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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - The 80s

some more se­ri­ous stuff ’, and then we nav­i­gated back­wards and for­wards.’’ Things that didn’t make the cut in­cluded pet rocks and Cab­bage Patch Kids. Those that did in­cluded rap and hip-hop, Pac-Man — that lovable snap­ping mouth chomp­ing with want — and the birth of the mod­ern Su­per Bowl ads, with Ap­ple’s ‘‘ 1984’’ spot di­rected by Tony Scott.

There’s also the story of the way Fonda pop­u­larised aer­o­bics and gyms with her ‘‘ feel good, look good’’ rev­o­lu­tion. The world’s con­tin­u­ing fit­ness craze started be­cause Fonda broke her an­kle while film­ing a movie. Need­ing to find a less in­ten­sive way to stay fit, the ac­tress dis­cov­ered the gym class. The re­sult­ing work­out would be­come the wildly pop­u­lar VHS tape se­ries, though at the time the video ma­chine hardly ex­isted — most avail­able tapes were hard­core porno. But, through Fonda, look­ing good be­came a po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy. As she points out dryly, it was still a time women weren’t al­lowed to sweat.

Nos­tal­gia sur­rounds us in this age of retriev­ing, re­boot­ing, re­cy­cling, re­hash­ing and, when it comes to new shows, reimag­in­ing old ones. Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy has made re­cent his­tory not only ac­ces­si­ble but prac­ti­cally in­escapable, and Root and her film­mak­ers do TV his­tory in this sub­stan­tial se­ries as well as any­one, laced with wit and irony. And maybe she’s right here — per­haps the 80s is the decade we thought we knew. As Wil­liam Faulkner said: ‘‘ The past is never dead; it’s not even past.’’ IF The 80s hits you be­tween the eyes with its mega-doco aes­thetic, Aussie Pick­ers, an­other fac­tual doc­u­men­tary se­ries, just sneaks up on you, though its two main char­ac­ters, Lu­cas Cal­laghan and Adam McDon­ald, are hardly re­tir­ing types. It started last week and seems des­tined for a long run on Fox­tel’s A&E chan­nel. Based on the suc­cess­ful US show Amer­i­can Pick­ers, the se­ries is part of re­al­ity TV’s new wave, the an­swer to all those se­ries such as Hoard­ers and Clean House in which clut­ter is the en­emy and hoard­ing a sign of an un­treated pathol­ogy.

(Sea­son five of Amer­i­can Pick­ers can be found on Fri­days at 7.30pm on A&E, a chan­nel that loves th­ese kinds of shows.)

This new class of pro­gram in­cludes Stor­age Wars, in which rather colour­ful buy­ers bid for aban­doned stor­age lock­ers, of­ten af­ter only min­i­mal in­spec­tion, and Scrap­pers, which fol­lows scrap me­tal col­lec­tors in Brook­lyn. Then there’s Pawn Stars, which chron­i­cles the daily ac­tiv­i­ties at the World Fa­mous Gold & Sil­ver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. And the myr­iad copy­cats spawned in their wake.

While they are hardly dis­sected for their in­tel­lec­tual sig­nif­i­cance, they ex­em­plify that gap be­tween what TV lovers talk about so vo­cif­er­ously — the Mad Men-Break­ing Bad syn­drome — and what most other peo­ple are watch­ing. You prob­a­bly won’t start a din­ner party con­ver­sa­tion chat­ting about the psy­cho­log­i­cal di­men­sion of A&E’s Duck Dy­nasty or His­tory’s Swamp Peo­ple.

Amer­i­can Pick­ers de­buted on Jan­uary 18, 2010, on US ca­ble sta­tion A&E and picked up more than three mil­lion view­ers. ‘‘ Trash’’ had be­come ca­ble TV’s un­likely trea­sure (a line used to pro­mote the lo­cal se­ries). But it took a while for the show’s cre­ators, Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, to crack the TV big time.

Wolfe pitched for four years, shoot­ing home­made episodes with Fritz us­ing a small video cam­era. When he showed his pi­lots to ex­ec­u­tives at A&E sis­ter chan­nel the His­tory chan­nel, Wolfe says they knew they had a hit. Now the ac­tiv­ity called ‘‘ pick­ing’’ has turned Wolfe and Fritz, a cou­ple of mid­dle-aged bluecol­lar an­tiques col­lec­tors from Iowa, into un­likely celebri­ties.

The show fol­lows them as they travel pri­mar­ily around mid-western Amer­ica in a panel van, buy­ing an­tiques and col­lecta­bles, pick­ing bar­gains from the dross. And cher­ryp­ick they do, buy­ing any­thing they think they can make a buck on. ‘‘ What peo­ple see as junk, we see as dol­lar signs’’ is their oft-re­peated motto, but they also de­light in a kind of home­spun an­tique arche­ol­ogy, ex­am­in­ing the his­tory of the pieces they buy. ‘‘ We’re telling the his­tory of Amer­ica, one piece at a time,’’ is their other catch­phrase.

The rol­lick­ing lo­cal ver­sion, pro­duced by Shine, fol­lows the orig­i­nal for­mat closely. Cal­laghan and Lu­cas, like Wolfe and Fritz, are tat­tooed, true-blue char­ac­ters, though both have an ex­ten­sive, di­verse and pro­fes­sional knowl­edge of col­lecta­bles. Lu­cas, one of coun­try’s most pro­lific pick­ers, spe­cialises in ‘‘ unique ob­jects from the post-war pe­riod’’; and Cal­laghan’s pas­sion is for in­dus­trial an­tiques (or ‘‘ man­tiques’’ as he likes to call them).

Auc­tion­eer Ce­cily Hardy, hail­ing from a fam­ily of col­lec­tors, runs their of­fice and base, track­ing down leads and deal­ing with in­quiries for her ‘‘ boys’’.

Cal­laghan and Lu­cas go on the road in their white van, not only fol­low­ing up leads Hardy gen­er­ates but also ‘‘ free-styling’’, stop­ping at places that look as if they might hold items worth some­thing. They ex­plore peo­ple’s homes, garages, sheds and out­houses, any­where they have stored an­tiques and col­lecta­bles. They call on ca­sual col­lec­tors, hoard­ers and oc­ca­sion­ally peo­ple who have in­her­ited col­lec­tions of ap­par­ent junk.

This week they’re deep in the hills of north­ern NSW meet­ing a guy who calls him­self Mad Dog, and they ap­proach the as­sign­ment with trep­i­da­tion. Mad Dog turns out to be a friendly char­ac­ter who ini­tially shows them the col­lec­tion un­der his house. The pick­ers are a bit dis­ap­pointed at com­ing so far to see so lit­tle, then Mad Dog takes them to the back of his prop­erty and his shed, a huge struc­ture filled to the brim, and a mas­sive pick is un­der way. Next stop is War­wick and Gwenda, who have been col­lect­ing to­gether since their hon­ey­moon 49 years ago, and have an ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of Aus­tralian phone books and beer cans. In the Snowy Moun­tains, the pick­ers visit pas­sion­ate car col­lec­tor Mick Am­brose, who has car bod­ies and parts strewn across 10ha out­side town.

It’s one of those for­mats with a po­ten­tially large au­di­ence that pro­vides in­stant es­cape and, more of­ten than not, comic dis­be­lief at the char­ac­ters the pick­ers en­counter. The se­ries isn’t an open in­vi­ta­tion to be crit­i­cally dis­sected and anatomised, just a show to watch and kill time.

But de­spite the ob­vi­ous diver­sion pro­vided, it is pop­u­lar be­cause it’s a cun­ningly pro­duced and pre­sented ex­pres­sion of the hu­man ca­pac­ity to cat­e­gorise ob­jects. So many of us do it and the Pick­ers shows of­fer re­as­sur­ance that while col­lect­ing and hoard­ing ob­jects can be a sooth­ing es­cape from anx­i­eties, just skirt­ing the prob­lems of ad­dic­tion in many cases, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily an es­cape from life it­self.

Like the orig­i­nal, the rather jaunty lo­cal ver­sion of the show is a highly en­ter­tain­ing hy­brid of trav­el­ogue, trea­sure hunt and lat­eral his­tory pro­gram, with each col­lec­tor’s trea­sure a snap­shot that cap­tures the essence of the time in which it was cre­ated. And th­ese spe­cial­ist pick­ers, self-de­scribed ‘‘ mod­ern arche­ol­o­gists", are a link in the chain that drags valu­able relics out of dusty ob­scu­rity and into our auc­tion rooms, stores, mu­se­ums and liv­ing rooms. The fun lies in the way we en­ter the sto­ries of th­ese ob­jects in the pro­gram’s short, vivid and some­times highly com­i­cal seg­ments. Cal­laghan and Lu­cas — they even sound like a vaudeville act — may just be lo­cal TV’s lat­est dou­ble act.

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