Toy Hunter–a fun exception to the reality series formula

Hembrough goes through a Star Wars cache

Winding down its second season on the Travel Channel, the reality series Toy Hunter is the exception to the rule when it comes to a TV series focusing on nostalgia.  Exciting in the same way fans of Antiques Roadshow hang onto to every word as someone from Albuquerque brings in that old chair they found in a trash heap for appraisal, Toy Hunter edges out comparable series when it comes to discovering why humans are so fascinated with nostalgia and popular culture.

It’s all thanks to the very likeable host, Jordan Hembrough, a toy collector and toy seller whose love for toys from the 1970s and 1980s is infectious.  His sincerity and honest brokering in working deals with folks who have contacted him across the country to pick through and make offers on their own toy hoards, often haggling over items as low as five dollars to items to thousands of dollars.  When you watch comparable fun series like the Syfy Channel’s Hollywood Treasure, you look past the staged bartering, and efforts to sucker some seller into selling an item for far less than Profiles in History would sell something at auction, and enjoy the wow factor of the screen-used props and costumes that are the targets of the purchase.  There is no awkwardness to look past on Toy Hunter, as Hembrough often will increase the amount he is paying to a buyer when the buyer’s offer is unfairly low, and Hembrough will flatly tell the seller upfront how much of a profit he expects to gain in his sale down the line.

Toy Hunter Jordan and USS Flagg

Another comparable series subject-wise is Comic Book Men, which Toy Hunter easily surpasses for the wow factor and fun factor.  The reality TV mean spiritedness and staged antics that often accompanies Comic Book Men is not needed with Toy Hunter.  Toy Hunter is closer to Antiques Roadshow in that regard–a completely fun, exciting and nostalgic show that can appeal to anyone whether you saved toys from being a kid, wish you had, or are a buyer or seller yourself.

Toy Hunter on a search

Hembrough takes viewers to auctions, to collectors’ homes and even better–to mega-cons like C2E2, Emerald City Comic-Con and WonderCon, giving us a chance to see the other side of the sales booths.  He shared vintage lunch boxes, Star Wars and Star Trek toys, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, She-ra, electronic toys, G.I. Joe–you name it–this past season.  And you might even learn how much that great Hot Wheels set you had is now worth.  

Toy Hunter Jordan looking for KISS toys with Gene Simmons

Toy Hunter also had some celebrities on the show this season, including KISS singer Gene Simmons.  Only when the series–rarely–veered into formulaic contrived reality show suspense does the series falter, like over-acted disappointment when Hembrough is unable to get the price he wants, and we hope the show creators realize next year they don’t need to rely on those types of gimmicks.  With that exception, it’s very much like watching a toy-focused episode of Roadshow only with a tour guide not afraid to share his excitement with his finds.

A new episode of Toy Hunter airs next Wednesday night.  And you can catch up on past episodes at the Travel Channel’s Toy Hunter website.

C.J. Bunce

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