Thursday, June 27, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN, Episode Eleven: A 'Case' for Ashley's Revenge

"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 Eleven, aired on June 25:

Any successful TV series that's been on the air seven seasons invariably is going to have episodes that seem imitative, lackluster, or make you feel certain you've seen them before. Such is the "case" (a play on words that will become clear in a minute) with this week's Hardcore Pawn Episode Eleven, a half-hour that felt like it was being used primarily as the setup for bigger fireworks to come next week.

Coming as it did on the heels of one of the year's most entertaining episodes – featuring Ashley prancing about the store last week as an oversized dollar-bill mascot, and a running naked guy terrorizing the parking lot – made this show look all the more uninspired. It centered around the eternal Hardcore Pawn conflict: Ashley vs. Seth in the battle of who can run the store more effectively. But while this theme has been played out time and time again in fresh and inventive ways (remember the massive "Make Her Quit" billboard Seth purchased to hover over American Jewelry and Loan in Episode Three?), this episode's sibling clash seemed recycled and flat by comparison.

It began when a young man brought in a trio of Native American artifacts to sell. One of the pieces, a war club, had a small face carved in the handle with brown strands sticking out of each side as hair. Seth playfully put the handle next to Ashley's face, prompting the customer to comment, "It looks closer to you...It has the same color hair."

They may have been teasing, but Ashley was not! She sent the customer, his relics and his smart remarks packing without even making an offer on the items.

"He was rude, Seth," she explains.
(Credit: Mark Hill/Turner)

"You can't close a deal if your ego gets in the way," Seth responds.

In Seth's view, Ashley goes on to potentially ruin two more deals. One was with a fellow who had cases of faucets, tiles and other home improvement goods, when she insisted he go back home and bring in all the materials he wanted to sell before she would make an offer. The other was a kindly gent named Peter who needed to sell an ornate, heirloom gold pocket watch and other gold pieces to help put his kids through college.

He asked for $3,000; Ashley countered with $2,000. He went down to $2,500; she eventually came up to $2,400. But surprisingly, Peter turned her down, stuffing his jewelry back in his pocket while asking the question many customers (and viewers) probably as: "Why didn't I get that price in the beginning, that offer?"

"Do you know where you are?" Ashley snapped back. "This is a pawn shop. We negotiate."

Well, negotiate this, Peter responded by his actions, turning on his heel and hitting the door. (Ashley wouldn't even shake his hand at the end of their dealings, a small slight I found disconcerting.)

Seth accuses Ashley of screwing up potentially profitable deals for American Jewelry and Loan with everything she touches and takes his complaints to Daddy Les, with Ashley joining in to defend herself. Les really is concerned about only two things: (1) closing every deal to make money for the store, and (2) not violating his No. 1, cardinal rule: No arguing in front of customers on the sales floor. To forge an uneasy truce, Les assigns Seth to the showroom and Ashley to the back office. Ashley, of course, believes the men have taken sides against her.

The only true highlight (or lowlight, depending upon your point of view) of this show came with the arrival of one of AJ&L's recurring customers, a wild-eyed loon who appears to be a few diamonds short of a brooch. This time he enters the store dragging a large black upright bass case (this is the "case" reference, see?) with something inside it that's clearly not a bass violin.

Now, in these dangerous days, anybody carrying a suspicious-looking package – especially one that big – into a public place is subject to immediate scrutiny. But Mr. Maniac doesn't want his case touched, much less searched, and hangs onto it like a junkyard dog with a new trespasser's leg...until his strap breaks.

Some people have said I give away too many details in these recaps and potentially ruin the surprises for those who haven't see the episode. So I'll just put it this way: When Les wrests the case away from Customer Kooky and zips it open, even a veteran gold merchant such as he was impressed by the look and dazzle of a gold lamé G-string.

Even the obligatory angry customer at the pawn window didn't seem to express his outrage as vehemently as his predecessors in past weeks. (True, he did bang his stocking-capped head against the thick glass partition, but not hard enough to actually break it.) Everybody except crazy bass-case carrying dude gave the impression of going through the motions. And when Ashley storms out of Les's office warning, "STAY OUT OF MY DEALS!" at show's end, you just know she's plotting some wicked scheme of retribution against Father and Brother.

Which we'll have to wait until next week to enjoy. Same time, same station.

As Jim Leyland says at least 20 times a season after a Detroit Tigers game, they can't all be gems. Our 13-year-old twin girls walked through the room just long enough to see Ashley's encounter with Peter the Insulted Gold Watch Seller. One of them turned to me and said, "She was so rude to that guy."

From the mouths....

*          *          *

Nothing this week worthy of upsetting the apple-pie order of our Top 5 most outlandish Hardcore Pawn ejections of the season. So after a complete upheaval of the rankings last week, the list remains untouched this time around.

Our rogues' gallery reads as follows: 

5. The aforementioned "running naked guy" above from Episode Ten who knocked over and broke a floor lamp on the AJ&L sales floor, then tried to blame security chief Byron for the damage. After Byron responded by showing him the door, he vented his outrage by stripping off his clothes and dashing au naturel around the parking lot yelling, "I make you horny bitches." A tough act to follow – in more ways than one.

4. The sentimental fool from Episode One who tried to pawn one of his late grandmother's rings in the same breath he mourned her recent death. His verbal and physical assault on Ashley sparked Les's rage, because NOBODY insults his daughter in his store. The confrontation brought Ashley to tears.

3. "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!"
2. The belligerent, bare-butt bonehead from Episode Seven who pulled items off the shelves as Les looked on, then tried to sell Les's own merchandise back to him. When his scam was revealed, the ballsy burglar was dragged kicking to the exit – and his balls were about the only thing we didn't see as his jeans dropped to his ankles. "Time for your ass to be thrown out," Les ordered. "And what an ass that was."

And all hail the past and present champ, still ruling 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.

Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase, "Poletown."