Wednesday, April 24, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN Five: This One's for the Ladies – Old and Naked, Young and Feisty

"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 wonder. Shot inside the now-iconic American Jewelry and Loan on Eight Mile Road, Hardcore Pawn is truTV's most consistently successful series: its season seven premiere last March 26 drew the cable channel's largest audience ever in the coveted demo of adults 18-49. 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, 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 and Loan. So for its lucky seventh season, I've selected Hardcore Pawn as a series to review here on a weekly basis. Here's a recap of Episode Five, aired on April 23:

In this milestone, rollercoaster 100th-episode season, it feels like Hardcore Pawn keeps trying to step outside the boundaries of what it does best – 100 shows is a whole lot of wheeler-dealing, family infighting and customer brawling, after all – then realizes the error of its ways and snaps back to form the following week. The last installment, the 100th show, was one of its weakest efforts of the year; this week's edition was one of the best.

Fast-paced and fascinating, this half-hour featured two elements I can't remember ever seeing before, much less in the same episode (Hardcore Pawn fanatics, correct me if I'm wrong): two women engaged in a vicious in-store fight that had nothing to do with the Golds or American Jewelry and Loan personnel (they just happened to use the shop as their arena of combat); and an in-your-face confrontation between two of the customer service employees behind the notorious glass.

This was unquestionably a female-dominated episode, yet ironically Ashley played a very small role in it. After beginning with the slam-bang of a customer ejection right off the top – a tall F-bomb dropping gent who demanded to "holla at" Seth for disputing the number of karats in his gold necklace, only to receive the necktie collar from security guard Byron – the theme of the evening began to reveal itself.

Nikki, one of the service reps, is having a bad day at her station, which she describes as a "high-traffic window for pissed customers." She asks Seth if she can switch places with Christina at the relatively hassle-free window No. 1, and he immediately agrees. As you could predict, Christina is not overjoyed by Seth's decision, and calls Nikki a "crybaby" for running to the boss. More on this in a minute.

Credit: Mark Hill/Turner
A customer named Craig approaches Ashley with an "auto stereoscope," a device built in 1905 that contains a Victorian-era peep show within a wooden cabinet. Recognizing that the piece is an antique, she quickly calls Les over to consult. (What is she saying, exactly?)

"Naked girls, all over the place," Les remarks, peering through the viewfinder – albeit faded, sepia-toned images of early 1900s naked women. Ultimately, price becomes the stumbling block.

The other cool item displayed in this episode was a clear Lucite bowling ball with a small red boxing glove encased inside, a Sugar Ray Leonard deluxe ball autographed by the boxer himself. The seller picked the right target in Seth, who never saw a bit of sports memorabilia he didn't like. The uniqueness of the piece made for a spirited, intense negotiation.

After the Main Event – two female friends who come to blows after one realizes the other pawned her computer without permission – Christina and Nikki nearly start duking it out themselves before Les intervenes and returns them to their original posts.

Ultimately, as is so often the case, what we have here is a failure to communicate: Les tells Seth he should have been consulted first before switching the two workers because there's a method to it all, but Seth fails to grasp the significance. "When will this end?" Seth cries.

Well, never, we hope. Otherwise, Hardcore Pawn wouldn't be the same!

Random note: After erecting a giant billboard in Episode Three encouraging customers to make Ashley quit and receive a discount on their purchase, Seth may have created his standard insult for the rest of the season. For the second week in a row, he has passed by Ashley and cracked, "What's the problem? No one's got you to quit yet?" Before that line gets too old, we should expect some Ashley retaliation.

POSTSCRIPT: You may recall I deemed the funniest segment of last week's Episode Four the gentleman who came in attempting to sell his "I-Grow Laser Hair Growth System" to Les, who persuaded Bobby to check out the glowing silver helmet by sticking it on his head. The punchline: the seller was bald himself!

Well, through the magic that is social media, I've heard from the fellow. His name is John Pullum, he's a motivational speaker, and he reports that he sold the magic hair-growing dome a few days after the taping for $650! Les, you may have scalped yourself on that deal!

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There was a momentary twitch where I thought the gold-chain goon tossed out at the beginning of this episode might crack our list of the season's Top 5 outrageous customer ejections. But ultimately I realized his two-point landing outside the store didn't measure up to those who have been given the boot before him. So for the third week in a row, five best American Jewelry and Loan store heave-hos in 2013 remain unchanged. They are:

5. Josh, the Dallas doofus from Episode Three who demanded $500 for his worthless watch.

4. Patrick, the demented drum dealer from Up North, also in Episode Three, who declared, "Everybody knows Ashley from American Jewelry and Loan is a bitch!" Security chief Byron showed Patrick the door so quickly, Ashley had to chase him down in the parking lot to return his "antique" African drum.

3. The sentimental fool from Episode One who tried to pawn one of his late grandmother's rings in the same breath he mourns her recent death. His verbal and physical assault on Ashley sparked Les's rage, because NOBODY insults his daughter in his store. It also brought 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 and calls everybody "Dog." "Who let the dog out?" asked Les, who unleashed his first "MF" of the season. "Byron let the dog out!"

And, still reigning at No. 1:

The boy genius from Episode One who came in looking to buy a portable generator and asked, "It doesn't run on electricity, does it?" When he demanded to bring the generator to his home to test it out and is denied, he got the Byron Bounce and ended up humping one of the tall front-door pylons on his way to the parking lot!

Come on, HP producers – give these goofballs some competition!