I have seen exactly one hour of "reality" TV in my time, the first episode of the Paris Hilton-Nicole Richie abomination many years ago. Last week I doubled my pleasure by watching the back-to-back debut hours of "Buried Treasure" on Fox, starring the Keno twins, Leigh and Leslie (one works for Sotheby's, the other for himself; one is gay, the other is straight; one looks like Pinocchio, the other looks like Rumpelstiltskin).
Perhaps you have heard of the popular gambling game, ubiquitous in roadside bars, called Keno? Well, this TV Keno game promises not only riches, but, as the Keno brothers frequently point out on the show, "we just saved someone's life!" How? By turning the junk in the attic to gold, or at least "its auction estimate," "what it would be worth in a retail setting," or "its value for insurance purposes," tricks they have somewhat imported from their former masters at "The Antiques Roadshow."
Give the boys credit though, the first two hours of "Buried Treasure" did feature cash offers on the spot. In one segment, Leigh and Leslie haul a slobby comics collector, with a stunning Eastern European girlfriend, to the gallery of a major comics expert ("we sold Nicholas Cage his collection"), where the sales staff actually offer the guy $50 grand for his Superman cell.
The fellow breaks out in a cold sweat as the offer goes up in thousand dollar increments (but "we won't pay $60,000," threaten the experts), because he perhaps loves his one piece of any value more than anything. Then, his babe gives him a big smooch and tells him to hold onto it. No sale! Like everything else on "Buried Treasure," it is totally staged, but effective.
Staging works best when the brothers knock on the door of a preppy Long Island vintner and his wife, who claim to own a $1.5 million 17th-century Maggini violin. The Kenos kayo the kouple by bringing along not only a violin player, but a violinist who plays the suspect instrument and then plays a Stradivarius, while the couple sits on the lawn already counting their money. You can hear the difference between the two instruments easily, as the couples' violin is a $300 imitation of what they thought they had!
The violin segment showcases what might be called the Ryan Trecartin element of the show, knockabout, quick-cut video of the boys examining various objects through microscopes, lasers, woodchippers, chainsaws and other machines whipping by too swifty to identify. They especially go nuts over a houseful of junk owned by some Edie Beale-wannabe on the North Shore, only this time the Kenos leave Grey Gardens with some actual loot.
Most poignant (and least formulaic) is a visit to a couple in Westminster, Texas. She's a cosmetologist, he's a chubby massage therapist and they are loaded up with not only children, but a master bedroom filled with dead granny's junk. The Kino boys vow to raise the dough to buy the kiddos new pairs of shoes (they actually crow about it!), but chubbo is too attached to the real Audubon "Birds of America" prints in the cold fingers of Granny's ghost.
Who you gonna call? My old Yale classmate Graham Arader, a bibliophile whooped up by the Kinos as the prince of prints. Once again, cash is king, taxes and appearance fees are not discussed and the twins are off to save (or humiliate) another greedy innocent.
Can't wait for their first "De Kooning" and a visit from Jerry Saltz!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).