Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Hot in Cleveland' Is Heating Up the Drive for Organ Donations

Here's a great reason to watch the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland this week, besides the irrepressible Betty White and the extraordinarily fine Valerie Bertinelli, who I had a major crush on when I was a kid and she was on One Day at a Time especially because I knew she grew up in suburban Detroit not far from where I lived and....

Malick, Leeves, Bertinelli and White, 'Hot in Cleveland'
Oops. Went off the grid there for a moment. Sorry.

In a first-of-its kind partnership, TV Land and Hot in Cleveland are teaming with the nonprofit organ donation website MatchingDonors.com to raise awareness of the crucial need for organ donors with this week's episode Wednesday (7.17) at 10 p.m. EST. In the storyline, legendary soap opera star Victoria Chase (Wendie Malick, who I had a major crush on...oh, never mind) makes the life-altering decision to donate one of her kidneys to a desperately ill young girl.

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be moved, I suspect.

MatchingDonor.com claims to be the most successful nonprofit agency targeted to "finding living altruistic organ donors for patients needing transplants," receiving more than 1.5 million hits to its website every month.

"We are proud to partner with TV Land," says MatchingDonor founder and CEO Paul Dooley. "Their unselfish efforts in promoting organ donor awareness will directly result in saving lives."

As someone whose life was saved by a successful kidney transplant Nov. 18, 2011, you can bet I'm eager to see this episode. My donated kidney wants to watch, too.

I've been telling her about Valerie and Wendie.

Monday, July 8, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN, Episode Twelve: And You'll Go to Bed Without Your Supper, Too!

"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 Twelve, aired on July 2:

Last week we bemoaned the lackluster quality of Episode 11, which we'll call "Ashley's 'Stay Out of My Deals, Seth – or Else!" show.  I even suggested that last week might have been the disposable, sacrificial-lamb episode used to set the stage for some Big Bang spectacular to follow.

Well, I don't like to brag when I'm right, but I'm so seldom right that please allow me to say: BOY, WAS I RIGHT!

Like the opposite side of the same Gold coin, Episode 12 was everything Episode 11 was not: roundly entertaining, unpredictable and unusually visceral. It featured extremely loud and obnoxious customers (even for Hardcore Pawn), a surprising act of charity and a shocking (does that word get used too often in reality TV?) final act. There actually were "firsts" in this episode, and for a series that's been around seven seasons, that's saying something.

Even the weekly bickering between Ashley and Seth that is the one constant of this series, even though you know it's greatly intensified for the sake of the camera (you do know that, right?), seemed more vehement, more personal – more real – this time around.

The episode touched upon two great ills of our present-day society: the woeful lack of self-esteem among many of today's young women, like the show's first customer who demanded $1,500 for a sack of baseball cards so she could bail her "baby daddy" out of jail, convinced he loves her because she was the first of his many woman he called for money (Dr. Phil should have been in line right behind her); and fears over our economy and soaring gas prices, evidenced by the fellow who wanted to sell his circular saw just for cash to fill up his tank.

Ashley is negotiating each deal and Seth is certain she's in over her head with both, her knowledge of sports memorabilia and power tools not being exactly profound. The first deal blows up when the customer refuses to take less money, eventually mooning security chief Byron after he shows her the door. (Do these people act like this at Walmart, too?) The second, although it appears to progressing smoothly, prompts Seth to jump in and "rescue" it, over Ashley's repeated protests of, "I got this...I got this."

And she believed she did. "I had the saw under control," she screamed, bursting into Seth's office after the deal was completed.

"When have you had anything under control?" Seth mocked, reminding her of two deals from the previous week, for gold and home repair materials, that had their issues.

"I don't need your help!" she steamed. "I need you to stay out of my business! I'm warning you."

Ooooh, a threat. Or foreshadowing, depending on your definition. Les commented that he's sick of watching his offspring bickering like three-year-olds, which may be an insult to three-year-olds everywhere. 

Then came one of the coolest moments in Hardcore Pawn history. A gentleman arrived from a small nonprofit museum in Howell and said he has an "insane" hobby of collecting nautical antiques. He showed Les an 1875 U.S. Lighthouse Service fog signal, a device most of us (including Les) never knew existed. It's a wooden box with a hand crank atop it which, when taken to the farthest point of shore and activated, makes a droning, gawdawful noise. Les made the mistake of asking if it works, and the seller was only too happy to demonstrate – in the middle of the showroom.

Les wants it. Badly. So badly that when the two can't come to terms between the owner's $750 lowest price and Les's $500 counteroffer and the man turned to walk out, Les chased him down before he could reach the door. How about $550, Les proposed.

Instead, the seller made a startling proposal. "I know you have a nonprofit you care about," he said. (Actually Les has a few, including Detroit's Heat and Warmth Fund, or THAW.) "Give me the $750 and I will turn around and donate it to your nonprofit."
'You two – take a hike!' Les demands. (Turner: Mark Hill)

Les, seldom one at a loss for words, is nearly knocked speechless. "He made an offer that even I can't refuse," he marveled.

You'd prefer to leave a tender moment alone, but the good feelings and bonhomie were quickly shattered by an earsplitting, frustrated customer who erupts after claiming she'd waited in line over two hours. Much to Ashley's delight, Seth's calm explanations to the woman appeared to have no effect whatsoever, so Ashley felt obligated to step into this "deal."

This obscene, boorish babe will be remembered for several things: placing the blame on American Jewelry and Loan for not informing her earlier when Ashley discovered she'd been standing in the wrong line for two hours, and loudly clapping her hands in Ashley's face, gospel revival style, while ordering her to "Begone!" as their confrontation heated up. (Ashley retaliated by clapping her hands in the same manner; they nearly had a clapping slap-off.)

But it was the string of insults she spewed as she was led to the exit that will resound for some time. "You're Daddy's Girl, b***h!" she hurled. "Your brother don't even like you, ho!"

And to Les, once she's outside: "That's your daughter?" she charged."You should have slapped that b***h hefore the doctor did when she came out!" Not exactly original material, but inventive for the moment. (And significant, as one of the rare scenes where a customer tacitly acknowledges knowing the Golds from the show. Often customers act as if the Golds are simply pawn shop proprietors they've never seen before, which at this stage of the game in Detroit seems a bit preposterous.)

Ah, but the coup de grace of this episode, which led to a historic first for the show, was yet to come. A customer named Scott came in with an autographed Detroit Tigers baseball from 1970 that he received through an inheritance. He's not from Detroit so the ball has no significance to him, and he needed to sell it to finance a trip to Puerto Rico. Naturally, Ashley handled the transaction. Just as naturally, Seth was certain she'd botch things up.

"What do you know about baseball?' Seth demanded. "A lot," Ashley replied. They commenced offering conflicting prices for the ball, to the point where Scott felt compelled to ask, "Who am I negotiating here with?"

The bidding war then escalated into a vicious argument over how much Ashley knows about baseball, so loud that Les cranked up the antique fog machine he purchased earlier to try and quiet them down!

Scott was told to shut up in the middle of his own deal, and he'd seen enough. "I'll take my business elsewhere," he said, snatching back his baseball. "You two can finish this up on your own time. I thought you were professional and tactful. Evidently I was mistaken."

Ouch! An articulate customer putdown. And Les was livid! He doesn't have many rules, but arguing in public in front of a customer and blowing a deal rank at the top.

"I have never been more embarrassed of my children than I am at this moment!" he bellowed, then did the unimaginable: Les sends both his kids home immediately, warning them not to return until their attitudes improve and their bickering ceases. If they're going to act like children, he will treat them as such! I've never seen that take place before, veteran Hardcore Pawn viewers, have you?

And did you catch the very slight wince of discomfort Les displayed at the end of the episode? A stress-induced attack, perhaps? What a great little moment of setting the stage for next week's show! Let's hope there are no ambulances in the parking lot...not even for sale.

*          *          *

Nothing in these 30 minutes worth upsetting the delicate balance of our Top 5 Most Outrageous Hardcore Pawn Customer Ejections of the season. So they remain the same, and the same is as follows: 

5. The "running naked guy" from Episode Ten who broke a floor lamp on the AJ&L sales floor, then tried to blame security chief Byron for the damage. After Byron responded to his accusation by showing him the door, he vented his outrage by stripping off his clothes and dashing au naturel around the store's 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 the returning champ among the three-fries-short-of-a-Happy-Meal crowd, still leader of the pack 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 was summarily refused, he got the Byron Bounce and ended up humping one of the tall front-door pylons on his way to the parking lot.
Well, he sure showed them something, didn't he?