"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
Among the widely variable reality shows airing on the History Channel, American Restoration (2010-present) is by far one of the best and most interesting. The show follows antique and unusual bits of Americana brought in to owner Rick Dale's Las Vegas-based "Rick's Restorations" and their remarkable transformations from heaps of rusted and worn junk into valuable show pieces sometimes worth thousands of dollars and, often, even more for their sentimental value.
Like most such reality programs, it has its share of scripted workplace hijinks added for comedy relief and to build "characters" where none are really needed. What really makes American Restoration worthwhile is the way it celebrates a bygone era of craftsmanship and ingenuity, how it elicits a flood of nostalgia for vending machines, toys, and appliances one forgot once existed, and how well it depicts the restoration process itself, in ways that are easy to understand while maintaining the audience's interest.
As with A&E's more recent releases of Pawn Stars DVDs, American Restoration - Volume Two consists of an incomplete season, in this case beginning with episode 13 of season two, "Grippin' Mad," skipping episode 14 ("Picks and Ricks") entirely, and continuing through the last episode of the season, "Bikes & Barbecues." All told there are 17 episodes on two discs, with a total running time of approximately six hours and 14 minutes. Unlike the packaging of American Restoration, the included episodes are listed on the back, a welcome and useful improvement. Episodes are 16:9 enhanced widescreen and the set has no extra features.
Rick Dale is a soft-spoken, genial, but ruggedly handsome boss - he reminds me of actor Scott Bakula. His Las Vegas-based company restores predominantly metal antiques, usually stuff from the 1920s-1960s: old gasoline pumps, antique toys, soda machines, candy dispensers, amusement park bumper cars, 70-year-old arcade games, farming equipment, train yard relics, you name it.
Customers are willing, albeit sometimes reluctantly, to fork over big bucks, sometimes upwards of $10,000 and more, to make these items look off-the-assembly-line new. Some are collectors attracted to items for their rarity and/or resale value. But for most the reason is pure nostalgia, to recapture a childhood memory, the way it'd feel pulling 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, or the distinctive sounds of an old pinball 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 forever, and had style to spare, attributes lost in this cost-effective, disposable, and utilitarian age we live in now.
Other customers have even more personal reasons. Sometimes the item relates 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. Some customers are elderly and anxious to share part of their childhood experience with their 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. Everything is carefully digitally photographed as it's assembled and the work is as much elbow grease as it is blasting it with walnuts or soaking locked gears in rust-eating acid.
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. I think such characterizations are better left to emerge from the real footage of the items being worked on and the interaction between Rick and his customers.
American Restoration - Volume Two is more of exactly the same. Rick does turn down his first customer ever when the two cannot agree a price for what would have been a huge amount of work. Of the shows I sampled the restoration I liked best was a 1940s baseball arcade game that had been positively pulverized when the owner switched from wooden to steel baseballs.
Video & Audio
American Restoration - Volume Two 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. English and Spanish subtitle options are included. 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, found in at least some copies, of Media Blasters' Godzilla vs. Megalon (with Steve Ryfle), is on sale now.