American Chopper

This is the third installment of a 10 part review on American reality shows.

I’m not into motorcycles – never have been.  Choppers are kind of cool though.  When I think of a chopper, I’m reminded of the classic 60’s film, Easy Rider.  Despite the coolness of a chopper, I never intended to get hooked on a show about a bike shop that makes custom choppers.  Like many successful reality shows, the appeal of  American Chopper for me anyway is not the bike building so much as the interaction between the people who make them, especially the stars of the show, the owner, Paul Teutul, Sr. and his two sons; one a builder himself, Paul Teutul, Jr. and Mikey, a budding comic and artist whose role is comic relief.

Paul Senior or just Senior as he’s called in the shop is a legendary chopper builder who grew Orange County Choppers into a successful business.  He’s a body builder who looks strikingly similar to Hulk Hogan.  A lot of what airs on the show is Senior yelling and criticizing his son Junior for not working hard enough or long enough.  The constant carping wears on Junior who fires back with barbed quips.  The two seem to be in constant competition.  In fact, the latest series is called Senior vs. Junior: American Chopper.  The other guys in the shop mostly stay out of it all, but occasionally play along.  All enjoy a good practical joke.

Anyone into motorcycles might find the fabricating interesting – from custom made handle bars, exhaust pipes and gas tanks to the artistic detailing on all the bike components.    The bikes are generally commissioned by businesses but sometimes donated or built to support charity causes and unveiled at the end of each episode to great fanfare.  Overall, the process of building and unveiling is a compelling and entertaining experience. But it is the human drama that unfolds between the three stars that is the most fascinating to watch.  At times, their interactions are intense, even disturbing.  But there are lighter moments, that are quite often hilarious.  American Chopper, a real family, a real business and real good show – the real deal.

Rating:  A-

Pawn Stars

It’s hard to imagine pawn brokers as stars, but on the History Channel, they are – that is on the show, Pawn Stars. I’ve never been to a pawn shop before, but have peered into the window of one to find a depressing array of used furniture, musical instruments and bad art. I really had no interest in watching a show about the typical workday of a pawn broker so I kept passing Pawn Stars up when channel surfing until one day. I don’t know why I tuned in, but I did, and I have to say the show caught my attention. It wasn’t so much the transactions that intrigued me, compelling as they were, you know, a guy brings in some rare Pete Rose baseball cards and they turn out to be a fakes and so on. What the show really has going for it are the pawn brokers themselves whose business the show chronicles. I have to say, they are entertaining – funny, sarcastic, unpredictable, silly and always educational. It’s a cross between Antiques Roadshow, All in the Family and Street Customs.  What characters! There’s the “Old Man” who started the business, his son Rick and his son, Corey, “Big Hoss” along with family friend Chumlee, who plays the part of the store clown.  Corey and Chumlee are forever making mistakes – buying stuff at inflated prices that could never sell, like a hot air ballon and a power kite they got tangled up in telephone wires.  One of my favorite blunders was when Rick acquired a Dylan album and asked Chumlee to find Dylan in Vegas and have him sign it.  Chumlee miraculously ran into Dylan and had him sign it to Chumlee.  Rick was furious when he found out, because he would not be able to sell the record with a personalized autograph, and in disgust gifted the LP to Chumlee, to Chumlee’s great delight.

Maybe some of the scenes are staged, but they are fun to watch. And occasionally people bring stuff in that the Pawn Stars have professionally appraised by their expert friends who shed light on the items, which sometimes have significant historical value, unlike most of what is picked up on American Pickers.  Fun show.

Rating: A-

Second in a multi-part series of reviews about American reality shows.

American Pickers

This is the first  in a multi-part installment on American reality TV shows.

American Pickers. Two guys, Mike and Frank, go around in a Volvo van picking through dusty barns, and “sketch” buildings on the back roads of America looking for anything they might be able to buy and resell for a profit. Mike specializes in old motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles; Frank looks for old advertisement pieces, signs, toys and oil cans.  They meet a lot of interesting characters on the road who are themselves collectors, pickers or hoarders. On each episode, they buy about a dozen items and have a few of them professionally appraised. Usually, the profit margin is negligible – maybe $100 bucks per thing bought – and that’s if they can sell it, which I presume they try to do over the Internet.  The guys joke around a lot with each other and their business associate, Danielle, who tends the store, supplies the pick leads and wants nothing more than to go out on a pick with the “boys”, which she eventually does.  It’s an entertaining and educational show, but what’s missing is that rare, priceless find – something of national importance – a museum piece.   I guess that’s what keeps them going, and what keeps me watching.  And the show is picking up steam.  Both Mike and Frank recently appeared on Late Night with David Letterman.  Rating:  B

See below for other reviews of reality type shows:

Pawn Stars


Swamp People

American Chopper

Street Customs

Hell’s Kitchen



Chasing Classic Cars

Mecum Auto Auction