By Paula Hendrickson
One of the great things about cable TV is there is a place for virtually any kind of program you can imagine. Even on basic cable, there are plenty of captivating shows if you look hard enough.
A couple months ago, I spotted an interesting title in the electronic programming guide and decided to give it a shot. The show? Oddities, on Science Channel. (Science is part of the Discovery family.) It’s set in a small New York curiosity shop called Obscura Antiques & Oddities. Co-owners Evan Michelson and Mike Zohn and their buyer (and taxidermist) Ryan Matthew oversee an eclectic shop filled with quack medical devices, preserved specimens, even artworks made from belly button lint, fingernails and, in one case, microscopic views of dust samples taken from the shop.
The real fun of Oddities is seeing Evan, Mike and Ryan interacting with customers — some shopping for unique gifts, others trying to sell their own items (possessed ventriloquist dummy, anyone?), and occasionally performing unusual feats when negotiating a lower price. It’s also interesting to tag along when they’re hunting for specific items — like embalming equipment or side-show artifacts — for exacting clients. Less fun, for me, is watching Ryan working with skeletons and taxidermy pieces. The guy may be good at what he does, but it’s not for the faint of heart. (Speaking of hearts, they probably have a preserved heart or two in stock.)
What makes the show perfect for Science Channel is that the proprietors know historical and scientific facts about pretty much everything in the shop.
Meanwhile, on SyFy’s reality show Face Off, any cringe-inducing visions are pure artifice; contestants compete to create amazing, and perhaps occasionally gruesome, special effects make-up. They’ve turned models into sea creatures, re-imagine iconic movie characters, and pretty much blow viewers’ minds with what they can do with the tools of their trade.
As someone who has interviewed some of the industry’s top special effects make-up artists, I have some understanding of how much time, effort and artistry goes into this kind of work. On Face Off, contestants don’t have much time to design, craft and perfect their creations. Some artists thrive under the pressure, others crumble and some make lucky choices.
My sister-in-law really likes TruTV’s reality show, Lizard Lick Towing. The series follows real-life repo men (and woman) Ron and Amy Shirley and Bobby Brantley of the Lizard Lick Towing Company, located in Lizard Lick, N.C. While part of the business involves towing vehicles, they specialize in repossessing and recovering cars, trucks, boats, and construction equipment for banks and other lenders. They’ve even repo-ed an airplane or two.
When asked why she enjoys Lizard Lick Towing, my sister-in-law pointed to the drama between the Lizard Lick crew and the angry ex-owners they encounter. “It’s crazy that people will risk their lives and threaten another person’s life over a vehicle that they don’t own anymore!” she said.
Another thing viewers like about Ron and company is they have empathy for people who’ve lost their property after truly falling on hard times, so they never come across as heartless repo men.
If you run across a marathon of any of these shows, get comfy. You’ll probably get hooked.
Oddities airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on Science Channel
Face Off airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.
Lizard Lick Towing airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on TruTV
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to email@example.com.
From the Jan. 25-31, 2012, issue