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Review: 'Ball Boys' plays a familiar game

If you've seen the reality TV show 'Pawn Stars,' you've seen 'Ball Boys' on ABC, with only some details changed.

March 24, 2012|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Pete Rose, left, Sweet Lou, Shaggy and Robbie Sr. on ABC's "Ball Boys."
Pete Rose, left, Sweet Lou, Shaggy and Robbie Sr. on ABC's "Ball… (Fred Watkins, ABC )

There is little new or notable to say about "Ball Boys," a retail-based reality series that premieres Saturday afternoon on ABC, that hasn't already been said about the earlier retail-based reality series whose shape it apes. (Indeed, it comes from the people who brought you "Pawn Stars," the holy elder of the form.) And I will say it all in the next paragraph.

First, it brings a basic-cable genre to a major broadcast network, albeit to a weekend afternoon (in the old neighborhood of that network's "Wide World of Sports"). Second, its two principal characters are African American, which is still rare enough on television, and certainly on network television, to reflexively celebrate (even though, again, we are out of prime time). And third, it focuses exclusively on sports memorabilia.

Everything else is as usual.

As on "Pawn Stars," the business — Robbie's First Base, "located in the heart of Baltimore, Md." (actually Lutherville, Md., about 14 miles from the heart of Baltimore) — is a family affair. Robbie Davis Sr. and Robbie Jr., referred to for the most part as "Senior" and "Junior," are — "play" is perhaps the better word — the bickering proprietors:

Senior: "My son Junior and I rarely see eye to eye, especially when it comes to sports!"

Junior: "Arguing with my dad is like playing with the Astros: No matter what you do you're never going to win!"

Filling out the staff are Shaggy, whom Senior calls "a walking bathroom book of sports knowledge — I mean that as a compliment," and Sweet Lou, the designated chucklehead. "I love Sweet Lou like a son," says Senior, again, "but he's a goofball." Lou wears a baseball cap sideways across his head to drive this point home.

Like other shows about the buying and selling of stuff — as well as their tonier cousin and predecessor, "Antiques Roadshow" — "Ball Boys" runs on a mixture of fuels: the display of expertise by the host-stars; the discovery of rare treasure; the comical deflation of hopeful sellers who overestimate the value of their goods. (Cue sound effect.) It also functions as a workplace comedy, stiffly.

A few genuine human moments are briefly glimpsed through the fog of directed interactions, prearranged meetings, fed lines and prompted responses meant to pass as genuine. But they are, after all, incidental to the art of reality TV.

The appeal here will be mainly to the viewer whose pulse quickens at the sight of a helmet signed by Jim Brown — who appears himself as a sort of item of walking sports memorabilia, as will Pete Rose and others — or who'll understand without being told what's funny about someone asking $1,000 for an unsigned home run ball hit by Nick Swisher. But the less interested rest of us may find the series, which is neither the worst nor best of its kind, watchable enough, in the way of its kind.

'Ball Boys'

Where: ABC

When: 1 and 1:30 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for coarse language)

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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