American Pickers: The Complete Season One Review

Imagine if the Antiques Roadshow was more proactive. Instead of setting up tables in local convention centers it went out into people’s backyards, scavenged in the dark, murky attics and garages, and didn’t just offer appraisals. American Pickers is the Antiques Roadshow with a business sense; it’s out to buy stuff and convert each salvaged item to a sale. Hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz have an instinct when it comes to putting a number to other people’s rusted relics, and they use that skill to great aplomb in American Pickers.

American Pickers operates on two different strategies: for the most part Mike and Frank just drive about rural neighborhoods looking for houses with huge stockpiles of junk in their yard, but occasionally their office assistant, Danielle Colby-Cushman, generates leads for them to go out and investigate. Each episode is named after the more amazing find/purchase of the episode. Even if you could never stomach the Antiques Roadshow, American Pickers discovers such a random, interesting assortment of artifacts and people that you just can’t help but be at the very least mildly entertained.

The ultimate advantage that American Pickers has over its PBS predecessor is the caliber of weird stuff they find in their search. In the first two episodes alone, Mike and Frank walk away with a huge Phillip Morris animatronic sign, an old carnival ride, old rusted out theater lights, a Vespa Ape (ah-pay), and countless other odds and ends. If you know nothing of antiques or vehicles it really doesn’t matter in the end. The stuff they find is really just that unique.

You have to marvel at the determination both Mike and Frank show in their chosen day job. They’ll arrive on the doorsteps of men and women who’ve hoarded enough retro junk to fill multiple buildings, and the people will be reticent to sell anything. Who knows what they’re thinking; maybe that they’ll get a better offer down the road or that whoever they leave it to when they pass won’t just throw it away. Sometimes though the people will be sensible and have the foresight to get whatever they can off their hands when they have two guys with wallets filled with cash willing to throw it down for rusty relics half buried in the dirt.

If there could be any mild improvement made to the show it would be one of two things. At certain times you almost feel bad for these people who have accumulated so much junk throughout their lives, expecting some day that it will be valuable (and they’re right), except they aren’t really the ones who get the payoff – Mike and Frank do. That’s the downside of flipping the Antiques Roadshow on its head, original finders keepers are no longer the true victors; Mike and Frank often pay them something half its value. On one hand, they’re getting gypped, but on the other hand hats off to Mike and Frank for having the business acumen to turn a profit in such an odd business. The second issue is more with the sometimes irritating nature of the two hosts. At times their appropriately sociable, but at others they voice reproach for the people who won’t sell to them and you just can’t help but wish they’d suck it up and move on. The gripes are minor and the show benefits from the hosts more often than not.

Overall, American Pickers is a solid tribute to that good old Americana archetype: the pack rat. These people are on the lower income scale but still place value on the sentimental memories attached to when they acquired that odd piece of junk the show’s hosts salivate over. It’s a fantastic idea for a show and gives a better sense of exploration into the history of the 1900s than Antiques Roadshow ever could.

DVD Bonus Features

Sadly, there’s nothing to be found in terms of extras. You’ll have to content yourself with the season’s 12 episodes.

"American Pickers: The Complete Season One" is on sale June 1, 2010 and is not rated. Documentary, Reality. Directed by Adam Matalon. Starring Frank Fritz, Mike Wolfe.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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