Hardcore Pawn in particular is an amazingly successful, largely unsung Detroit TV jewel. Shot in the now-iconic American Jewelry & Loan on Eight Mile Road – and without the benefit of hotly-debated Michigan film incentives – Hardcore Pawn ended its sixth season with 3.4 million viewers on truTV, largest audience in the network's history. It's basic cable's No. 1 unscripted program in its 9 p.m. (EST) Tuesday time slot, has spawned a spinoff series in Hardcore Pawn: Chicago and, if it weren't for the unbelievably whacked-out string of belligerent, ignorant, foulmouthed customers it spotlights, would be a continuing source of pride for Detroiters.
Moreover, I have gotten to know series stars Les and Seth Gold and Ashley Gold Broad on a personal level. I've written several stories on the family-owned business, including this feature for HOUR Detroit magazine. I've even patronized the place: the wristwatch I wear every day was purchased at American Jewelry & Loan. So for its lucky seventh season, which premiered Tuesday, March 26, I've selected Hardcore Pawn as a series to review here on a weekly basis. Here's a recap of Episode One:
The seventh season opener, "Frisky Business," arrived with an uncommonly somber, serious tone: the first true wacko customer didn't arrive until more than seven minutes into the proceedings. In last season's two-part finale, Joe, the store's head of security for three years, was caught on video stealing scrap gold and loose diamonds from the business, was fired and prosecuted. Now all the employees – as well as Les, Seth and Ashley – are on edge wondering what the corporate reaction to this Judas-like betrayal should be.
Les, the wise one, acknowledges it's a fact that a worker occasionally will steal from you. It's happened to him before, and it's a sad reality of doing business. Seth, the cautious one, thinks that's a copout. It's possible Joe wasn't working alone, and if that's the case every employee is a potential suspect. "If you can't trust your head of security, you can't trust anybody," he declares. A strong response is needed, and Seth calls for a mandatory all-store meeting on the showroom floor.
Les announces at the meeting that Byron, a young bespectacled gentleman about the size of the Spirit of Detroit statue, will replace Joe as security chief. He also enacts a new rule that the jeweler's table is officially off-limits to all but a handful of personnel. "If we see anybody else around there, your ass is on the line," he warns.
|(Credit: Mark Hill/Turner)|
He ends the meeting with the ominous notice: "We will be instituting other measures as well," which takes even Les and Ashley by surprise.
Then we're off to business as usual. An innocuous-looking man who tries to sell Les a handsome brass table compass for $150 that he himself is selling online for $33 naturally incites the patriarch's ire ("Do I look like a f***ing idiot?"). He gives the seller and his compass speedy directions to the door, steamed that anyone would even try to play him as a fool at this stage. "Yeah, this is my first day of being a pawnbroker," he cracks.
It's the episode's second customer, however, that brings Hardcore Pawn back to its slam-bang reality roots. A gangly, headbanded gent laments the recent passing of his grandmother in the same breath he asks to pawn one of the old gal's rings to pay his rent. Ashley, literally sweet as she can be, politely informs him that Granny's ring is a fake and he'll need to pawn a TV or other items to hit the $300 he's requesting.
"So you're saying basically I wasted my time standing up here talking to you?" he asks, demanding to speak to someone else "because you irritate me, flat out." (Ashley gets that a lot.) He suddenly demands she lowers her voice and sticks his finger in her face! Oh, that's the cue! Byron, the new security chief, appears like a mountain out of the mist, bodyslams the finger-wagger and bull-rushes him out the door. (That's the moment you remember this is "reality" TV; they'd be facing personal injury lawsuits every week if they manhandled customers like this in real life.)
He calls Ashley the "B"-word as he leaves, triggering Les's anger again – nobody insults his daughter in his presence – and a shaken Ashley appears to display genuine near-tears emotion after he's gone. "People come in my face all the time and scream at me," she says, "but nobody's ever touched me. Thank God for Byron."
Later, a laid-off man tries to sell Les a gull-winged 1976 Bricklin sports car ("one of the coolest cars I've ever seen," Les gushes) for $30,000 but agrees to pawn it for $7,000, and an unsure single mother agrees to part with her larger-than-life Blues Brothers statues for $300 but reneges on the deal when friends whisper she could get more elsewhere. But my personal favorite customer of the episode is the skullcapped boob who lost power in his home the night before and comes to Seth looking to buy a generator.
"It doesn't run on electricity, does it?" he asks. (Ouch.)
Assured that generators are made not to need outside power, he attempts to negotiate a deal. When he can't come up to Seth's asking price of $700, he asks to bring the generator to his home and test it before purchasing it. Yeah, right, and when it works, you'll come right back with the money, correct? Ultimately, he flies into a rage, becomes the second patron in 30 minutes to receive the Byron Bounce, and ends up humping one of the front-door barricades on his way to the parking lot!
"You...need...help," Byron suggests. "Psychiatrist. Xanax. A beer. Something."
The episode ends with Seth – who's been talked off the idea of body-searching the workers by Les and Ashley – following through on his promise to inspect the bags of every employee as they leave the store, totally infuriating the female employees.
"We have a problem," Seth observes. "No," Les replies, "YOU have a problem."