In trying to figure out what I like so much about "Pawn Stars," I realized that the pawn business has a lot in common with film reviewing.
One of the pleasures of writing about film is encountering new material on a regular basis, and working on a series of short-term projects. I get a film to review, I learn as much as I can about it, process that knowledge, and then move on to the next one. Along the way, I pick up bits of knowledge that span the spectrum from science to art to politics. One day I'm working on a Belgian travelogue, a few weeks later I'm looking up all the actors who played Sherlock Holmes.
Rick Harrison, owner of the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas (where better to have a pawn shop?), has a similar daily routine. As he says, he never knows what's going to come into that shop each day, and each new item brings its own set of challenges as well as an opportunity to learn something entirely new. One day Rick is negotiating a day for a collection of Playboy magazines, the next a propeller that was allegedly on one of Charles Lindbergh's planes. Roll forward another 24 hours and he's learning about the evolution of John Hancock's signature from his Declaration of Independence days to his later years as governor of Massachusetts.
That's just plain fun, and the pleasure of watching "Pawn Stars" is the opportunity to learn alongside Rick. The show kicks further engages viewers by playing up three other characters in the pawn shop. Rick's father, like the patriarch of the Clanton gang, was dubbed with the nickname "Old Man" when he was still young and has finally grown into it over the years. Co-owner of the shop with Rick, Old Man is a cranky old bastard in the finest tradition of cranky old bastards. Rick's son Corey (AKA "Big Hoss") is learning the ropes and draws constant heat from his impatient father and grandfather. Rounding out the cast is the official comic relief and only non-Harrison in the bunch, Chumlee, described by friends and detractors alike as the shop's village idiot.
The array of items that arrives at the store is truly staggering, as is the ignorance of many of the would-be sellers. They seem to think that anything old is automatically worth a lot of money. "What do you want for that 1926 typewriter?" "I'm looking for $5,000." Rick disabuses them of such notions. Guns and military memorabilia are the most common collectibles, but some of the show's hinge on rarer items (Salvador Dali prints) or big-ticket items like antique cars and a hot-air balloon. Rick's motto is simple: If I can make money, I'll buy it.
Being a pro in the business, Rick also has a friend who is an expert in just about anything you can imagine. Antique Coke machines? He's got an expert for that. A Native American totem? Yeah, he knows the right woman for the job. A calf roping machine? No problem. He has to rely on this expert network both to authenticate the items as well as to establish a fair price. And then the negotiations begin and they're as straightforward as you can ask for. "I'm looking for $5,000." "I'll give you a $1,000." Meet in-between with in-between being closer to Rick's price. Sometimes I'm surprised by how much he will pay for certain items and I'm pretty sure I've seen him make a few mistakes like the time he offered $70 for a box of worthless 1990s comic books.
In general, though, Rick knows what he's doing. As do the producers of the show. They have a big-time winner here. "Pawn Stars" is easily the best show on the History Channel and maybe the best show on cable.
The Season One set contains two discs with seven episodes each. Each episode runs approximately 20 minutes.
The episodes are presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen format. The interlaced transfer is average, more or less what you'd expect from a History TV series release. The image is sharp, it looks about as good as it did when broadcast.
The episodes are presented in Dolby Digital Stereo. No subtitles are provided. All the dialogue is clearly audible which is all that matters here.
Disc Two houses the modest Extras offered in this set.
"Meet the Pawn Stars" (8 min.) provides brief bios of each of the four characters.
"Real or Fake" (6 min.) teaches you how to tell the difference between real or fake Rolexes, silver, and gold.
The disc also includes 12 minutes of "Additional Footage."
Crossbows, blunderbusses, classic Harleys, Death Clocks, 1930s gas pumps, and Chumlee. "Pawn Stars" has it all. Every episode in both Season One and in the young Season Two (not on this set) has been top flight. Great characters, fascinating items, and the opportunity to learn while being entertained. I love this addictive show.