So, remember how I said last week that I’d be taking a look at some of the shows readers suggested? Well, I wasn’t kidding, and this week I’m taking a Quick Look at the Discovery Channel show “Oddities " (Thursdays, 10:30 p.m. EST) thanks to one of those wonderful suggestions. I’d love to give credit where credit is due, but the problem is that the post has been accidentally sucked into the blogosphere (read: deleted). So, if you’re that helpful person, please stand up and take a bow (and reveal yourself in the comments; I’ll plug your name in as soon as I get it). And yes, bow, because “Oddities” is, in my semi-professional opinion, a little bit awesome.
With reality shows being tossed to every hoarder, chalk eater, tattoo artist and octomom in America, it’s hard to believe the Manhattan shop Obscura Antiques and Oddities only recently got the nod. Maybe the store’s brand of freakiness is just too low-key for viewers used to stripper catfights and drunken D-list celebrities. Co-owners Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson — and buyer Ryan Matthew — politely greet every weirdo who walks through their door, whether it’s a guy unloading his Fiji mermaid (in this case, a sewn-together monkey skeleton/alligator hybrid), a woman selling toenail art (yes, toenail art) or an elderly toothless contortionist. There’s no behind-the-scenes squabbling, Negotiations to buy and sell are bloodless and friendly. There's no high emotional drama. And, oddly enough, I’m not sure I would want any anyway. This is the Discovery Channel, after all.
There’s also very little effort to convince us that the motley crew of visitors just happened to wander in off the street, and the drama seems equally staged. But who cares? Though Zohn, Michelsohn and Matthew could easily pass for pencil pushers with their placid demeanors, they provide a soothing balance to the store’s collection of mummified heads, taxidermy and antique syringes as well as straight men to the shop’s quirky visitors.
What the trio really excels at is lovingly educating us about the strange, sometimes macabre stuff they collect. They discuss the intricacies of an antique clubfoot boot or a diseased human brain slice the way other people might moon over a coin collection. It’s weirdly charming and makes the ick factor of much of what we see disappear. Even if you don’t have the stomach to walk into Obscura (or similar stores like Necromance in Los Angeles or Gold Bug in Pasadena), shows like this one are an easily digestible way for newbies to explore their dark sides and aficionados to see what other weird and wonderful stuff is out there. Consider it the home shopping network program for animal skull collectors.
As a reality show, this hews closer to something like “Antiques Roadshow” than “Celebrity Rehab.” It’s the stuff, not emotional drama, that counts, and some stuff it is. While yes, there are curiosities that are simply gross (animal skins), much of it harkens back to the way life was lived at the turn of the twentieth century. We get bite-sized history lessons along with our skulls and toenail clippings, and, just as the store itself appeals to a very specific audience, so will the show. But if you've ever wondered at the intricacies of an otherwise icky item, you just might be quietly (very quietly) delighted with this odd little show.
And by the way -- can't wait for the episode in which "Big Love" star Chloe Sevigny comes in looking for baby coffins. Just saying.