One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, but with History’s new series “American Pickers,” one man’s treasure is another man’s source of income. If the winter season puts a damper on rummage sale connoisseurs, “American Pickers” is the next best thing to a junk-laden garage. Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz are two business partners out of Iowa’s Antique Archeology who search out, scrounge through and even beg for old-time items to recycle and sell anew.
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The premiere episode follows Wolfe and Fritz to the houses of a few elderly men who aren’t even having garage sales. The duo’s “business” entails finding out about people who own antiques, showing up unannounced on their doorstep with smooth-talking tongues and an intimidating camera crew and asking for good deals on their items. It sounds a little bit like an antique auction, but — be warned — if respect for the elderly is a virtue, Wolfe and Fritz hold the value of a dollar just a bit higher than virtuousness.
Sure, the quirky duo salvages antiques like a bigger-than-life burger boy, which sits outside an unused barn in the rain. Upon ogling the statue, they knock on the door of the unsuspecting old man who owns it, asking the going price. (Business tip: “Always let the seller name the first price. If they are only looking for a hundred bucks, we don’t want to offer three!”) While this might make capitalistic sense, screwing over old people on national television seems a little harsh.
In another visit to the elderly, Wolfe and Fritz weasel an old saddle for $75 which appraises for over $2,000. The two spend hours rummaging through an old garage, asking for stories and memories that accompany a heap of antiques. It is hard to determine if they are genuinely interested or trying to figure out the dollar price on the old guy’s sentimental value. Almost every item Wolfe and Fritz try to buy, the old man refuses to sell. They express their frustration to the camera in “Real World”-esque off-site interviews.
Antiques usually bring to mind pawn shops, legit garage sales and even the less common estate sale. Antique Archeology’s type of antiquing is just a bit shady. However, Wolfe and Fritz do have a passion for the last two of the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), and admittedly know quite a bit about history.
It’s just difficult to see how any pleasure could be mixed into this business. Sure, the partners restore and sell artifacts, bringing antiques into the present day. But the people they buy them from don’t seem too well off. If the sale were a bit more fair-trade, “American Pickers” would be easier to watch without that annoying pang of guilt — the kind that hits upon entering a nursing home.
History is often a reputable source for shows like “American Pickers.” If Wolfe and Fritz just tone down the predatory coersion, the basis of the series could shine through. Learning about antiques isn’t always fascinating, but it becomes even less so when it means cheating the people who have preserved them thus far.