Friday, August 23, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN Episode 17: R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Find Out What It Means to Me!

"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 this year 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, undoubtedly 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 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 to review in Big Glowing Box on a weekly basis. Here's a recap of Episode 17, aired August 20. But first:

What do you think, Hardcore fans? Was Les right in giving Seth only one day to run the store in Episode 16 before stripping him of his management duties and resuming control of the store? Or did he sense that Seth's new system was dragging the business down so quickly that he had to step in?

Tweet your opinion and thoughts @BigGlowingBox; we'll print some of the best comments in the next update.
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Dave Chappelle used to have a recurring segment on his sketch comedy series called "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong." That description leaped to mind while watching the last five minutes of Episode 17, "Back in Action."

Even though he's still recovering from surgery and moving at half-speed, Les was so perturbed by the longer lines and (even more) irate (than usual) customers caused by Seth's new redemption policy that he reversed his decision to let Seth run American Jewelry and Loan on a temporary basis at the end of Episode 16 and reclaimed control of the store.

Now, Seth had every reason to be cheesed off that his dad gave him all of one day to implement his procedures before pulling the plug. And it's human nature to let your anger fester and want to lash out when your wings have been clipped. But Seth's response at the end of this half-hour left me with my mouth open and my own outrage rising in disbelief.

It's standard operating procedure on Hardcore Pawn that everybody yells. Les yells at Seth and Ashley. Seth and Ashley scream at each other. All three bellow simultaneously. Customers holler at store personnel, and they shout right back. All decibels considered, this may be the loudest show on TV. But Seth's rant at Les this time was...different.
Seth puts Seth and Ashley on probation. They're thrilled. (Turner/Mark Hill)

At the start of the episode, Les calls all the employees together and unleashes a scathing State of the Store address. "In 32 years of owning this store, it's never been so f----d up," he declares. (Really, Les? Not even in, like, Year Two?) "Everything is down! Retail is down, wholesale is down, loans are down, redeems are down! From now on, I'm in charge, and everybody's ass is on the line! Everyone!"

Without saying so specifically, it sounds like Les places the blame for AJ&L's recent downturn on his being out of the store and Seth's leadership skills. "Maybe if he had given me an opportunity to prove myself, since numbers were down in the past month, we wouldn't be in this mess," Seth retorts.

To prove he's serious, Les places Ashley and Seth on probation. Show me what you can do, that you two can handle the store, and we'll see where we go from here.

One self-proclaimed "collector of antiquities" brings in a 350 million-year-old dinosaur egg, still mostly intact. (Or so he claimed.) Two brothers arrive with 50 antique lighters from the 1930s-1970s, including one as big as your head. But none of those items were as remarkable as Seth's outburst.

Seth believes that Les has bum-rushed all his deals since he resumed power. For example, while Seth haggles with the brothers over a package price for the lighter collection, Les steps in, sets a bottom-line price and nixes the deal within two minutes. "Seth needs to understand, in order to make money you have to be efficient," he explains. "Either close the deal, or move on."

Predictably, Seth bristles at his father's intrusion. "If you go out and handle every situation, how am I supposed to learn?" he asks.

"Watch me," Les replies. Huh? Somebody's blood is on full boil now.

Later, Les is presented with an obviously attractive opportunity: a local football fanatic is offering a rare lithograph of legendary pro quarterbacks John Elway and Brett Favre by celebrated sports artist Danny Day, signed by both men, and miniature chrome helmets of all 32 NFL teams. Les knows he has something special here, but Seth is the resident sports memorabilia expert. So he turns to his son and asks for assistance.

Here it comes.

"Why do you need my help?" Seth snaps. "Apparently you know everything about the store. Apparently you know everything about everything! Why don't you handle it yourself?"

And that, my friends, is over...the...line.

In all my years faithfully watching Hardcore Pawn, I cannot recall such blatant insubordination by either Seth or Ashley toward their father. They disagree, sometimes vehemently, but they have never taken it to the level of disrespect or insolence. Until now.

I have often accused the Disney Channel of being an agent of Satan in the way it influences children to treat their parents. In almost every series on Mickey Media, the kids are wise and worldly little people who take their hopelessly brainless parents by the hand and solve the household's Crisis of the Week. And in last scene, Mom and Dad thank them for taking charge! If kids watch such idiocy every day for years on end, how do you think they believe it's acceptable to talk to their own parents?

As I was reminded recently when Seth made a personal appearance at a pawn shop in central Illinois (which I wrote about in the BGB recap of Episode 15), the Golds have more than a million fans of all ages, including impressionable children.What cues might young kids get for addressing their dad from watching how Seth lashes out at his father's authority?

Even though Seth admitted later that "maybe I did take it a little too far," by then the damage had been done. His confessional was comparable to the old newspaper custom of printing the retraction on Page 23Z.

The scene was unacceptable. And disappointing.

This episode also was significant for another moment I have never seen on Hardcore Pawn before: Ashley stepping out from behind the pay window and getting in the face of a screaming woman (in a really ill-fitting orange baseball cap...note to all women: men can wear their caps backwards, but it just makes you look ignorant) who demanded a big payout for her fake chain. Ash actually wagged her finger in the ill-mannered customer's face, rather than the other way around!

But here's the payoff: After taking the woman's best verbal shots, Ashley suggests the woman consider pawning her expensive watch instead. She thinks it over, agrees, then actually THANKS Ashley, in a calm and grateful voice, for her assistance. "You've been a great help, and I'll come back again," she says.

What? This is almost always the kind of encounter that ends with massive security guard Byron bouncing the belligerent babe out the door. Les observed the way his daughter diffused the potentially violent situation, and congratulated her. (Seth, of course, looked on ruefully.) And may I add here that I'm beginning to have a real problem with Seth and Ashley (mostly Seth) talking loud and threatening smack at customers, knowing they have Byron to finish what they start. Despite his age and his need to temporarily use a cane, Les is not afraid to back up his words with action.

Due largely to the way Ashley handled her ear-splitting patron, Les takes her off probation at show's end. Seth, however, remains under house scrutiny. "I'm very disappointed," says Les. "You're still on probation until I feel you are able to join this team. Got it?"

"Got it," Seth replies, then adds something interesting. "I own it."

And he should. Remember, kids, your parents brought you into this world. And they can take you out, too!

Monday, August 19, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN, Episode 16: System Failure, or Don't Hand Me That Line

In years to come, Hardcore Pawn aficionados and historians (do such people exist?) may well refer to this as the show's most regal episode: It's not every day you can see a Prince (impersonator) and a King (Tut sarcophagus) in the same 23 minutes.

But "Seth in Charge," this chapter of the continuing drama that is Detroit's American Jewelry and Loan, really revolves around Seth being chosen to run the store (again) while Les continues to recuperate from his hernia operation. Finally able to implement some modern store procedures without his dad's stifling Old School oversight, he establishes a new system he believes will improve the customer experience. Instead of having to stand in two lines before receiving their money, people now can simply walk up to Seth, armed with a printer and a cash box, and turn their pawn tickets into speedy green.

(Not sure about the wisdom of keeping a cash box out in the open, especially in Detroit and particularly given the wackos who routinely wander through AJ&L – there is a reason the money is usually protected behind double-thick windows, after all – but youth must be served.)
These smiles will not last through the entire episode. (Mark Hill/Turner)

Ashley, to the surprise of absolutely no one, thinks the plan is "dumb and irresponsible," "beyond ridiculous," and that her baby brother is making changes for no other reason than because he can. (The last time he made a major operational change at the store, she is fond of noting, most of the employees walked out in protest.) Les, still operating gingerly on his cane, is willing to hold his tongue – as long as he can – and allow Seth to assume the authority he has been given and run with it, asking Ashley to keep quiet and support her brother in the interim.

Well, here's a surprise: The new system quickly becomes a gigantic snafu, with lines snaking nearly out the door and hour-plus waits for service. "Growing pains," Seth declares it, but the furious pawnshop customers with steam coming out of their ears aren't quite so understanding. One, a blonde long-haired hippie freak with a portable TV in hand, storms Ashley's "jewelry window" and demands she take his set and give him something in return. So she does: She comes out from behind her window, takes the TV, hands it back to the barbarian and gives him security guard Byron, who quickly gives him the gate.

As the situation slowly sorts itself out, Seth and Bobby J are approached by a man in a baby blue suit with long flowing tails, whose conversation is punctuated by loud birdlike whoops. "Do you know who I am?" he asks in a husky voice.

Matter of fact, I think I do. Unless I miss my guess – or more than one of these fellows is running loose on the streets of Detroit – I believe this gent might be Prince St. Paul (Paul Jack William Hall), the Detroit-based Prince lookalike whom my friend Curtrise Garner wrote about so splendidly earlier this year in the Detroit Metro Times. While he may have to work on his material ("Look at this service I'm getting: I can see why doves cry"), he certainly cut a dynamic, showstopping figure in his brief retail excursion.

He said he came to pawn a diamond earring in order to get his little red Corvette repaired, but what he learned got him delirious: the rock was schlock. "That may be a real earring, but that's not a real diamond," Seth announced. ""Imitation Prince, imitation earring," chimed Bobby J.

Ah, well. One more full split on the floor in his see-through blue pants, and Prince dances away a pauper. (Read more about him here.)

Moments later, the pawn becomes a king. A man who says his entire home is decorated in an ancient Egyptian motif arrives with a genuine knockoff King Tut sarcophagus. "Where'd you get it? China?" Seth asks, and the seller sheepishly agrees that's possible.

Ashley is sharpening her claws waiting to see how Seth handles this oddball offering, but for one of the very few times in Hardcore Pawn history brother and sister see eye to eye. The Tut dragger wants $300; Seth offers $75. They agree to disagree, and the King has left the building.

Also worthy of note are the fellow who wanted to sell a beaming yellow suspension sand buggy that looked like a set of monkey bars on wheels, and the mouthy, self-proclaimed "pink b---h" who goes off when she can't retrieve her pink mink from the racks – even though her claim ticket clearly states her fur is brown.

"I ain't never comin' back to y'all!" she shouts once Byron has shown her the spacious parking area.

"See you tomorrow," Les shouts back.

However, it's an item as commonplace as a circular saw that ultimately tears it for Les. When a reedy, desperate man wants $200 for his saw only to be offered $20 in return (supply and demand, you know), he gets into everybody's face – including Les's. He may still be recovering, but Les doesn't take anybody calling him "old man" lying down. He sheds his cane, then rips into the insulting sawman himself. "He made me so angry, I don't even feel the pain any more," Les steams.

Family huddle. Les declares that Seth's new system is Public Enemy No. 1 for triggering the in-store chaos. "So here's the deal," he says. "I'M IN CHARGE! Until you can prove to me that you have the ability to run the store without me, it's gonna be my system. Period!"

Les isn't convinced either of his offspring can run American Jewelry and Loan in his absence, but as is frequently the case, Seth's reign is barely a drizzle. "He hasn't even given me a day to prove myself," Seth laments. "That's so typical of my dad."

But hey, in the middle of his diatribe Les did yell at Ashley to "stop kissing my ass." Little victories. Take 'em where you can get 'em.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

'Low Winter Sun,' EPISODE TWO: The Bodies Electric

Any new series, but especially an ensemble drama, has so much real estate to sell in its pilot episode. The first show has to introduce all the characters, explain their relationship to each other and to the plot, establish the overarching premise, tone and atmosphere of the show – oh, and if it could be a riveting tale that leaves room for the storyline to grow and enthralls viewers so they can't wait to tune in next week, that would be good, too.

Last week's premiere of Low Winter Sun didn't accomplish all those objectives as efficiently as it might have. But given those ambitions, there were two ways to look at the series opener: through Detroit eyes ("Gee, great to have a TV show shot in my town" "Happy to have new jobs created here" "Lord, hope they don't make our city look too bad") and everybody else's ("Geez, what a grim and post-apocalyptic city Detroit is" "Look at all those burned-out buildings" "THIS is the show that's going to replace Breaking Bad?"). 
If only he were better looking. (Credit Frank Ockenfels3/AMC)

That is, if you looked at it at all. Of the record-setting, almost six million people who clicked to AMC to see the first of Breaking Bad's historic final eight episodes, the bad news is that nearly four million of them clicked away without giving Low Winter Sun, which followed it, as much as a blink – even resisting the network's shrewd ploy to withhold scenes from Breaking Bad's second episode until the first commercial break in LWS. (Longtime AMC viewers know the previews of their upcoming shows generally are disconnected scenes that tell them nothing about the episode itself, so they knew they wouldn't be missing much.)

Let it be remembered, however, that the 2008 debut of Breaking Bad, when Walt was still a wimpy, cancer-ridden chem teacher years before he became a vicious drug overlord, wasn't immediately hailed as a classic-in-waiting either. As is the case with practically every TV series, the key for LWS will be how much patience AMC shows to let it find and grow its audience within its 10-episode commitment, and how disappointed the network will be if it feels Sun is squandering viewers in weeks to come from its blockbuster lead-in.

As to Episode Two, "The Goat Rodeo," airing Sunday (Aug. 18), for the second week in a row the hour opens with a long, lingering closeup of Det. Frank Agnew's face. If executive producer Chris Mundy (who also wrote the episode) intends to keep using this device, let's hope he and director Ernest Dickerson at least vary the faces from time to time. Athena Karkanis (Det. Dani Khalil) would be a lovely change of pace. I mean, Mark Strong (Agnew) has an interesting, rugged mug, but no one is likely to mistake him for Bradley Cooper. He could be scaring off prospective viewers by himself.

However, as ace Detroit homicide detective Agnew, he has bigger problems to face. He and fellow detective Joe Geddes (Lennie James) have succeeded in killing Geddes' boozy, bloated partner, Brendan McCann, and making appear to be a suicide, only to discover a nasty, unanticipated detail once McCann's Cadillac is fished out of the Detroit River: an even more bloated body hidden in the trunk, devoid of a few minor details like his head, hands and feet. (But not the dismembered body of Frank's beloved Katia, the possibility suggested by Geddes that put murder in Frank's mind in the first place.)

As you might expect, this new development ratchets the tension between the two co-conspirators even higher. The scrutiny surrounding the death of a Detroit cop is going to be intense enough, but the appearance of an extra corpse is certain to make this whole affair a cluster. And of course, snooty Internal Affairs Det. Simon Boyd (David Costabile), described early in the episode as a "self-righteous, gel-wearing b---h," is determined to spread his scent over every inch of the case. In fact, Boyd and Agnew, who ironically was put in charge of the investigation by his boss, Lt. Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), get into a pissing match over an issue as simple as whether Boyd may enter McCann's house/crime scene. Boyd makes a cryptic reference to his love of duck hunting as a way of telling Frank he has the patience to wait until he gets what he wants.

Geddes: Bad as He Wants to Be (Ockenfels 3)
Inside McCann's palatial (for a DPD officer) home, the squad finds all the normal accoutrements for a crooked cop: cocaine, booze, wads of cash. (Although anybody who keeps rabbits for pets in a spare bedroom can't be all bad, can he?) But it's a surprising text message Frank finds on one of McCann's throwaway cells that sends his head reeling about Geddes and the murderous act they share.

Elsewhere, crime-boss-in-training Damon (James Ronsone), having just busted into a stash house, shot the lookout dead (I know, I know, but at least in Low Winter Sun a black man was the second person to die) and stolen $200,000 in cocaine from Greektown mob kingpin Alexander Skelos, is rallying his ragtag band punks to expect retaliation and nervously pondering what his next move should be.

Meanwhile, Frank sends Geddes home – ostensibly to get him away from the case for a while, but more likely just to get Geddes out of his sight – and we learn a few disturbing things about ol' Joe. He lives with his mama. He's not above doing a few hits of the white happy dust himself. And, he and Damon appear to know each other quite well.

Boyd's patience does pay off, and he gets to stand in alongside Agnew as the autopsy is performed on McCann. In the process, the medical examiner arrives at some conclusions that test Frank's ability not to squirm in public. The "perfect" crime seems to grow less and less perfect by the minute.

Late in the series pilot, Frank is overwhelmed by the sudden knowledge that Geddes had played him to be the prime mover in McCann's murder. Now, as the full depths of Geddes' corruption are peeling away like the layers of an onion, like Fred MacMurray's classic analogy in Double Indemnity Frank knows he and Joe are stuck together on this death car till the end of the line.

I would be remiss not to mention one beautiful bit of cinematography in this episode. In a flashback scene, as Frank recalls an intimate moment with his beloved Katia, the low winter sun (get it?) glows between their kiss as their lips part. Nice touch, Ernest.

Among the Detroit references in this episode: coneys, Van Dyke Avenue, the Rouge River, the Dream Cruise (although linked to a sexual favor I'm fairly certain isn't a standard part of the weekend experience), the Free Press and, sadly, stripping copper from abandoned houses. Keep that authenticity coming, folks.

Grade: B

(Just in case you didn't get the Double Indemnity analogy.)

Monday, August 12, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN, Episode 15: Michael Blowed the Deals for Sure, Hallelujah!

First, before driving into this week's episode, a real-life detour: I was shifting through my morning Tweets a weekend ago when I chanced upon a photo of Seth Gold sitting behind the news desk at one of the local TV stations near where I live.

"Hmmm," said I. Seth already has a good job, I pondered, so he probably hasn't quit American Jewelry and Loan to bump my small-town anchors out of their chairs.

Upon further research, I discovered that Seth was making a personal appearance that afternoon at a shop called Decatur Jewelry & Pawn to help the store celebrate its 25th anniversary. I am not a groupie, nor a stalker. (At least, I don't think I am.) But upon learning he was closer to me than any day he's in Detroit, I rearranged my Saturday plans and hopped in the car just to witness the event and say hello.
"Smile – You're Not Being Thrown Out of the Store"

I'm so glad I did.

Even in this relatively bitty city on a gorgeous summer day, the line of well-wishers wrapped around the inside of a pawnshop and out the door several hours into Seth's visit. Hardcore Pawn apparently travels very well. And Seth, ever the gracious guest host, took time to welcome each admirer personally, ask their name, sign autographs and pose for photos. Given the manufactured chaos and rudeness we watch as standard operating procedure on Hardcore each week, seeing such warmth and patience on display in the real world was heartening.

You'd be surprised – or maybe not – by how many fans ask questions about Ashley. One man asked Seth why his dad, Les, wasn't with him. "Well, if we were here together, that would leave Ashley alone to run the store. And we wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"

The gentleman shrugged and nodded his head, as if the answer made complete sense.
Seth and Glowing Box Guy, Rocking Pure Michigan for His Benefit

In a moment away from the happy throng, Seth – who told me he's in the running for national Pawnbroker of the Year and no, apparently we cannot vote – suggested that what makes engagements like these important to him is that it brings people through the doors who otherwise might never even think of visiting a pawn shop, despite the success of Hardcore Pawn.

The occasion did make me think, however: does Ashley make solo live guest appearances like these?  If so, what kind of reaction does she receive? Are there any pickets? You may not believe this, because there is very little in her TV image that would suggest it, but Ashley Gold Broad is a delightful, engaging woman away from the camera. Perhaps you'll get the opportunity to see that for yourself someday. Seth says the three series stars, father, son and daughter, occasionally appear together live. Should they happen to pop in at a venue near you, try to see them if you can. All by himself, Seth made for a warm and memorable day at Decatur.
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Having said all that, we'll try to make this week's recap of Episode 15 as brief as possible. The 23 minutes revolved around a frequent AJ&L customer named Michael, who has the look and feel of a schlemiel whose ship comes in when he's standing at the bus station. Think Fredo. Or, if you're a bit older, a poor man's Charlie Callas. If this guy could afford a face tattoo, it probably would be a giant red "L" in the middle of his forehead.

(I understand some of the people who appear on Hardcore Pawn actually read this blog. Michael, should you ever see this, dude, my apologies. I calls 'em like I sees 'em.)

"I get money," he blows. "I don't care about anything but the cash." Yet every item he brings in for sale turns out to be, in the Ashley's words, "a ton of junk." She and Les see no reason the twitchy trader shouldn't be banished from the store – or at the very least given far less time and attention than Seth seems to lavish on him. 

But Seth counters (get this) that every customer at American Jewelry & Loan has value and deserves to be treated with attention and respect. And since Les turned the reins of the store over to Seth until the patriarch recovers from surgery (in Episode 14), that's how it's going to be. 

Does Seth watch this show? Was this episode filmed after he returned from Decatur?

Michael brings in a stack of oil paintings that look like they were ripped from a motel's walls: worthless. (In the process, however, we learn a new word, as Michael compliments Ashley and Seth as being "condosewers" of fine art. Try to tell me this show's not educational.) 

He returns with his mom's mink coat – in the middle of summer – that turns out to be silver fox. In the process, he gets in a shouting match with top store assistant Bobby J, who called BS on one of his previous deals and became Michael's sworn enemy.

Later he drives up with an attractive late-model car for sale – but forgets to bring the title. The dark cloud that hovers over his head is now in full downpour. 

At the last possible minute, however, Michael digs into his pocket and produces a surprise offering that not only rescues his rep with the store but also allows Seth to zing an "I told you so" at doubting Les and Ashley. All that's missing is the holding of hands and singing "Let There Be Peace on Earth" at the end.

Otherwise, it's business as usual: A young man brings in a used Xbox to raise cash to get his stripper girlfriend out of jail, then gets in Les' face when the fair price doesn't come close to what he needs. "He's lucky I'm under doctor's orders, or I would have bounced him out myself," Les declares. Whoa, easy there, tiger.

The "Did You See That?" moment arrives when a starving artist paints a 4x5-foot portrait of Les on the showroom floor in 10 minutes. Hey, Les does look a bit like Albert Einstein at that. But my favorite encounter involved a woman who came in to buy herself a birthday gift of jewelry only to have her smart-aleck son bad-mouth the merchandise – and the pawn shop – at every turn. 

When he finally disparages Seth, Mama goes off! "Who the f--- is you talkin' to, Boo-Boo?" she yells, smacking her son upside the head with her shoe, throwing her shoe at him on their way out, then returning to shake Seth's hand and apologize for his actions. "He wasn't raised like that," she says, and when's the last time you heard any mother mouth those words?

This episode merits a solid B+ for that scene alone.

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Old School, Shoe-Flingin' Mama had the potential to crack our ongoing list of the Top 5 Most Outrageous Hardcore Pawn Customer Ejections this season, had she and her son actually been ejected from AJ&L. But they left of their own accord, so the list remains the same as it has been for the last five episodes:

5. The "running naked guy" from Episode Ten who tried to blame security chief Byron for the floor lamp he knocked over in plain sight. 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 – as if anyone would want to.

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, proving the original often is still the best:

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.

Bet that camel from the Geico commercial would be pleased.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

'Low Winter Sun' Review: Detroit, Even Darker

My review of Low Winter Sun can be found in the "Reckless Eyeballing" section of blogs for the (Detroit) Metro Times, where I occasionally write about TV when I'm not populating these pages.

So as not to draw eyeballs away from the Metro Times posting – hey, they actually pay me! – I'm simply linking to it from this site. You can read the review by clicking here.

In weeks to come, however, subsequent episodes of Low Winter Sun will be previewed, reviewed or discussed right here. So don't go too far away.

Let me know what you think of Low Winter Sun. I'm really interested in your reaction to the pilot. This show holds tremendous promise for the future of AMC...and my adopted home, Detroit.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Preparing for the Rise of 'Low Winter Sun'

Lennie James (L) and Mark Strong Star in 'Low Winter Sun.' (AMC/Frank Ockenfels)
This Sunday (Aug. 11) at 10 p.m. EST, the next chapter in Detroit's storied television history officially begins. Low Winter Sun, the intense new cop drama that has been filming on the streets of the Motor City for the better part of a year, premieres on AMC. It will occupy the wonderfully cushy time slot following the final episodes of the landmark, Emmy-winning series Breaking Bad, the show it essentially is expected to replace in the eyes and hearts of AMC viewers.

One promo commercial for the new 10-week series describes Detroit as "Broken City." At the moment, it may even be a broke city. But in The New York Times last week, AMC executive vice president Joel Stillerman also describes it as "the most inherently cinematic city in the country, which is both unfortunate and true," and it is that element that may help lift Detroit out of its current perceptual black hole in the national discourse, if only a tiny bit. It is that quality ABC must have sensed when it greenlighted Detroit 1-8-7, the 2010 police series that was canceled after one season, far too soon. There is a horrid yet mesmerizing beauty to Motown, and it surely will be captured within the span of these episodes.

I will be reviewing the debut episode of Low Winter Sun online this week as a blog entry for the Metro Times, where I occasionally write about television, and will link it back here to Big Glowing Box. Subsequent episodes will be recapped and discussed right here.

If you just emerged from your cave on the East Side and have heard nothing of the show, here's the AMC trailer:

And here's virtually everything else you need to know about Low Winter Sun, through a major feature I did on the show for the Metro Times back in March. Mine was the first story of any substance written about the series in America. (Ahem.)

You can read it here.

If you're in the metro Detroit area, you can bet there will be viewing parties a-plenty for the series throughout the area Sunday night – a Hollywood-style screening was staged Monday night in Ann Arbor's Michigan Theater – but here's one of special note. The Baltimore Bar and Grill, a prominent shooting location for the series (albeit under a different name), will host a screening of the show Sunday with music by Detroit blues luminary Jeff Maylin preceding and following the 10 p.m. telecast.

Doors open at 6, music starts at 8 and there is no cover charge. The Baltimore is located at 1234 Randolph Street downtown. Let the Sun rise.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN, Episodes 13 and 14: Well, Hope You Kids Are Happy – Look What You've Done to Your Dad!

True Confession: I just got home from a two-week vacation at a tremendous Christian family camp in West Michigan called Gull Lake Ministries. Our family had a fantastic time – the only drawback being that until we checked in, I completely forgot the camp has no TVs.

Well, that's not completely true. I did locate two sets in the fitness center...locked to receive two stations only!

If watching television is your passion, the absence of 60-inch plasma screens for two weeks could trigger some major-league withdrawal. If you write about television, and have pledged yourself to follow one particularly popular made-in-Detroit reality series every week, not having access to cable TV could mean...well, I don't even want to talk about it.

I thought I'd be so far behind with the goings-on at American Jewelry and Loan by now that I couldn't possibly catch up – especially after what clearly were the pivotal episodes of Hardcore Pawn's entire seventh season.

Imagine my tremendous surprise to return to civilization and find that the season had been on vacation even longer than I was! From the end of Episode 13, which saw Les being rushed from the store in an ambulance while Ashley tenderly held his hand, to the beginning of this week's Episode 14 as Seth and Ashley try to carry on with business as usual, the better part of a month had passed!
Good to See Les Upright Again. (Credit: Turner/Mark Hill)

Talk about a cliffhanger.

Give truTV credit for trying to stretch out the season and milk new episodes of its most popular series for all they're worth, filling the void with reruns. But the gap between new installments this time was so long that producers had time to change the show's open, bumpers and theme music! (Gone, at least for now, is the long, familiar "In the heart of Detroit's 8 Mile" beginning, in favor of a compact open featuring glamour shots of the three principal players.) And if I can't keep track of when fresh shows are airing and I'm committed to knowing, what chance do loyal viewers possibly have?

Thought it was very clever how the first words you hear in Episode 14 are Seth's reflection that "Two weeks ago my dad collapsed inside the store...," setting up the notion that, hey, fans, you haven't missed anything; we've just been away. Even more clever, in my view, was the subtle foreshadowing that led up to Les's collapse in the first place. (Which, according to the storyline, was caused by a hernia that ultimately ruptured while the patriarch was showing up Seth and Ashley by hefting TVs in the warehouse with Bobby J. Though the injury required surgery, it still looked infinitely worse while Les was flat on his back in the store and apparently unconscious.)

At the end of Episode 12, after Les grows so fed up with his bickering brood that he sends both of them home early, he displays the oh-so-slightest wince of pain – so quick you could be looking at the screen and still miss it. A simple stress reaction over having to discipline his adult offspring, perhaps? Then, at least twice in Episode 13, it happens again. We're being set up for a big finish, and a wailing ambulance at the door of AJ&L that Les isn't trying to buy is pretty spectacular.

This two-episode arc is the perfect example of what kids who are blessed with older, wiser parents are frequently warned: When you're continuously arguing, and fighting, and disrespecting your elders and each other, you are slowly killing your parents. I know two teenage girls I'm going to strap into chairs and force to watch these two shows when they come around again in reruns.

Ashley and Seth were arguing violently just prior to Les hitting the floor, and they were shouting just as viciously over Seth's decision to reduce the store's workforce for a day when Les makes his surprise reappearance, walking with the aid of a cane.

"You're not supposed to be back for another week," Seth informs.

"What's the difference why I'm back?" Les snarls, turning to Ashley. "Get out of my chair. And thanks for the flowers."

Lying in a hospital bed, floating above your intense pain thanks to industrial-strength drugs, can give a man time to think about the future, Les announces. And he'll be gosh-darned (rather mild for Hardcore Pawn, granted, but words to that effect) if he'll let the business he spent a lifetime building crash and burn because his kids can't work together, especially since he has no idea when he'll be back at full strength. "I expect much more from the two of you," he says.

So Dad issues a challenge: He'll watch Ashley and Seth work the floor for one day only, and based upon what he sees he'll decide which of them will run the operation while he recuperates. This sounds like the type of competition Les has thrust his young'uns into countless times before, but there seems to be a certain finality – or perhaps, mortality – to the test this time around.

This is one of those rare Hardcore Pawn episodes in which the theme of the show completely overshadows the store's wacky customers. (Come to think of it, there wasn't much lunacy to rant about in Episode 13, either. However, the woman who decided to overcome her fear of flying by plunking her bottom into one of the airplane seats Ashley bought in Episode 10, refused to leave, tumbled to the floor from a phantom shove and claimed assault as Byron showed her the exit, then massaged her bloated breasts once she was outside the store certainly merits a dishonorable mention.)

Neither Ashley nor Seth are what one might call slow to anger, but I think most impartial observers would agree that Ashley is much quicker to let her emotions dictate her interactions with customers. Unfortunately, she let that element of her personality surface during the one-day contest, which is why, at the end of the episode, Les announced to the staff that he decided to turn the reins of American Jewelry and Loan over to....


Ashley always feels like she got run over by an ambulance in such situations, and she should: she's the older sibling, and never lets Seth forget that while he was out trying to "find himself," she's been at Daddy's side in the pawn shop since she was old enough to lift a gold necklace, learning the business organically.

But what do you think? Did Les make the right choice by putting Seth in charge?

You know we'll find out soon enough. Maybe as soon week?