Taking the plunge into unscripted TV, AMC gets almost everything right with “Comic Book Men” — the time-slot, the tone, the surprisingly fertile collectibles/pawnshop genre — except for the production of the series itself. Static and disjointed, the show yields amusing moments (many courtesy of director Kevin Smith, who presides over it), especially for anyone who has frequented a comicbook store and noticed its quirky denizens. Still, as constructed, any appeal beyond committed nerds who can appreciate drooling over a “Six Million Dollar Man” action figure is likely to be limited.
Smith, helmer and patron saint of fanboys whose passion for such material has made him Comic-Con’s de facto king, produces the show, which is principally set in his New Jersey comicbook shop, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. Yet most of the encounters with patrons hinge, “Pawn Stars”-style, on people bringing rare items into the shop looking to sell and the negotiations that follow.
“Do people ever come in here to buy anything?” asks Bryan Johnson, a bearded pal who resembles Martin Mull if he were stranded for several months on an island, a la “Castaway.” Johnson hangs out at the shop to provide comic relief, but doesn’t actually work there; still, based on the premiere, he poses a good question.
As if recognizing the shop isn’t enough to sustain a full episode, the series also incorporates a podcast Smith conducts with the denizens: manager Walt, Bryan, and employees Mike and Ming. What ensues is occasionally funny — when discussing crushes on female superheroes, someone asks, “Which version of Catwoman?” — but as TV goes, it’s essentially the equivalent of watching radio. Couldn’t the producers have at least cut in shots of the comics being discussed, if only to provide an idea what they’re talking about for people who don’t automatically know who Green Arrow is, much less his sidekick, Speedy?
“Comic Book Men” also tries to have it both ways, in terms of gently mocking and simultaneously embracing those who pass through its doors, from the woman peddling a “Chucky” doll to a guy with a briefcase handcuffed to his arm. “Can we make money off the mentally ill?” Walt asks at one point.
AMC is clearly looking to make a little money off those with the collector’s gene, and considering the low cost of this six-episode exercise relative to its dramas and the hefty lead-in “The Walking Dead” should provide, those plans might modestly pan out.
Given the lofty place comics, sci-fi and fantasy occupy in movies and pop culture, it’s overdue to have a show for devotees, and from afar, Smith appears to be the guy to do it. It’s only too bad this series about collectibles is so, well, disposable.