By David Knowles
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – The American workplace has long provided rich fodder for reality television creators.
From the blue collar exoticism on shows like “Deadliest Catch,” “Coal” and “Dirty Jobs,” to the gritty recession porn of “Pawn Stars” and “Storage Wars,” job-gazing programs succeed either when they illuminate a world we knew little about beforehand, or when they deliver drama so compelling that we see a professions in a whole new light.
Like “What the Sell,” TLC’s other current stab at chronicling the commerce of second-hand goods, “Pawn Queens,” which premiered Wednesday, makes you wonder whether some professions are simply not worthy of their own show.
At Naperville Jewelry and Loan, in un-exotic suburban Chicago, “the only pawn shop that caters to women,” we’re introduced to Nikki and Minda, the store’s vaguely-sassy, blonde proprietors.
While a tagline boasting feminist pawning would seem to have promise, in practice all this really means is that the store itself looks more Crate & Barrel than skid row destination of last resort.
“I take pride in having a pawn shop geared toward women,” Nikki says during the show’s premiere.
“It’s super important that females feel comfortable at our shop,” Minda adds. No, the ladies who shop and pawn at Naperville Jewelry and Loan aren’t covered in tattoos and track marks. They have more likely just come from doing a little spring cleaning, where they’ve stumbled upon an old doll or strand of pearls. Yes, this is G-rated pawning, and it makes you hungry for Vegas.
Watching Nikki and Minda (as well as their conveniently overshadowed business partners Tom and Greg) haggle has all the suspense of a coin toss. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t, but often the stakes are so low that you can’t be bothered to care as when the gals get the price down on an “I Love Lucy” Barbie doll down from $70 to $40. Score!
Sanitized from view is the “loan” portion of the pawn shop’s title. That not so wholesome high-interest-rate service provided to desperate characters seeking hawk heirloom jewelry for quick cash. Instead, there’s the obligatory, wholesome staff banter and practical jokes, as well as the chemistry between Minda and Nikki which largely fails to enliven the proceedings.
So, it’s up to the goods and their owners to do the heavy lifting. Barbie, a 12-foot-tall suit of armor, an old nurse’s costume, and magician’s magic box are trotted out. Unfortunately, there’s no real historical import to any of them, no Antiques Roadshow denouement waiting to knock our socks off. When a man drops in with a dog bed embroidered with 95,000 hand cut crystals, we get a glimpse at what might have been. Nikki and Minda get the seller to lower his asking price from $18,000 to $8,000, but don’t end up pulling the trigger on the deal, so we never know how much they might have made or lost on it. For a show that’s depicting the highs and lows of commerce, that’s no small flaw.
“This job is never boring,” Nikki says at the conclusion of the first episode. Of course, whether a job, or a television show depicting it, is boring or interesting is a matter of opinion.