Here’s an edited version of that old piece, just as a reminder.
1. A Whole New World
I’m not a toy collector and I don’t really have anything much left over from my childhood – some old Smurfs and a little wooden dog from when I was a toddler. No Batmen. No Supermen. No Joes, or robots disguised as rocks or trucks or dinosaurs. I do have a stuffed Sully from Monsters, Inc. but that’s perhaps the exception that proves my rule.
To me, the world of Toy Hunter is pretty much uncharted, and that can be exciting. And if this show can suck me in, I’d say it has a fair shot at cross-over, mainstream success.
But I think it’s also important that it has appeal for the toy collecting hardcore. They’re the ones who should know better.
2. Toy Economy
Aside from being about toys – and we’ll get back to those in a moment – the show is also an interesting snapshot of the American economy.
Jordan Hembrough is a toy trader and he makes his money in the market place. While I’m sure he does trade with wholesalers for new product and stocks plenty of that as the “bread and butter”, for the purposes of the show, at least, he’s shown hunting down valuable, sought after rarities to purchase and then sell on at a profit.
In the pilot episode, Hembrough’s hunt took him to Cincinatti, the former manufacturing base of Kenner Toys – most famous, I guess, as the creator of Star Wars action figures. Several former employees of the company invited Hembrough into their homes where he looked through their collections and tried to purchase them.
In those sequences you’ll see haggling over as little as $5.
And you’ll see people sell items that appear to have great sentimental value for very little dollar value indeed.
Meanwhile, Hembrough was also shown visiting a comic shop owner who was holding something really valuable – a most intriguing Boba Fett prototype figure – and he just wouldn’t sell, not even for $10,000. That’s right: he has a six inch plastic toy that he won’t sell for even $10,000.
So, instead, Hembrough negotiated to become his broker on the item for a 20% cut. I don’t want to spoil too much of how all of this plays out, but there is a picture of a Toy Market Economy forming and it’s a fascinating image.
3. Girls’ Toys
The majority of items shown are, as described, “boys’ toys”, though Hembrough notes that selling “girls’ toys” will give him the edge. He’s seen inspecting a couple of Care Bears for tell tale signs of their value in a genuinely Antiques Roadshow-worthy moment.
Hembrough also talks about the Ewoks, recounting what I believe to be a myth about their creation:
Now, in the Star Wars trilogy the battle of Endor was originally supposed to be between the stormtroopers and the Wookies, but producers changed the Wookies to the Ewoks in order to bring in a more family friendly storyline.
The truth, I think, is that Lucas had it pointed out that Chewbacca was quite capable with technology so the low-tech vs. hi-tech battle he wanted needed some new warriors, and he went small instead, simply to differentiate.
When playing with an Ewok toy, Hembrough admits quite sweetly that he’d take it to bed because, simply, it’s a toy, and he loves toys. He’s the “Andy” who never grew up.
4. Team Players
Hembrough isn’t alone, and he apparently has “a team.” I could see the value in establishing his cohort in the pilot, though they actually got very little to do.
I think it’s true to say, part of the appeal in watching shows like this is that they’re a little bit soapy. You can come to learn what the “characters” are like, and you can come to invest in them. I understand fully why the program makers would try to tap into this.
5. Entertainment Value
Many of the exchanges in the show are clearly honest and happening in real time, and for the first time. Others… I suspect they may have been recreated, perhaps to clarify something, or to pace things up a little. I’d rather it was all honest stuff.
There was an overall story arc created in the pilot episode, with the road trip hunt for toys leading us to New York Comic-Con where Hembrough has a stall. Along the way more and more goals get added – two rare toys need to be sold, a cash total needs to be reached.
And then, when we get to Con, there’s a few characters introduced who might, just might, be the ones to buy the rare toys and take us over the total just minutes before the store has to close. I’d understand if you suspected there might be some scripting at work here, and there’s definitely some selective editing.
For me, the fun was in taking a journey into a world I knew nothing about, and seeing who lived there. There’s enough detail and trivia to really hint at a big, complex milieu that a full series could dig into, deeper and deeper.
Toy Hunter is recommended for the curious, highly recommended for any who feels real nostalgia for the plastic, mass-manufactured pop culture of the seventies and eighties, or anybody with a shelf full of action figures. Particularly if they’re still in their original packaging.
New episodes of Toy Hunter screen on the Travel Channel on Wednesday evenings.