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No, we don't mean Jersey Shore! Take a look at the best shows that glorify garbage and junk

Shaun Harrison
1 of 21 Stuart Pettican/A&E


Trash is sweeping the nation! While naysayers and cultural puritans will claim that things on the tube have been doing down the tube for a while, it is objectively true that there is more garbage on TV than ever. A rash of shows focusing on hoarders and collectors and repurposers and hagglers has broken out all over the airwaves. And while these shows are about trash, are they actually trashy? We've collected the major entries (leaving aside lesser ones like Auction Hunters, not to be confused with Auction Kings, and Storage Hunters, which is not to be confused with Storage Wars) to investigate. We're judging the trash-content of these shows on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the most extreme — you can practically smell the garbage coming from your television). It just may be true that one person's trash is another's treasured viewing.
2 of 21 Amy Richmond/History

American Pickers, History Channel/Lifetime

How trashy is it for real? 5 — Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz say it best in the show's intro: "We travel the back roads of America looking for rusty gold. We're looking for amazing things buried in people's garages and barns. What most people see as junk, we see as dollar signs. We'll buy anything we think we can make a buck on..." How trashy is it for TV? 2 — Many of the owners of the fine specimens that Wolfe and Fritz seek are fine specimens themselves, but the guys are so congenial that it all feels fun, not freak show-like.
3 of 21 PBS

Antiques Roadshow, PBS

How trashy is it for real? 2 — The show tends to focus on people with dust-collecting treasures that are actually worth something, but every episode features at least a few people who are over-confident about an item, which is ultimately trash ...and a waste of time. How trashy is it for TV? 2 — You'll catch rare glimpses into the ways and eccentricities of Middle America, but come on, this show is on PBS. How trashy could it really be?
4 of 21 Sara Hanna/Discovery Channel

Auction Kings, Discovery Channel

How trashy is it for real? 1 — It's like one of the pawn shows in white gloves. The stuff offered for auction in the profiled auction house Gallery 63 (in Sandy Springs, Ga.), is so primo, even what's rejected is classy. How trashy is it for TV? 2 — There's some weird stuff that pops up, but this virtually has the same vibe as Antiques Roadshow. And that's on PBS.
5 of 21 Brett Mountain/HGTV

Cash & Cari, HGTV

How trashy is it for real? 2 — Cari Cucksey raids estate sales, mostly, which means she comes across a lot of crap, but not trash, per se. She refurbishes a lot of what she finds for her nice-looking vintage store, so Cash & Cari is hardly about reveling in garbage. "I'm a treasure broker," she explains in the show's intro and the show proves that's no euphemism for "trash picker." How trashy is it for TV? 1 — Painting over finish is about as close to you get as seeing the product of a "cardinal sin." And Cucksey drops everything to undo that.
6 of 21 TLC

Extreme Couponing, TLC

How trashy is it for real? 3 — You can make the case for stocking up on ketchup, but if you have hundreds of still unused bottles in 20 years time, that's just going to amount to a bunch of junk. In so many of these people's stockpiles, we're watching tomorrow's trash today. How trashy is it for TV? 4 — Any show that makes a trip to the checkout lane a heart-stopping event is stretching things at least a little bit. And yet, we eat it up, like the kids of the extreme couponers profiled who have to eat whatever flavor of whatever weird brand of whatever crap their parents bring home because that's what was on sale.
7 of 21 National Geographic Channel

Flea Man, National Geographic Channel

How trashy is it for real? 3 — "Flea Man" Jim Kapalow travels the country indoctrinating prospective sellers who have him into their homes so he can rifle through their potentially valuable stuff. A lot of it is not actually valuable. How trashy is it for TV? 2 — He also teaches people to haggle and other flea-market mind tricks, which are kind of like reality TV mind tricks made commercial ("Whenever I see something I like, I don't look at it. I look at other stuff because the more they know you want it, the higher the price goes."). The eternal question of who's zoomin' who seems particularly relevant, which is to say that there's a lot of zoomin' going on.
8 of 21 Jim Henson Company

Fraggle Rock, HBO

How trashy is it for real? 2 — These subterranean Muppets visit a anthropomorphized bunch of scraps called Trash Heap whenever they need advice. Equal parts soul sister and Dr. Ruth, she is basically a deity to the Fraggles. We would be remiss if we did not mention her henchmen's way of announcing the conclusion of her advice: "The Trash Heap has spoken, nyah!" How trashy is it for TV? 2 — The id-driven Gorgs and the straight-laced Doozers cancel each other out, but the Fraggle named Red has a fiery temper that in a small way helped prepare the children of the '80s for the personality types they'd go on to watch on reality TV.
9 of 21 truTV

Hardcore Pawn, truTV

How trashy is it for real? 3 — See the entry for Pawn Stars, the History Channel series which clearly inspired Hardcore Pawn and replace Vegas with Detroit and that box of Playboys with a stripper pole. We added one point for the inevitable droppings left by the horse that was pawned on Hardcore Pawn's series premiere… and the "s---" it surprised out of pawnbroker Les Gold. How trashy is it for TV? 3 — Gold described the show as featuring "people from all walks of life laughing, crying and experiencing a wide range of emotions." Thus it should titillate only those interested in emotional pornography, right?
10 of 21 Everett Collection

Heathcliff, formerly syndicated

How trashy is it for real? 4 — Heathcliff and his feline crew spend a lot of time amongst garbage in their junkyard hangout. Their general scavenging would put anyone else on this list to shame — even the Picker Sisters. How trashy is it for TV? 4 — Take Garfield and replace the dry humor with a snaggle tooth and you have Heathcliff. The animation's shoddy and the general feel of the show is that of a toy tie-in (a la He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or My Little Pony) but with very little merchandising to show for it. Underwhelming!
11 of 21 Screaming Flea Productions/A&E

Hoarders, A&E

How trashy is it for real? 5 — Flattened cats, refuse that's been buried so long it's become pulp, fossilized food, mounds of dolls, toys, rats, bugs… anything, really, that you can fit into a house has been spotlighted in garbage form on this show. The sky's the limit, or at least, the ceiling is. How trashy is it for TV? 3 — The show reminds you every episode that, "Compulsive Hoarding is a disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary." Providing each subject with a mental-health professional, as well as an organizer, the emphasis is on treating, not mocking. However, the occasional circus music that accompanies loopier cases and some jump cuts that are interested in shocking means the show isn't entirely empty of cheap thrills.
12 of 21 TLC

Hoarding: Buried Alive, TLC

How trashy is it for real? 5 — See Hoarders, the show that obviously inspired this one. How trashy is it for TV? 4 — It's more lighthearted than Hoarders often enough to feel junkier. Hoarding: Buried Alive is almost fun at times, and that's a really strange thing for a show about hoarding to be! (Not that we're complaining.)
13 of 21 Evans Vestal Ward/Syfy

Hollywood Treasure, SyFy

How trashy is it for real? 2 — If you're a film buff, this movie-collector spin on American Pickers-style programming contains virtually no trash at all. Those more sensibly minded about cinema may not be as easily won over. How trashy is it for TV? 1 — The show's central appraiser Joe Maddalena and his crew are way too into their work and their finds to act out for the cameras. This is serious memorabilia collecting!
14 of 21 Everett Collection

The Honeymooners, CBS

How trashy is it for real? 1 — Really, this is the loosest connection of the bunch, but it does bear noting that Ed Norton worked in a sewer. Really, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to reiterate his job description: "Sub-supervisor in the sub-division of the department of subterranean sanitation, I just keep things moving along." How trashy is it for TV? 1 — This is a classic that basically is responsible for the modern sitcom. Anything but reverence would be sacrilege!
15 of 21 History

Pawn Stars, History Channel

How trashy is it for real? 2 — The price of gold keeps going up, which makes the jewelry brought into Pawn Stars setting of LastVegas' Gold & Silver Pawn Shop less and less trashy by the day, no matter how tacky it looks. But then again, there's always the chance someone will bring in a box of old Playboys for appraisal. How trashy is it for TV? 4 — It takes place at a pawn shop in Las Vegas. Also, some pawnbrokers have criticized it for featuring atypical pawn shop items, and essentially being sensationalized for TV. Imagine!
16 of 21 Skip Bolen/Lifetime Television

Picker Sisters, Lifetime

How trashy is it for real? 4 — Extreme Makeover alums Tracy Hutson and Tanya McQueen routinely visit dumps and dumpy private properties to make trash into quaint treasures that will give you a pain in your wallet just by looking at them. How trashy is it for TV? 1 — Hutson and McQueen are way too chipper to satisfy those hungry for schadenfreude. That makes sense for a show that is all about turning the trashy into treasure.
17 of 21 NBC/The Kobal Collection

Sanford and Son, NBC

How trashy is it for real? 3 — Fred G. Sanford (Redd Foxx) is a junk dealer, and his living room (where most of the action takes place) certainly reflects that. This isn't meant to be a knock on a classic, but this show was something of an eyesore. How trashy is it for TV? 2 — Full of low-brow humor, this show nonetheless regularly spotlights a tour de force performance from Foxx. And if you don't agree, you just dumb, son. You just dumb.
18 of 21 Spike

Scrappers, Spike TV

How trashy is it for real? 1 — The three "competing" collectors deal only in scrap metal, which isn't exactly everyone's cup of tea, but it's also not a roach magnet, either. How trashy is it for TV? 4 — As invested in its subjects lives as it is in their salvaging, we've been treated to watching Darren get his eyebrows waxed and ponder boogers. Really, sometimes the whole thing feels like an excuse to profile Brooklynites without going whole hog in something like Coney Shore.
19 of 21 CTW/Jim Henson Prod/The Kobal Collection

Sesame Street, PBS

How trashy is it for real? 2 — While only one character on the show has much to do with trash (Oscar the Grouch lives in a garbage can), no one else on any of the shows on this gallery has proclaimed (to our knowledge), "I love trash!" let alone has sung a song about it. And who knows what that green clump of fuzz is hoarding down in that can? How trashy is it for TV? 1 — Sesame Street has been criticized, most notably by media thinker Neil Postman, for not taking children's education seriously enough. But come on! It's on PBS.
20 of 21 HBO

The Sopranos, HBO

How trashy is it for real? 1 — Early on, Tony Soprano noted, "Garbage is our bread and butter," thanks to a trash-hauling front, but most of his waste-managing rarely had to do with actual trash. How trashy is it for TV? 1 — Despite it being mired in lurid content, The Sopranos is virtually synonymous with high-culture TV. Even in the wake of excellence like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, it remains the gold standard.
21 of 21 Stuart Pettican/A&E

Storage Wars, A&E

How trashy is it for real? 3 — The titan of trash shows, which housed its on-and-off topic competition when one half of its second season premiere picked 5.1 million sets of eyeballs, Storage Wars finds groups of buyers sifting through unclaimed storage units for gold. Unsurprisingly, people like to store and abandon a lot of junk. How trashy is it for TV? 3 — The competition and ensuing trash talk makes it stick out amongst its peers, but these are businesspeople we're talking about, not crazed reality show competitors.