The How and Why of Oddities

When I first saw an episode of Science Channel's Oddities, I just couldn't imagine the show lasting very long. It was not a matter of quality but content. It's a show all about buying and selling unusual collectibles and antiques, like antique medical equipment, taxidermy, skeletons/bone matter, and preserved conjoined animal specimens. That's dark territory for a reality show no matter how you slice it. Yet here were are, over two years later, with four filmed seasons (fourth debuting soon), a second series (Oddities: San Francisco), and a spinoff (Odd Folks at Home, profiles of the lives and collections of the customers). A panel with the main cast members filled a large room at NYCC with a long queue that started long before the event. Oddities clearly found and audiences and acclaim. It's just a question of why.

Actually watching store owners Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson, as well as store buyer Ryan Matthew in person helped bring the show's success into focus. These are three charming, intelligent people with a vast knowledge of their business. They share a similar offbeat sense of humor and a passion for their work.

Oddities Mascot

Everyone involved in the panel made it clear during the Q&A session that they did not go out seeking reality TV fame. Someone involved in Science Channel came up with the idea of doing a show about an oddities shop and contacted Obscura in NYC. They contacted a good number of shops all across the country. Evan and Michael just assumed they would never be selected and barely heard anything for a few months after their initial interviews. Out of nowhere, a producer contacted them with a shooting date and contracts to star in Oddities.

Because the cast didn't seek out the fame, their interactions on camera are real and natural. They're being themselves. The business needs to be run with or without TV cameras and the only change to their behavior is making sure they don't turn their backs to camera. When you're dealing with reality TV personalities who admit to having to reshoot dialogue because they forget about the cameras, you know you're dealing with genuine people.

The main cast alone doesn't explain how the show works so well. The real focus of the show is always the customers of Obscura. Every interaction starts with the customer's interpretation of the object in question. The show cuts to a talking head interview giving you background on the customer before Evan, Michael, or Ryan get to weigh in on the transaction.

In other words, Oddities wisely puts the focus on the people, not the objects. You'll learn more than you might care to know about how far medicine has advanced. That doesn't happen until you get to know the young woman buying an anniversary gift for her husband or the performance artist looking for just the right object to incorporate into a performance. The excitement and authenticity of everyone on camera makes even the more morbid and grotesque items feel accessible.

Thoughts on Oddities? I just marathoned the first two seasons on Netflix this weekend while waiting for paint to dry and fell in love with the show again. How about you?

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