Sunday, September 15, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN Episodes 18-20, the Ashley Arc: I Won't Get Scammed Again (No, No!), Flush This! and the Detroit (Computer) Breakdown

Does American Jewelry and Loan just run better when Ashley's in charge?

Well, there are at least two people – both named Gold – who might dispute that suggestion. Vehemently.

But this three-episode story arc – which ended last week (9/10) just short of Ashley and Seth holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" – surely reminded us that business at the pawn shop is never dull when she's running the show!

These three episodes are a fine example of Hardcore Pawn at its best: a big overarching storyline (in this case, Ashley being chosen by a recuperating Les to run the store after beating Seth in a one-day management competition in Episode 17, while a seething Seth remains on Dad-imposed probation),  with intriguing little subplots to distinguish each individual half-hour.
Ooh, She's Enjoying This. (Mark Hill/Turner)

In Episode 18, for example, it was the two sincere-looking teenage boys who tried to convince the Golds they were approached by a crooked AJ&L employee who offered to take their laptops in pawn and return them out the back door after they received their cash, thus ripping off the store royally.

Since the family still stings from the knowledge that their former head of security stole from them at the end of last season and were still dealing with the question of trust in Episode 1, Les wants to know if there's any truth to the teens' allegations. Seth, eager to remind Dad that the operation ran smoothly when he was in charge, is certain the new people and policies he put in place would prevent such crimes from ever occurring again. And Ashley, equally motivated to prove she can handle her business as manager, suggests the one guaranteed, but time-consuming, approach to find out for certain: take an employee, go into the back warehouse and account for every computer taken in over the past 24 hours.

Seth scoffs at her idea as a waste of time and manpower, but Les still feels residual pain that has nothing to do with his surgery. "Let me tell you something," he intones. "We've been scammed before, and I will not be scammed again, period. Go do it, Ash."

Her meticulous inventory check proved the boys' tale to be a hoax, but meanwhile Seth is bristling under the yoke of reporting to Ashley. His insubordination is causing her to sound like a third-grade teacher. "Don't walk away when I'm talking to you!" she yells at his back. "And don't talk under your breath!"

Their prickly relationship isn't helped by Ashley feeling the need to interject herself into Seth's transactions. She jumped into the face of one wide-eyed woman who was trying to get money for a broken TV.

"I don't need your help on this one, thank you MOM," Seth sneers. but Ashley's influence must have had some effect: the woman ended up bouncing her own set off the parking lot after being escorted outside, dragging it away by its power cord.

The merchandise being offered by customers – from a classic DeLorean sports car with an oddly pungent aroma to handmade bicycles that shoot flames, to a caged, dead pigeon purported to have once belonged to Mike Tyson – were quirky and interest-grabbing, though almost all were rejected for purchase. And the customers were sufficiently crazed and belligerent, but not completely obnoxious or over-the-top outrageous; you know, functionally insane.

Two clear-cut favorites emerge in that regard. There's the unctuous, snappy-talking New Jersey transplant in Episode 18 who tries to buy a sectional sofa (already bargain priced below $400) for the $200 cash in his pocket, justifying his low-ball offer by claiming the sofa has its own oddly pungent aroma.

An indignant Les says he once owned that furniture and gave it to Ashley for a time. "She your daughter?" he cracks. "Then she must be nasty, too." Insult a man's only daughter? Jersey Joe receives an up-close and personal lesson at how jerks are treated "the Detroit way:" big Byron, the security chief/bouncer, serves as instructor.

Then there's the initially pleasant woman in Episode 19 who approaches Seth to purchase a wristwatch but can't seem to stop texting (or "texing," as she calls it) long enough to maintain human contact with Seth, who's right in front of her. (An increasingly common malady in contemporary society, regrettably.) After the third text, when Seth asks if everything is all right, the woman erupts in anger over his invasion of her privacy. Once Byron "bodies" her to the door, the texting tornado rips her wig off and swings it above her head like a lariat while kicking her flip-flops toward the door. "When she got outside, she was like a damn Transformer," Byron marvels.

By the end of Episode 19, appropriately dubbed "Seth Snaps," he has had it with Ashley's perceived power trip up to here. Witnessing what he considers an especially egregious deal she negotiates, Seth grabs a sledgehammer and attacks – not Ashley (Whew!), but the piece she just purchased. (Rather than come out and identify what the item was, let's just say Seth took maniacal pleasure in knocking off her throne.) He then jumped in his car and peeled and squealed out of the parking lot.

Typically, only a sibling or a spouse can make anyone that nutso.

(And did you happen to notice how the brand and model of Seth's car was blurred out in Episode 19's final scene? NOBODY's getting product placement on this series for free!)

In Episode 20, "Computer Crash," Seth concedes, "I was so pissed off at Ashley, I wasn't even going to come in today." However, when the store's computer system collapses, leaving a long line of pissed off customers angrily waving pawn tickets, Seth, AJ&L's resident PC professional, swallows his pride and returns to get the store back online.

That matters little to the show's primary antagonist, a giant dude dressed in pumpkin orange who demands to get his ring back right now despite the shop's computer woes. "Here's my ring, right here," he says, pointing through the display case. "You can see the inscription: '14K gold.'"

Yes, that must be your ring.

This episode also gave us one of the more memorable sendoff lines of Hardcore Pawn's entire run. It happened at the top of the show, as a customer who swears he has allergies keeps playing with his nose while shopping for a watch. A disgusted Ashley is willing to practically give him the timepiece just to keep him from touching it with his hands. He refuses Ashley's price as well as her offer to use hand sanitizer and is eventually dismissed, prompting Ashley to say:

"Hasta la vista, Snot Boy."

When order and computers are restored, Les turns paternal. "Now you see what happens when you guys work together?" he asks. "That's how I expect you guys to work together. No more fighting!"

Did you laugh out loud, too? Yeah, like that's going to happen!

"Kumbaya, my Lord, kumbaya...."

*          *          *
I really liked the woman who broke her own TV and dragged it through the parking lot, the cocky Jersey Boy and the wig-twirling texter as candidates to break through into our list of the Top 5 Hardcore Pawn customer ejections of the season. After all, it's almost impossible to believe that an idiot consumer from Episode One still holds the No. 1 slot after all these weeks.

But the question must be asked: Are any of these three contenders better (or worse) than the incumbent currently holding down the No. 5 position?

Honestly, no.

So the Top 5 brain-dead bounceouts remain unchanged. And, in case you've forgotten, they are:

5. Mister "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. (This incident trumps Jersey Boy's insult because 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 loser and still champion among the Dimmest Lights on the Marquee customers...
The boy genius from Episode One who came in looking to buy a portable generator and showed his intelligence by asking, "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.

We could say more about him, but we don't want to "pylon." Get it?

Monday, September 9, 2013

'The Arsenio Hall Show' Returns: Drab, Disappointing and Dated

He's Back – But the Comeback Wasn't Beautiful (Credit: Cliff Lipson/CBS Distribution)

I was a full-time, watch-TV-for-money television critic for more than 11 years. And in all that time, the most pure fun I had, hands down, was the privilege of hanging out backstage at The Arsenio Hall Show during my trips to LA in the '90s.

Arsenio was – and is – a hero of mine. When I was growing up there were virtually no dark faces that looked like me on the little glowing screen, and it seemed like so much fun in there that I dreamed of being a TV talk host someday. Hall achieved my fantasy, so of course I began writing about his latenight series as soon as the opportunity arose.

Subsequently, I made friends with the show's PR woman, who invited me to drop by the set any time I was in Los Angeles – and meant it. I can't begin to count how many times I visited the show, but I was always treated like a VIP guest and it was a straight-up party every time, even though the show was taped at four in the afternoon in order to make it onto the satellite for distribution.

I recall kicking it with Hall in his miniscule dressing room, engulfed by stacks of shoes and racks of suits for him to choose at his whim. I remember meeting Mike Tyson, who quietly slipped in a side door of the soundstage just to watch the taping and hang out. And I distinctly recall being in the audience the day musical guest Sir Mix-A-Lot performed his hit "Baby Got Back" in front of the largest fake booty in the history of television, and the gasps and whoops of the crowd when it was revealed.

So perhaps even more than most curious viewers, I was extremely geeked to witness Hall's return to latenight after he fell victim to the Leno-Letterman feud nearly 20 years ago. After his winning run on Celebrity Apprentice catapulted him back into public consciousness, the TV bigdomes started to think, "Hey...why not Arsenio again? He was incredibly cool!" Remember, this was the cat who had future President Bill Clinton playing sax with his musical Posse one night. (Some still claim that single appearance may have secured the White House for Clinton.) What was he going to do to top his own legend?

And I was extremely discouraged by what I saw.

At the midpoint of Monday night's (Sept. 9) nationally-syndicated premiere, Hall did a lackluster bit pretending to reveal the contents of "Arsenio's Time Capsule." And that's just what the program felt like, as if it had been buried all these years and unearthed now without having had an opportunity to grow or stay in step with the times.

The theme song was exactly the same as it was in the show's first run from 1989-1994. Hall never was a great interviewer, but it appeared that the modest conversational skills he possessed had eroded over time. I swear, even the furniture on the interview set looked eerily familiar.

I live-Tweeted the debut of Arsenio Hall Show 2.0 Monday night @bigglowingbox: Here's a blow-by-blow compilation of what I observed:

11:04 p.m. Some of my best memories as a TV critic were hanging out backstage at @ArsenioHall Show. Can't wait to see the second incarnation!

"Now, back from a very long weekend, here's...@ArsenioHall!" Same theme song, but "therapy" intro with @jayleno was priceless! 

"Leave it to the first black late-night host to take 19 years off work! And still expect my job to be waiting for me!" @ArsenioHall

Prepackaged comedy clips of @ArsenioHall in #storagewars, #DowntonAbbey, Food Network show and prison sendup did not work well.

Just as the @ArsenioHall monologue was getting embarrassingly long, hyah comes @SnoopDogg

@SnoopDogg – surprise No.1 on the new @ArsenioHall Show! But the opening monologue was not that funny. And the show sadly seems a bit dated.

If I was @ArsenioHall I would have worked hard to get a new theme song And why Chris Tucker as 1st guest? Can't think of anyone less funny, or worse interview.

Surprise No. 2: the massive "Arsenio Time Capsule." "No, this is not New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's lunch box." Wow. @ArsenioHall

Fifteen minutes into the @ArsenioHall Show debut, I'm thinking he needs to consider blowing up his writing staff. This material is stale.

Surprise No. 3: A walk-on by @PaulaAbdul on the @ArsenioHall Show. Butt did she really have to be introduced by a synthetic ass?  
 "So now that you're working again, I assume you'll be moving out of my pool house?" – @PaulaAbdul. @ArsenioHall as Kato Kaelin. 

Just caught a shot of my cuz, @MsShaunRobinson, coming out of commercial in the @ArsenioHall premiere.  

My Lord! After 19 years, are they still using the same FURNITURE on the interview set? What? @ArsenioHall  

Oh, cardinal interviewer's sin: Finally ask an intriguing question, then have to go to commercial. The opening night timing's a little rusty. @ArsenioHall

OK, Chris Tucker is the big @ArsenioHall opening night guest. Laughs so far in first interview segment: 0. @realctucker  

I swear, the furniture looks like it was placed in storage for two decades. You can see the lumps in the ottoman. @ArsenioHall  

I always thought Chris Tucker substituted volume and attitude for humor. He did nothing tonight to change my mind. @realctucker @ArsenioHall

No disrespect, but @ArsenioHall has been gone 19 years and planning this comeback for months – and @realctucker is the best guest he could land?

I expected so much more. @ArsenioHall set was my second home in 90s, and some of my best TV memories. But tonight's return just felt dated.

This could get better. The guests could come from the A-List, and the writing could improve. But for @ArsenioHall, it needs to happen fast.

@ArsenioHall to @SnoopDogg: "I recognize that cologne you're wearing, my friend." Snoop: "It's called 'contact'."

@SnoopDogg gives @ArsenioHall a pair of black logo house slippers. "When you come off the air, you're going to want to rest your feet."

Best part of @ArsenioHall return: opening clip of Hall lying on @jayleno couch. Other prepackaged clips lame, writing poor, interview weak.

@ArsenioHall made TV history. When I was a kid I dreamed of being a TV talk host, and he is an idol of mine. But this comeback was not good.