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....

Seth.

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 as...next week?

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