MTV's 'Pranked' is a joke with no laughs

BY ERIC CHIU
Daily Arts Writer
Published September 7, 2009

“Pranked”
Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.
MTV
1.5 out of 5 stars

It’s hard to argue against the value of a well-executed prank. From the meticulously designed pranks of bored Ivy League students to the simplicity of a perfectly timed shot to the crotch, there’s something inherently entertaining about the skill and detail that go into a properly performed hoax. It’s safe to say, though, the true art of the practical joke probably wasn’t a concern for MTV’s “Pranked.”

“Pranked” follows the clip-show format popularized by shows like “The Soup.” In each episode, hosts Streeter Seidell and Amir Blumenfeld (“The CollegeHumor Show”) snarkily comment on a variety of online videos of people pulling pranks on each other.

Not surprisingly, “Pranked” suffers from the same pitfall that impairs most clip shows. If everything in the show is already available online, there’s no reason to spend a half hour in front of the TV watching the same videos. To critique it kindly, “Pranked” doesn’t exactly justify its own existence.

The level of stupidity at work in “Pranked” borders on oppressively toxic — there’s a prevailing vein of cringe-worthiness throughout the highlighted videos in the show, but there's no redeeming comedic value to any of the wince-inciting moments.

That's not to say that pranks and cringe-heavy humor can’t go hand in hand. The “Prank War” series on CollegeHumor.com is a perfect example of discomforting gags done right, with a premise that’s basic enough: Seidell and Blumenfeld pull pranks on each other. But their willingness to escalate the situation and the subsequent uncomfortable chaos (in one memorable episode, Blumenfeld secretly arranged a public proposal from Seidell to his girlfriend at Yankee Stadium) makes that series work well.

It’s a shame that “Pranked” can’t muster up anything near the same level of ingenuity. The clips each episode features are banal enough to make “America’s Funniest Home Videos” seem classy. So far, the show has featured clips of assorted sophomoric shamings, various gags involving private areas of the body being inserted into non-private areas and in one confusing case, a man pranking his cat.

The problem is the inherent unpleasantness in the featured clips. Instead of clips that could be funny by themselves, the show’s bread and butter is less “laughing with” and more “laughing at.” For example, the pilot episode featured a son playing a series of pranks on his redneck dad who would make Jeff Foxworthy look like a New Yorker subscriber.

The pranks the son pulls are unimaginative — he sprays the living room with a stink bomb and tapes down the sprayer head on the sink — but when the dad starts swearing and vowing to “beat the shit” out of his son, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or call child services.

With all the clips being selected from the massive goldmine that is the Internet, good videos occasionally surface on "Pranked," but they’re few and far between. Hosts Blumenfeld and Seidell do what they can with their material, but their banter and commentary is mostly forgettable.

Overall, it’s easy to see what niche “Pranked” aspires to fill. So long as the sun continues to rise and fall, people are always going to find a well-done prank amusing. But "Pranked" has a mentality that’s insulting to anyone with opposable thumbs. And with so many better outlets delivering the same thing today, it’s hard to find a reason to bother watching it.