I really dislike reality TV, and honestly don’t watch much television at all, so I usually need some sort of hook to get me to tune in. ‘Comic Book Men’ does that by taking the ‘Pawn Stars’ set up and filters it through the slightly watered down vision of Kevin Smith (go figure that he’d be the one to get me to write my first ever television-related piece). The result is pretty entertaining to me, but I will say that I’m not sure who the show is for outside of the filmmaker’s fans. It’s not as deep into the history of the collectables as ‘Pawn Stars’ is, and it doesn’t focus on the lives of the employees as much as most reality TV does, so it’s kind of a mixed bag. I’m recommending it because I laughed a lot and sitting in for their conversations, but I know AMC has a somewhat tough sell on their hands with this. Hardcore comic book fans will find the conversations too simplistic, and non fans of Kevin Smith won’t be into watching it to begin with, I’d think. I suppose if you’re like me and already know the names Walter Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, and Ming Chen (to name a few) from Smith discussing them on his podcasts or their own shows (Tell-Em Steve-Dave and Puck Nuts), then gazing into their work lives has its appeal. If not, I don’t know that this is going to have anything to offer you.
If the pilot episode is any indication of how things will be going, then it’s going to be a weekly look at the goings on of Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash (the comic book store in Red Bank, New Jersey that Kevin Smith owns). The show mixes in the interactions between owner Walter Flanagan, employees Ming Chen, Bryan Johnson, and Mike Zapcic, the weirdos who come into the store, and the pop culture conversations they all have with Kevin Smith while recording podcasts (this one is set up for the show…the ones online are far dirtier, and honestly a little bit funnier too). This episode also had a task set up by Walt (and concurrently told to Smith during the podcast, which also goes for all of the noteworthy things that happen at the Stash) to see which of the guys could sell the most crummy merchandise at a local Flea Market. It’s a very loose show, though certain things appear a bit more staged than you’d hope. It’s a different sort of reality show, and for that it gets credit from me. Plus, it’s just funny.
The reason you’ll come back to the show is the characters. Walter is a man whose serious about running his store, but not beyond screwing with his employees. Bryan is like Randall from ‘Clerks’ come to life (while Walter is a cooler Dante) and the source of most of the show’s best offhand remarks. As for Ming and Mike, they’re just along for the ride and having fun. They all have known each other a long time, and even if you aren’t familiar with the podcasts, their chemistry shows. Kevin Smith doesn’t dominate the show, but merely acts almost as your guide to this world. It’s an entertaining set up, and watching these guys have a good time is infectious.
As much as the characters are fun, the way the show tries to mimic other shows at certain points isn’t. The most annoying is the little factoids that come up on screen. They aren’t real interesting and rarely tell you something you couldn’t have figured out in the first place. There’s also way too many commercial interruptions, but that’s not the fault of the show. There’s just never a good flow to things. It’s a fun time, but an imperfect one. I look at it as a somewhat promising work in progress.
I’m not convinced that AMC has another hit on their hands with ‘Comic Book Men’, but I found it enjoyable enough to want to keep tuning in to, and I have a feeling this could be a cult favorite in the making. As it stands now, there are more than a few rough edges, but time should help improve things. I know I’m going to stick with it, and I hope it succeeds, but I can’t say for certain that it will. If you were thinking of trying it, it has my stamp of approval, for what that’s worth.
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