Film and TV

Reality Bites: Antiques Roadshow

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

When thinking of reality shows, one generally doesn't consider PBS. That might not make a a lot of sense at first; after all, the network airs programs which certainly qualify.

Then again, none of those invoke the usual imagery associated with the genre. There's no screaming on American Masters, no Kardashians on This Old House, and the History Detectives actually investigate items of significance with more rigor than a Google search.

Also, nobody screams at each other. As far as I know, that is. I hear that Judy Woodruff can get a little salty.

Covering this genre as long as I have, I sometimes forget the existence of shows I actually enjoy. Years of plumbing the depths of America's obsession with drunken rednecks and wife swapping almost made me miss the fact I've been watching -- and enjoying -- one particular reality show for years now. No, not Cheaters, I'm talking about Antiques Roadshow.

The Episode I Watched was called "Junk in the Trunk" (saucy!) and was stretched out to a good 90 minutes thanks to the latest pledge drive. I didn't mind, though. It isn't like you can get too lost in the proceedings when each supplicant, er ... guest gets 3-5 minutes of screen time.

Each week, the Roadshow travels to a new American city (I think they went to Toronto once...) and select individuals are pulled from the crowd to have their precious heirloom either a) given a through once-over by one of several highly qualified appraisers, or b) exposed as one of the J&R Whiskey "Liquor Lads".

Our host is Mark Walberg (not that one), who looks kind of like ESPN's Bill Simmons but is actually a pretty decent sport. He introduces each city and about halfway through the program conducts a field segment, chatting with an appraiser about an item of local interest. I'd suspect Walberg spends the rest of the taping snorting powdered baby seal out of a high-priced escort's cleavage - because frankly nothing about celebrities would surprise me anymore - but he seems like a legitimately nice guy. How annoying.

The appraiser inevitably asks, right after his/her rundown of the item's probably history and significance, if the owner has ever given any thought to its worth. 99 times out of 100, the owner says they haven't. This is patent bullshit. I don't care if you the most exotic piece of furnishing in your home is that college beanbag chair, you've wondered - however briefly - if you could get any money for it. Hell, the oldest thing I own is a Sega Saturn and I still check it on eBay every two weeks ($59 as of this writing).

And I really want to believe people when they claim no interest in selling, especially when it's something like the engraved silver Colt plus badge belonging to one guy's ex-sheriff (of Bexar County) great-grandfather, but once in a while their eyes light up juuust a little too intently. We all claim to value our families over all else (well, some of us), but an unstable economy, student loan debt, or a Candy Crush Saga addiction can convince even the most devoted of us to part with precious heirlooms.

Side note: I wonder if the history of Butch's watch in Pulp Fiction would have overcome the show's anti-timepiece bias.

I definitely feel more favorable towards the people who randomly acquired their items (or claim to, at least) from yard sales, thrift stores, or just picking them up off a pile of garbage (I swear that happened) over the people who inherited/hoarded/murdered their parents for theirs. Case in point, the dude who held on to his parents' Russian teaspoons, then could barely conceal his disappointment when they turned out to be worth a mere $1,500-2,000. "You mean I slowly poisoned them for *nothing*?"

More entertaining was the guy who bought an H.R. Ocampo painting for a dollar(!) at a yard sale -- against his wife's wishes, further proving you should never heed your spouse's advice -- only to find out it might be worth $7,000-10,000.

It's a good show, and probably one that speaks to our overwhelming need for the comforts of the past in an increasingly unstable and unpredictable world. Whatever, I just want to unload that Sega Saturn.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar