History Channel's PAWN STARS - a viewer's review
Genre: reality show
Network home: the History Channel
Airing: 2 half-hour original episodes premier Monday nights, 10 PM EST, 9PM CST
Reruns shown on Lifetime
Pawn Stars chronicles the daily business at the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop located in Las Vegas, Nevada, owned by Rick Harrison “The Spotter”. Helping in operations is Harrison’s father Richard “the Appraiser” who opened the shop in 1988, Rick’s son Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison. Corey’s friend and shop employee, Austin “Chumlee” Russell, appears regularly and shares equal billing in History Channel descriptions of the show.
Each week the History Channel invites viewers into life inside a pawn business via Pawn Stars. The family-owned Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is located on the outskirts of Las Vegas, where family patriarch Richard Harrison and his son Rick and grandson Corey appraise the various objects customers bring in. Rick and Corey take turns narrating each episode, with customers and consulting experts sequestered for opinions regarding these objects and their thoughts on their encounters at the shop.
The items are sometimes ordinary and mundane; other times the items have unusual backgrounds and/or have historical value. Customers are commonly invited to share the history of these items as they are acquainted with them, although the pawn shop staff also rely on their personal experience and common sense to assess the monetary worth. When the presented history proves questionable or monetary value difficult to determine the men get help from a list of frequently consulted experts. After examination, these experts are usually able to provide pertinent and often exciting information about the item in question. With authenticated items the experts go on to estimate a suitable price, and when appropriate, a guesstimated cost for restoring it. Individual piece segments usually end up with either Rick or Corey negotiating on a sale amount with the customer. A price tag icon appears at the bottom during this portion of the segment, changing to reflect the proposed offers and counter-offers until a confirmed price is agreed on.
Along with the appraisals and haggling, each episode includes a questionnaire preliminary to one or more commercial breaks. The questions either test viewers’ knowledge about a particular kind of item or quizzes the viewer’s powers of guesstimation about one of the Pawn Stars. Viewers are also given glimpses into the interpersonal dynamics behind the business. These situations are generally light-hearted, although Chumlee Russell is frequently made the butt of his employers’ jokes.
Pawn Stars is one the more laid-back of TV’s reality shows and has earned a devoted audience despite –or perhaps because of- not having exaggerated, childish battles of egos waging at every turn. The customers to the shop are generally every day (and normal) people, though a few odd characters have been known to come through the front door. Unlike with tru-Tv’s Hardcore Pawn this show doesn’t focus on ugly altercations between customers and the staff. The draw with Pawn Stars is the tension that builds while the customer awaits the verdict of the experts. The closest thing to being scummy one might find about this show is when one of the Harrisons make an outrageously low offer for an obviously valuable item. This is when the viewer indignation flares up and I hear myself telling the poor customer: Put it on eBay, dummy, eBaaaaaay!!
Although this show is filmed in an actual pawn shop and the Harrisons regularly ask the customers if they’re interested in pawning, selling or donating their items it is rare any object featured is actually pawned. In fact, in the twenty or so episodes I’ve watched I have yet to see any pawning take place. Another obvious contradiction is the business premise itself. Even as the Gold & Silver is described as a “pawn shop” most of the objects brought in are rarely the rings, coats, televisions and other things one routinely sees in a pawn shop. The objects viewers see here are more likely to be something with a healthy collectors market or those with unexpected historic allure.
The interaction between the cast members can be amusing, and their personalities are quirky if not wholly lovable.
Patriarch Richard Harrison: referred to as “the old man”, is a fount of curmudgeonly wisdom at the shop. In one episode the old man criticizes the others for their language and brings out a “swear jar” which he tells them they must put money in each time he hears them cuss. Ironically, the old man doesn’t seem overly concerned about tapping down his own language in any of the other episodes I’ve watched, and “Dammit, Chumlee!” is one of his better-known expressions. Besides being the ring leader of the let’s-torture-Chumlee gang the old man has a tendency to embarrass everyone around him, like the time he looked over a collection of John F. Kennedy memorabilia and then remarked about his admiration for that president. When the owner got curious as to why the old man explained it was because Kennedy slept with Marilyn Monroe. Despite his bluntness and abrasive demeanor the old man is proficient at his trade and is especially knowledgeable about vintage cars.
Rick Harrison: Rick started the business with his father and is known as the shop’s official owner. At first Rick seems like a friendly businessman who gets easily enthusiastic about some of the historic pieces that come into the Gold & Silver. But of all the staff Rick is the one most likely to make what I’d call a knowingly unfair offer to potential customers. He also tends to erroneously stick his heels in over the worth of an item. In one episode he tells the owner of a pair of WWII army knives that one of them is nothing more than an ordinary knife dressed up. This is until the expert arrives and appraises it not only as the real thing but, in fact, worth more than the other knife which Rick had his sights on. To his credit, Rick’s professional demeanor is no different than the typical pawn shop owner, whose propriety at making money overshadows any fairness factor. Rick also has a nice laugh, which puts people at ease. Unlike his co-workers –who obviously have never missed a meal in their lives- Rick also boasts some babe appeal with his well-groomed bouncer look going on.
Corey Harrison: twenty-something Corey is a big motorcycle buff and gets excited about any set of cool wheels that catches his eye. Although Corey comes across as biker rough, he doesn’t have quite the cut-throat trader mentality of his father or granddad. His reasonable treatment of people makes him a frequent target of derision for the other two. However, I often find my sympathy for Corey short-lived as he does share their fondness for belittling poor Chumlee, which is worse in Corey’s case as Chumlee is supposed to be his best friend.
Chumlee: at first you might think Chumlee is just an overly-tattooed, uncombed bumpkin with an insatiable hunger for junk food and not much else going for him. In actuality Chumlee is the one star of the show that persistently endeavors to treat all the customers with a sense of fairness and respect. I think it is this fact that the others resent (perhaps secretly envy?) and why they make him the target of derision and practical jokes. Needless to say, if it wasn’t for the balance Chumlee provides the other three guys would come across a whole lot seedier.
As far as reality shows go Pawn Stars is a refreshing change to the status quo. As opposed to those shows that rely on emotion exploitation to draw in viewers the emphasis of Pawn Stars is regaling viewers with a host of fascinating objects, revealing their real history and the inevitable haggling between staff and customers. The steady flow of memorable and quirky customers prevents the show from falling into predictability, while the number of classic cars and motorcycles brought by lend a tough chic. Even as the cast member interaction is at times contentious, the arguments and debates are presented with gentle humor.
Ordinary pawn shops are pretty boring places, and without these extras to the script the Gold & Silver would be no different than any other pawn shop in a large city. But as it is the writers have created an enjoyable show with Pawn Stars, one that I look forward to tuning into every week.
Entertainment level rating: 7 out 10 Viewer Kudos
Reality Show cast/character interaction exploitation level: Below the Norm - Average - Bad - Gnarly Bad
Overall viewer rating: 8 Viewer KUDOs