Part of the obvious, addictive appeal of Hoarders and its imitators comes down to the “there but for the grace of God” factor;” who hasn’t, even in the age of downloads and virtual libraries, sometimes worried about being too attached to his or her stuff? Collection Intervention is Geek Hoarders, with host Elyse Luray, an art historian and appraiser who has worked at Christie’s and logged face time on such TV series as Antiques Roadshow and History Detectives, helping pop-culture obsessives get a handle on, and make a buck off, collections that have grown unmanageable, threatening to take over their living spaces and capsize their bank accounts. Knowing that the people in its target audience are on constant guard against being insulted for their interests and how they chose to spend their leisure time and disposable income, the show wastes no time in making it clear that it doesn’t see anything wrong with stockpiling comic books and vintage toys—within reason. Luray keeps reminding us that part of her task is to steer people who have lost focus and perspective back onto the road of responsible collecting, as opposed to obsessive collecting. “Obsessive collecting,” explains the narrator, “is fed by the need to collect more and more collectibles,” reading from a memo from the Department of Redundancies Department.
The first episode cuts back and forth between two collectors who represent opposite poles of the world of geek love. Consetta is a hardcore Star Wars fanatic, a taste that her husband Garet shares and indulges her in, though he’s ready to see the light at the end of the tunnel, whereas she’s ready to keep digging until she’s on her Millennium Falcon-shaped deathbed. One look inside their home and it’s evident that Collection Intervention has the potential to be as fascinating as Hoarders without being as morbidly depressing. On Hoarders, “helping” the poor lost souls found by the show’s scouts usually boils down to backing a sanitation truck up to the front door so that everyone can start shoveling, before the return visit from the Board of Health.
Consetta and Garet don’t live in that kind of squalor. Their home is neat and orderly; it’s just that there’s nothing in it to order except for Star Wars memorabilia. Bagged comic books and movie posters hang on the walls, action figures and busts and masks and drinking glasses bearing characters’ likenesses are everywhere, and, when Luray talks to Consetta about making plans to “move forward” with her life, a life-size Darth Vader can be seen in the background, smugly holding Consetta’s consciousness in his iron grip. There’s also a photograph of Consetta with Harrison Ford in which Ford is smiling, which ought to be at least as valuable as a photo of Fred Astaire tripping or a recording of Piers Morgan exhibiting humility, and the fossilized wedding cake from Consetta and Garet’s Star Wars-themed wedding. Star Wars Insider proclaimed it the best Star Wars-related wedding cake of 2008.
What’s sweet about Consetta is how thoroughly, innocently sincere her interest in Star Wars is. Anyone with a shred of collector-itis in his DNA will know that the worst way to connect with someone like this is the first tack that Luray attempts: She speculates on how much various items might be worth, and brings in a potential buyer who offers her a thick wad of cash for a handful of loose action figures. But as Consetta, who repeatedly refers to the items in her collection as her “friends,” says, she’s “never thought about how many” collectibles she may have, let alone what they might be worth, because she’s “never thought about getting rid of” of any of it. She was forced to part with some things when she was younger, and the scars have never healed. And the action figures have a special place in her heart because they were among the first pieces of memorabilia she could afford to buy for herself—an admission that hints at how deeply collectors see their possessions as pieces of their own autobiographies and signposts that preserve moments in their lives and keep the ravages of time at bay.
Finally, Luray, acknowledging how much joy Consetta feels she gets from her stuff, asks her to think about the joy she can give others, if she can find it in herself to “spread the love.” Since you put it that way, Consetta is able to part with a tiny Ewok, though it’s important for her not to accept money for it. (“It’s an Ewok,” she says through her tears, “so it’s okay.”) This is the pebble that, once kicked loose, leads to the avalanche of an auction at “Rancho Obi-Wan.” Here, surrounded by other Star Wars obsessives, Consetta is able to take comfort in knowing that her stuff is going to good homes. There’s a scary moment when it looks as if she might call the whole thing off—“Encase it in carbonite,” as she says—but it turns out that she just wants Luray to stand in front of the room and, as items are put up for bidding, say a few words about what makes each of them special. This one likes to be scratched behind the ears, and this one likes classical music in the background in the evenings, and this one can’t be fed after midnight and if it gets wet, Katie bar the door…
Those who’ve never, as Harvey Pekar put it in a story about his jazz-record-collecting jones, been forced to chose between eating dinner and spending money on more records will find a lot to laugh at in Consetta, but those who recognize some kind of kindred spirit in there will take heart in seeing her carefully steered towards spatial and fiscal sanity. Things are less charming at the home of Mark and Lolly, whose financial situation is in a precarious state because of Mark’s inability to stop buying, and hoarding, Catwoman-related merchandise. Catwoman doesn’t seem to be Mark’s friend, especially. For years, he’s been buying everything to do with her that he can get his hands on, only to box it up all up and stuff it in the garage. Because he’s “hiding” the fruits of his obsession instead of showcasing and enjoying it, he comes across as a man in the sweaty, guilty grip of a fetish object, and that’s even before he explains how he came to be interested in Catwoman as a child: “She was hot, she was sexy, she had a whip…”
When Mark and company venture into the garage and start pulling out disintegrating boxes containing neglected treasures, many of which he has no memory of having bought in the first place, it’s like watching someone conducting spring cleaning of 20-odd years of suppressed daydreams. Mark does claim to have fantasized about someday making a lot of money off his collection, and now that the day has come, he’s both disappointed to learn that it isn’t worth anything like the $100,000 he thought it might yield, and chagrinned that he’s devalued his own stock by not keeping it in better condition. But with Luray’s help, he and his wife are able to unload a lot of stuff and put a dent in their mortgage, with help from some stores with names like Blast From The Past and Hi De Ho Comics. One thing that makes Collection Intervention rather touching is the image it leaves you with of a vast support network of collector-geeks spread across the country, ready at any minute to attend an auction or sale that might help out a brother or sister who’s spent too many hours on eBay and not enough time negotiating with the man from the Student Loan Association. The people on those other shows whose living rooms are full of rotting apple cores that look like past U. S. Presidents are pretty much on their own.