stars there's a colorful if not quite so comical cast of supporting characters. Tyler, Rick's teenage son, is mentoring under his father's tutelage and learning on the job. Rick's too laid-back brother Ron is depicted as moderately irresponsible, and Rick has to monitor him carefully. And then there's self-consciously colorful "Kowboy" the curmudgeonly metal polisher. Like Pawn Stars, some footage in each show is devoted to behind-the-scenes, personnel-related stories.
Video & Audio
American Rstoration - Volume One is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with 16:9 enhancement, across two single-sided, dual-layered discs. The image is up to contemporary television standards, as is the 2.0 Dolby Stereo. There are no subtitle options per se, but the discs are closed-captioned. No Extra Features.
This is a fun and informative series, especially for those with an interest in Americana and pop culture artifacts, and star Rick Dale is an agreeable, informative host. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for Media Blasters' Godzilla vs. Megalon (with Steve Ryfle), is on sale now.