By Raphael Saray
Much like million dollar game shows and faux documentaries before them the en vogue TV trend is that of shows based on haggling. Trying to get a bargain or barter a deal is a skill I lack. My negotiating technique amounts to saying “C’mon!?” while trying to look sympathetic. I will gladly pay retail to avoid a haggle. I do enjoy watching people do something that I struggle with be it Cirque de Soleil or shoelace tying.
The catalyst for the hagglevision movement would have to be Pawn Stars. The unlikely History Channel hit about the dealings (and I must add wheeling, but I really don’t know what one has to do with another…) and wheelings of a sprawling Las Vegas pawn-a-torium. The stars are the least likely people you’d see on the tube. It’s a family of chubby and snippy males along with a doe eyed and even chubbier family friend. Rick Harrison owns Gold and Silver Pawn with his dad, just called the old man, his son Corey and Corey’s slacker buddy, Chumlee. The appeal is that Rick, at least, is highly intelligent. People come in to sell items and he can appraise almost any item be it fine sculptures, autographed quilts, soviet missile paraphernalia, Lone Ranger lunch kits, etc, etc. If the crew doesn’t know some something, you get to hear the phrase “you know what, I’m not 100% sure…I have a buddy…” At which point a revolving cast of experts are brought in. My favorite is Mark, the burly curator of the Clark County Museum. A docile yet brilliant bearded gentleman, he inspects items in order to see if they are genuine or impostors. Be it military uniforms to 1800 silver flasks to anything in between. I love Mark because he refuses to be a part of the haggle. He will just tell you if the item is real or fake. He will never, ever, give a price. It would be like putting a dollar value on a rainbow, your first kiss or the total damage of an industrial oil spill. To him it’s unseemly and impossible. But that’s Rick’s livelihood so the haggle goes on. After the item is authenticated the fun begins. Rick and the customer will go back and forth over an amount as dramatic music eschews the tension. Rick always has the upper hand in these negations as he is offering cash money, doesn’t charge the fees an auction house would and (albeit begrudgingly) is willing to walk away.
The best or worst part of the show depending on your taste is the awkward “sit-comy” elements that are peppered throughout the episode. Imagine a group of talented sit com actors running a pawn shop. Take Nick Offerman, Donald Glover, Patricia Heaton, and Schmidt – have them be in charge of a pawn-a-teria. Not a mockumentary about a pawn shop, but the real deal. The results would be entertaining, but ultimately a disaster. Same goes for the pawn starts and their acting chops. Oh No! The computers are down! And only the old man knows how to hand write a pawn ticket. But he’s crusty and Chumlee talks in hip hop terms. It is clear that they are trying to “Curb Your Enthusiasm/ Christopher Guest movie” their way through these vignettes. The improv can only be described as herky-jerky. They also take part in competitions which are often physical and involve wagers. Despite the fact that Rick is in his 50s the old man is well…an old man and Chumlee and Corey are in the neighbourhood of 300 lbs. Even with that, they go into the back lot for obstacle course, football toss off’s, and or dune buggy races. I guess these are done to make the boys seem quirky and relatable. Although wacky competitions don’t fly at my office and I don’t know how much quirkier one can get than having knowledge of the actual retail price of a Howdy Doody puppet. The crew is not Ryan Stiles but I still find the show enjoyable. Haggling is a great dramatic device. The cast works because they are not polished on camera. After watching a few episodes you yourself begin to feel like an expert. You mutter to yourself how you wouldn’t go more than 75 grand for that sunken Indian treasure, or how the Confederate machete style knife has to be a fake. Check out the handle and the lack of patina for starters.
Raphael Saray serves as the colour commentator for SJHL Gamenight on flinflononline.com and has had his poetry published in the program for the 1993 Shrine Circus Canadian Tour. Follow him on twitter @miracleviolence.