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.
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. 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. What they find is often astonishing - treasures discarded in everything from people's storage sheds to old rooms overloaded with collections (in one of the show's best episodes - included here - the pickers find themselves on a property in the forest where stuff seems piled up just about everywhere.)
That's not the show's main issue, though. The main issue are the two hosts, especially Mike: the co-host's excitement feels forced at times (there's playing things up for the cameras.This is particularly an issue with Mike, who can't go two minutes without coming up with some irritatingly goofy way to describe something. If there was a drinking game for "American Pickers" where the players had to take a drink every time Mike says something pointless along the lines of "This is like a jungle gym for pickin'!", the game wouldn't last very long.
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, contrary to popular belief, does still exist - thankfully.)
Some of "Pickers" screams "filler": I could really do without the van discussions between the two - or at least bringing these moments down to a brief summary of where the two are headed. Some of the banter between the two in the van seems written (some of the pop culture references in the van in a few episodes over the seasons has felt laughably far from organic.)
That's really the core problem of this series: it features wonderful people who live a quiet, simpler life, but rather than emphasizing that, it has to be yappy, zippy and have two hosts that border on being obnoxious at times. This series would be immensely improved by letting an emotional moment or a moment of surprise when a find comes along sit in the air for a minute without having to have Mike hyperactively comment on it like a child who's just downed a dozen Pixie Sticks. Take time away from the van moments and give the core of the series - the "pick stops" - more focus.
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 and then join back with the two after they've found items they want.
While it's irritating that the series continues to be released as Volumes rather than full seasons, this set does offer a couple of the best episodes from the show's run. A particularly terrific episode is "A Banner Pick", where the duo head to Bushkill Park in Eaton, PA, which is a classic theme park that's decades old. The park has run into difficulty with local flooding in recent years, and the new owners are looking to sell some of the park's old antiques to raise money to try to reopen. Mike and Frank take a couple of old banners and are stunned when they find out how much the banners are worth. The show gets credit for the end of the episode, where the duo return to the park with a gift to help out the park.
The other highlight of the volume is "Hobo Jack", which sees the duo heading into a forest property owned by Hobo Jack, who has collected various treasures over decades. The episode is an example of the best of the show - the property is remarkable in scope, stuff is absolutely everywhere. Additionally, there's the thrill that it feels as if this stuff has been seen by few people in years (if not decades.) Hobo Jack is also a fascinating character, but his property in the forest would seem like a dream stop for pickers.
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. I wish they would occasionally be quiet and sit and appreciate it for two seconds.
This set offers 8 episodes, which is disappointing: just offer fans full seasons rather than these "volumes" of random episodes.
DISC 1: Hobo Jack / Laurel and Hardy / Frank Flips / Mike's Breakdown
DISC 2: Pint-Sized Picker / A Banner Pick / Danielle Goes Picking / What's In The Box?
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 half a great show. The people who are visited often seem like wonderful people who have interesting stories and amazing collections. There's enough to like here to make it watchable and get a *light* recommendation, especially if one can manage to tune out the lead duo. The show's hosts need to dial it down and the producers need to focus the series more on what makes it great: the items and the people Frank and Mike meet.
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.