This isn’t exactly a horror show, but in my opinion, it sure does seem to fit in with the Halloween season. Essentially, Oddities is a reality show about Obscura, an antique shop in New York. Of course, they don’t carry fine china with flower print underglazing or vintage E.T. glasses from Pizza Hut like your run of the mill antique shop; they specialize in more bizarre items like quack medical equipment, taxidermy, and sideshow props. Basically, I want everything in this store, with the exception of the puppets. Unfortunately, my collection of strange objects is limited to a pickled shark, some scrimshaw carvings, and a variety of uncomfortable, out of print books. Watching Oddities really makes me want to open up some space in my savings account for buying frivolous skeletons and two-headed kittens in jars. (Donations accepted).
Perhaps even more interesting than the odd antiques in the shop, are the patrons of Obscura. There are a number of regular customers who have a theatrical flair that demands your attention. Frequent shopper Edgar Oliver, poet, performance artist, and playwright; often graces Obscura in search of collectibles for his home or for his plays. Edgar is such a lovable character, and his truly original tone and vocal patterns are certain to pull at your heart strings. He’s even featured in the opening credits saying, Is that a straight jacket?, in his trademark, stuttery, nearly vaudevillian drawl. Oliver may be recognizable to some viewers who are familiar with the Pyramid Club scene of the 1980’s. In fact, there are other performers from that movement who grace the doors of Obscura, like musician and counter-cultural icon Genesis P-Orridge. Despite his general strangeness, I just have a soft spot for this guy, because as far fetched as he is, I feel like he really believes in what he’s doing, whether it has been performing with Throbbing Gristle, or creating controversial art installments like Prostitution. P-Orridge’s latest exploits include his ongoing attempt to merge with his now late wife Jaye, as the two of them slowly transformed their bodies in order to become a mirrored amalgamation of each other. So yeah, that’s the sort of crowd that Obscura draws, along with a number of other recognizable faces, as well as sideshow acts, and generally interesting people like former mortician turned model and clothing designer, Laura Flook. She’s like something straight out a Tim Burton movie, with her pretty big eyes set in her slim face, and her Victorian inspired wardrobe. Really, the customers are worth watching this show for as much as the odd collectibles themselves are.
The only drawback to watching Oddities is that it is filmed like a traditional reality show of this type. Like many a show on TLC, there are a lot of voice-overs, and scenes that are clearly staged. As viewers, we can tell pretty easily that a lot of the deals in terms of buying and selling these strange pieces of merchandise, have already taken place before filming, and are sort of being reenacted. We also never see bone specialist Ryan Matthew mess up any of his jobs, of course (not that I’m denying the man’s skill). Any events where the shop owners go into the homes of collectors or buyers, cameras are already set up, sometimes INSIDE the door of the home, as to get a good angle of Mike and Evan as they enter. Basically, you have to be willing to completely ignore that part of your brain that knows all of this show is sort of planned out. If you’re willing to put that aside, then you’re sure to be entertained by the various performances that side show acts sometimes come in a do for a discount, or by the suspense that surrounds waiting to find out if that book really is made from real human skin!
Obscura’s website: http://www.obscuraantiques.com/
Ryan Matthew’s website (gorgeous display of his skeletal designs): http://www.ryanmatthewoddities.com
Laura Flook’s website (pretty clothes, and an amusing blog): http://www.lauraflook.com/
And look, you can watch the whole first episode on youtube, complete with a visit from Edgar Oliver!: