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!