Wednesday, April 10, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN, Episode Three: There's a Monster on the Loose (And It's Not Ashley!)

"In the heart of Detroit's 8 Mile lies the city's biggest and baddest pawn shop...."

I am Michiganian by birth, Detroiter by heart. I spent more than 30 years in the Automotive Capital of Earth, became a man and a professional there, so shows that are set in Detroit or attempt to capture a slice of life in the Motor City are especially dear to me.

Hardcore Pawn is an amazingly successful, largely unsung Detroit TV jewel. Shot inside the now-iconic American Jewelry & Loan on Eight Mile Road, 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, 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, it would be a continuing source of pride for Detroiters.

Moreover, I have grown to know series stars Les and Seth Gold and Ashley Gold Broad personally. 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 Three, aired April 9:

I love the sibling-rivalry episodes of Hardcore Pawn best, because I know they're truly rooted in reality.

Ashley and I have spoken about her relationship with Seth. She candidly admits that while she loves her brother dearly, she begrudges the fact that she worked faithfully with Les at the pawn shop all through high school and her college years at Michigan State, then had to make room for Seth when he finally decided to join the family business. Resentment that deep never fades away completely.

So as Episode Three, "Monster Deals," begins with a contrite Seth welcoming back American's reluctant female employees after rescinding his body-search policy at the end of last week's show, Ashley can't resist a little "nanny-nanny-boo-boo" taunt in Seth's office doorway. She gets the door slammed in her face for her efforts.

"What do you do around here," Ashley asks him, "other than piss off the employees and act like an ass?"

 "The only thing you do," Seth counters, "is scare customers away."


Chal-longe! Brother and sister square off to see which one can attract more customers inside the store.

Unlike the previous two episodes, the lunatic client confrontations begin practically right off the jump in this half-hour. Josh, a blue-bandana-wearing wanderer from Dallas, wants to sell Les the beloved watch his grandmother gave him for so he can get back home. (Why is it always the grandmother? Sellers trying to evoke more sympathy? Don't grandfathers ever give expensive gifts?)

When Les informs him that the gold is plated and the timepiece virtually worthless, and adds that he knows this because he owns the place, young Josh responds with the ballsiest question of the year so far: "Can I talk to someone who knows what they're doing?" Why, sure. Les calls over his "jeweler" – Byron, his mountainous head of security – for a second opinion. "Nothin'!" Byron confirms.

After calling Byron a "bozo" and a "bitch" to his face, not the wisest things to say to a man who can block out the sun, Josh receives the bum's-rush escort from the security chief. Best part: Byron implores him to "have a nice day, sir," all the way out the door. "Guess the bitch won this one," he concludes.
Credit: Mark Hill/Turner

After dealing with five used CPR dummies so skanky that even the woman who brings them in won't demonstrate them (Rick, the always-agreeable head of computer security, cheerfully goes mouth-to-plastic-mouth to show they still work – is he the real dummy?), Ashley reveals her major marketing strategy. It's a gargantuan, inflatable King Kong lookalike on the roof of the pawn shop, the kind of gimmick you see on auto dealerships to promote a big sale. Across the gorilla's chest are the words, "Monster Deals."

"This is your great idea?" Seth laughs. "What the f--- does 'Monster Deals' even mean?"

"BIG deals," Ashley explains.

Les tries his best to encourage his daughter's initiative, but his facial expressions reveal how he really feels about having a giant balloon perched on top of his store.

Seth has the gorilla taken down the same day.

Then comes the most brutally honest Hardcore Pawn transaction of the season. Patrick, a bony Northern Michigan visitor sporting a Faux-hawk, tries to sell Ashley an antique African drum that once belonged to his father. Ashley maintains that the materials used to make the drum look too new for it to be vintage.

"I'm sure if it sits in here as long as some of the stuff's been sitting in here, it'll be an antique by the time it's sold," he counters. (Popular American Jewelry and Loan truism No. 1.)

She offers him $35. He counters with $350. "We're not even in the same ballpark," Ashley says. Patrick goes ballistic.

"I knew right when I seen (sic) you were going to be the one helping me that you were going to be a bitch," he erupts. "Everybody knows that Ashley at American Jewelry and Loan is a bitch!" (Truism No. 2, to the point where Ashley says total strangers come up to her on the street and exclaim, "You're that bitch on TV!" Talk about taking one for the family.)

That does it: Byron hustles Drummer Boy out the door so fast that Ashley has to chase behind them to give Patrick back his drum. Beat off, fella.

However, when a subsequent customer also gets in Ashley's face, demanding his "20 percent discount" and shouting, "I want you to quit, quit, quit!" Seth invites her and Les to go onto the roof – not to replace the gorilla, but so he can unveil his counter marketing strategy:

A giant billboard next to the store, with a headshot of Ashley and the invitation, "Make Her Quit, Save 20% on Next Purchase."

"Now that's a marketing campaign!" Seth beams.

"You are such an a--hole!" Ashley steams.

This was far and away the funniest and most entertaining episode of Season 7 thus far, the feel of Hardcore Pawn when all elements are clicking. And next week: the show's landmark 100th episode. Oh, that should be something to see.

SIDEBAR: I noted something in this episode that's practically never seen: A person walking out of the store with his face obscured for the camera! Doesn't everybody who comes into American Jewelry and Loan want to be seen on TV?

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Now that we're approaching a critical mass of episodes, beginning with this post we're going to rate, in our view, the best American Jewelry & Loan store ejections of the season. Currently, the Top 5 dismissals are:

5. Josh, the Dallas doofus, from this Episode Three.

4. Patrick, the demented drum dealer and Ashley verbal assaulter from Up North, also in Episode Three.

3. The sentimental fool from Episode One who tries to pawn one of his late grandmother's rings in the same breath he mourns her recent death. After Ashley politely informs him that Granny's ring is fake, he demands to speak to someone else "because you irritate me, flat out," calls her the B-word and sticks his finger in her face. That's enough to get Les involved in the toss-out, because NOBODY insults his daughter in his store. The incident also brings Ashley to tears.

2. "DogMan," the tall computer genius with anger management issues in Episode Two who orders Les to retrieve the hard drive from his pawned PC, begins slapping the glass between himself and Les when he's told no, and starts calling everybody "Dog" until security chief Byron "escorts" him from the store. "Who let the dog out?" asks Les, who went so far as to write "NO" in big letters on a piece of paper, shove it in front of the troublemaker's face, and unleash his first "MF" of the season. "Byron let the dog out!"

And, coming in this week at No. 1:

The boy genius from Episode One who comes in looking to buy a portable generator and asks, "It doesn't run on electricity, does it?" He then asks to bring the generator to his home to make sure it works and, when Seth scoffs at his request, flies into a rage, gets the Byron Bounce out the front door and ends up humping one of the tall front-door pylons on his way to the parking lot!

What a maroon.

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