Spawned out of the unholy union of Antiques Roadshow and American Chopper is the History Channel’s newest series, Pawn Stars. A decade ago channels like Discovery and TLC devoted their programming to what appeared to be academic explorations, but since the advent of reality TV, these so-called “educational” channels have brought us reality show after reality show, each one detailing a more mundane subject than the last. Sure, Alaskan crab fisherman sounds like it would be interesting, but lumberjacks? Really? Perhaps eventually History or Discovery will catch up with the economy and make a show called Employment Wars or American Jobless.

Nevertheless, like most of History’s programs, Pawn Stars is interesting and at times fascinating. The show is based at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, which is the size of the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. An industry that has fallen into the realm of blue-collar society, pawning is the practice of giving something you own to a store, which then loans you money. If you pay back on time, you get your something back. Otherwise, the store owns it. The system is older than banking and sleazier than real estate, although the family members who own this particular pawnshop are as likeable as they are obese.

The “star” of the show is the shaven-headed Rick Harrison who looks intimidating until he opens his mouth and reveals himself to be unexpectedly well spoken and charismatic. He owns the shop with his father, who they inventively call Old Man (Richard Harrison), and his son, Corey, otherwise known as Big Hoss. Yes, someone out there is actually called “Big Hoss” without irony. The Old Man is the wisest and Corey is the most hotheaded, with Rick falling somewhere in the middle.

Most of the half-hour episodes highlight three to four items that are either pawned or sold, two of which are studied in depth, and one B-plot involving the interactions of the family. In a recent episode, the show opens on a man with missing teeth bringing in an 1849 Colt revolver. Rick pays a quarter of its value because it’s been virtually destroyed by a shoddy restoration. Next, another man brings his speedboat to the parking lot. Corey likes the boat and buys it for $16,500, about two thirds of what was asked. When Corey goes back into the office and Rick and the Old Man learn that he did not test-drive it first. Rick explodes. “It’s my Goddamn money!” he shouts. “Calm down, son,” the Old Man says after Corey storms off. “He’s just trying to exert his authority.”

In part two, Rick brings the 1849 gun to an expert who tells him that he made a bad decision. The gun would cost more to restore than it was worth. After that, a man brings in a guitar that was once played by Robert Duvall (!) and asks for $10,000 for it. Rick can’t meet the price, and the guitar isn’t sold.

Part three sees Corey gets a boat expert. He tells Corey that the boat can get $30,000 in good condition. The expert offers to fix it, saying “You know what they say about boats: bust out another thousand!” Back in the store, a man brings in several signed Salvador Dali prints asking for $8000 each. Rick says, “People see me, they think, ‘That guy can’t appraise art.’ But I can.” Rick counter-offers with $5000, but the man cannot agree to that, and they are not able to make a deal. Finally, it’s time to see how much the boat’s restoration has cost. Turns out it was only $4000, and the Harrisons will be able to make a hefty profit. The show ends with Rick, Corey, and an unimaginably stupid worker named Chumlee riding in the boat on Lake Mead.

So is Pawn Stars entertaining? Yes and no. Most of the time the subplots are contrived and slightly sappy, from a bet which ends up forcing the Old Man to wear jeans to taking the Old Man to see an optometrist. The best part of the show is the appraisal of the items and strangely enough, the haggling. Rick is a convincing and charismatic salesman whose tongue can lash like a whip. Some of the best moments are watching Rick laugh when a customer suggests a too-high price. Also, because the show is half the length of History’s other reality shows, it’s much more digestible.

Pawn stars is worth an appraisal. It will only take a tivo-ed twenty-three minutes, and who knows, you may be the next person on the show selling something you found in your basement.

Starring: Rick Harrison Jr., Richard Harrison, Corey Harrison

Producers: Letfield Pictures, Brent Montgomery, Colby Gaines

Network: History

Airing: Sunday, 10:00pm EST


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