As part of a new group of shows that attempt to take the core concept of "Antiques Roadshow" and spin it for a new and wider audience, "American Pickers" is a pleasant change in that it hits the road and ventures across rural America in the search for rare items. That's not, however, to say that the series isn't without its share of flaws (although some of these issues seem to have lessened as the show goes on.)
The series stars the Laurel and Hardy pairing of Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz (who find a Laurel & Hardy promotional piece at one point and make a few jokes about the similarities), who run the antique store Antique Archeology in Le Claire, IA. While they are from the Midwest, they often head across the country in an attempt to dig up antiques from just about anywhere. They often head out and around the (very) back roads of the US in order to find treasures, but can occasionally find themselves in places like NYC. The occasional mixing in of unexpected locations is enjoyable both in terms of visual variety and seeing the two pickers having to adapt to different environments.
It's a little surprising the main store isn't closer to Chicago to gain more traffic, but anyways, they're aided by Danielle, who researches leads and generally gets dumped on (for no apparent reason other than to create some sort of attempt at humor or drama) by the two main stars.
"Pickers" does venture into rural areas around the country, both to people's homes that invite them there - and occasionally they knock on people's doors unexpectedly. Mostly that seems to go well, although - as is seen in one instance here - occasionally they aren't greeted warmly when knocking on a door uninvited.
What they find is often astonishing - treasures discarded in everything from people's storage sheds to old rooms overloaded with collections. The real difference with "Pickers" remains that one gets the sense that a lot of what's seen may never have been seen had Frank and Mike not knocked on their door.
That's not the show's main issue, though. The show's main issue are the two hosts, who have thankfully calmed down somewhat in latter seasons, as I found Mike's hyperactivity in earlier episodes increasingly irritating - I've previously said that one could have structured a drinking game around Mike's various inane phrases ("This is like a jungle gym for 'pickin!" Mike yelped while climbing around one barn in early episode.) The show is more enjoyable without Mike hyperactively commenting on what's going on like a child who's just downed a dozen Pixie Sticks. Some of the inane chit-chats in the van, however, still feel like filler ("Rambo" vs "Rocky").
As for information, the two co-hosts of "Auction Hunters" provide more useful information about the items they come across, and neither offer information on the level of "Pawn Stars", which still is far in the lead in this genre in terms of providing a balance of entertainment and education. All of these shows give me fond memories of the wonderfully quiet, delightfully simple, drama-free "Cash in the Attic" (not the remake, the original BBC version.)
Mike and Frank talk about "bringing these treasures out into the open", but they're doing it for a profit first and foremost. Still, I do give the series credit for focusing on rural America (which actually still exists, thankfully - not every rural area has been overdeveloped.)
I really hope that future seasons tone down the hosts a bit and focus more on the stories of the people they meet and the history of the items, which - and I'll emphasize it again - are usually fascinating.
What's a little upsetting is the amount of time spent in some of the places - the amount of STUFF in some of these collections would take days (and in some cases probably weeks) to go through, and yet we see very little as a few items are picked up and discussed. Rather than watching Mike and Frank as they look through the items, maybe have the camera look through some of the piles, freeze frame on/highlight a few items and provide the history and then join back with the two after they've found items they want.
Unfortunately, the series keeps being released in volume sets rather than whole seasons. The fourth volume of the series offers a number of smaller highlights, but no real "whole episode" highlights on the level of "Hobo Jack". "They Boldly Go" does offer a few laughs as Mike and Frank go picking for William Shatner, who calls Mike on a dopey line (after telling Shatner that he probably wants things that are "out of this world", Shatner gives him the perfect Shatner look and deadpans, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard.")
"The Emu Chase" also offers a few memorable moments, as Frank and Mike encounter a rather unusual and rather angry guard on the prowl while they're out on a pick. The real highlight of the episode, however, is a trip to Ruby Guidara's, as Ruby is a famed Nashville set designer that has worked on a number of major music videos. "The Possum Trot" is also fun from the standpoint of watching the duo head to a local auction, as well as a visit to a business that dates back to the 1800's - and has a giant inventory that looks like it should be in a museum.
Mike and Frank's journey through rural (and sometimes very rural) America to uncover treasures and find out more about the people who own them is a wonderful task - it's an incredible thing to be able to drive across the country and find amazing antiques that have been stored away for ages in barns, sheds and elsewhere. Thankfully, as the show goes on, the two hosts have gotten a bit more subtle and let the show be less about them and more about what they've come across.
This set offers 8 episodes, which is disappointing: just offer fans full seasons rather than these "volumes" of random episodes.
DISC 1: Fairlane Fever / Too Hot To Handle / Trading Up / The Emu Chase
DISC 2: Keep Out! / They Boldly Go / The Possum Trot / California Dreamin
VIDEO: 1.78:1 widescreen. The presentation looks fairly good, with images that are usually at least crisp. Some mild shimmer is occasionally seen, but doesn't cause too great a distraction. Colors appear warm and rich, with no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: Clear, clean-sounding 2.0 audio. Dialogue and occasional outdoor ambience both sound crisp and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Zip, which is really too bad - I have to imagine there's at least some deleted footage that could have been included.
Final Thoughts: There's a great concept at the core of "Pickers" and the show has gradually gotten more watchable as the core issue has become, well, less of an issue in recent seasons. The people who are visited often seem like wonderful people who have interesting stories and amazing collections.
It's disappointing that fans again get stuck having to buy these volumes of episodes rather than season sets. The DVD only offers 8 episodes (although there are a couple of the better episodes of the series included here), and surprisingly, no extras.