One of the few series on MTV worth watching and among just a handful to ever make it to a second season on the trigger-happy music-free network, Punk'd was a hidden camera show with...well, not so much a twist as a specialty. Instead of just pulling pranks on random unsuspecting victims, Punk'd preferred to torment celebrities. Punk'd also had something unheard of for a hidden camera show -- a budget -- allowing host Ashton Kutcher and his crew to implement some genuinely impressive, elaborate setups. MTV's DVD release of Punk'd collects the entire first season of the series, including the following eight episodes:
- My Assistant: Ashton Kutcher and director Shawn Levy sit down with Frankie Muniz, and while he's pitched the worst idea for a movie ever, his irreplaceable quarter-of-a-million dollar Porsche speeds off into the night. Muniz chats up the thief on the cellphone that's still in his car.
- Repossessed: Justin Timberlake's eight million dollar house and everything in and around it is seized by the feds for non-payment of taxes.
- VH1 Big In 2002 Awards: Scarcely-teenaged Ryan Pinkston berates celebrities strolling down the red carpet.
- Shopping Spree: Eliza Dushku is duped into pulling a Winona Ryder, accused of shoplifting several hundred dollars worth of clothing from a boutique shop.
- Crib Crashers: Mandy Moore is horrified when the rundown trailer she and Todd Oldham are redecorating for a mullet-haired redneck is decimated.
- He Got Game: A cocky fight fan with an overinflated ego is paired against a bloodthirsty Oscar de la Hoya.
- Naked Shopper: While Jessica Alba shops, a completely nude Dax struts around the store, asking her for fashion tips.
- Wilmer's Car: Wilder Valderrama is tricked into thinking his prized Escalade is being demolished by a jealous boyfriend gunning for Ashton.
- Housesitter: Dax interviews new assistants for Ashton, sticking 'em with the obnoxious son of next door neighbor Tom Arnold.
- Diesel Red Carpet: Ryan returns to the red carpet.
- Wag the Dog: Kelly Osbourne meets with image consultants who want to mold her into the next Christina Aguilera.
- Locksmith Larceny: Dax manipulates several different locksmiths to help him rob a store blind.
- Metal Detector Part I: Kevin Richardson (The Backstreet Boys) and Trishelle Cannatella (The Real World: Las Vegas) can't seem to make it past security at the MTV offices.
- Craps Game: Seth Green is invited to an illegal craps game that's busted up by some overenthusiastic agents.
- Tattoo You: When tattoo artist Dax explores a young woman's canvas a little too closely, her boyfriend gets miffed.
- Watch My Kid: Eric Balfour helps line up Jessica Biel for a prank, helping her babysit a kid at a restaurant who later accuses her of spouting off obscenities.
- RV Park: Nick Lachey's home is invaded by RV-roming redneck relatives of wifey Jessica Simpson, sniffing around for a handout.
- No Keys For You: Dax and Al enforce a new law in California requiring drivers who check their cars with a valet to undergo a sobriety test before being handed their keys.
- Metal Detector Part II: To prove a point, the MTV security bit is recycled with Jack Osbourne and Jason "Wee-Man" Acuña.
- Pinching Pink: Handcuffed pro biker Carey Hart points the finger at his girlfriend Pink in a scam involving stolen motorcycles.
- Drinking Games: When a rabid fan finally stops buying Stephen Dorff drinks, he stiffs the actor with an eight thousand dollar bar tab.
Though the scale of the pranks varies, they're consistently funny throughout. There aren't any out-and-out bombs, with each offering at least a couple of solid laughs. The attention to detail is what makes some of these pranks so impressive. In the Justin Timberlake bit, they have his innumerable cars up on tow trucks, his house appears sealed up, his actual belongings are out on the street, and the small army of a crew is armed with badges, a decaled fleet of vehicles, and official-looking documents with the names of Timberlake's business partners. The Mandy Moore prank might be the best of the show's two-season run. A lot of the setups sort of toss the victim directly into the fire, but this one really takes its time. The actual prank -- crushing the trailer with a two-ton steel beam and pointing the finger at the singer -- is hysterically funny but only a small portion of the bit. The hopelessly sweet, good-natured Moore is toured around a decrepit trailer that looks like it's on the verge of collapsing on its own, chatting with Todd Oldham to come up with ideas to spruce of the place and make it at least borderline-inhabitable. Again, it's the attention to detail that really sells it...sleeping on a stack of bedsheets in the living room, only having one towel, Todd Oldham's stunning design for the finished product (a pink trailer with a beautifully landscaped yard, using tires as a sort of border)... As bizarre and absurd as this all seems while watching the show, I can see why the celebrities bought into it: after all, who would go to all this much trouble for a prank? Punk'd was also staffed by improv actors who carry out each bit, and the random nonsense they spout off provides many of the show's funniest moments. Dax Shepard in particular is brilliant with too many highlights to list, but the Mandy Moore bit really stands out, as does his asking Jessica Alba, "when's your birthday, pretty eyes?" in German while completely nude. Although not really pranks in the same sense, Ryan Pinkston's red carpet interviews could probably have sustained a short-lived series of its own. The selection of well-known victims is handled well, and I couldn't not own a DVD set with Eliza Dushku, Jessicas Alba and Biel, Mandy Moore, and my hero, Seth Green. There are a few celebrity-free pranks, but they're funny enough that their inclusion seems pretty natural.
- Hit & Run: Rosario Dawson is shuttled around New York by a horrific limo driver who runs over a guy at a gas station and quickly darts off.
- Britney Spears: The cast and crew of Punk'd try to pull one over on Ashton, who enlists Britney Spears' help in a vengeful double-barrel-reverse-punk.
- NFL Challenge: Dax plays a sports journalist who's crippled by Jerome Bettis, becomes incensed with Jeff Garcia's parade of lies, and almost completely ignores Rod Smith.
Each episode is pretty short, not even breaking the twenty minute mark with the barrage of ads gutted out. So, even though this two-disc set collects an entire season of Punk'd, with only eight episodes, that means the set can be torn through in just over two and a half hours. To beef up this collection, MTV Home Video has packed on a pretty impressive assortment of extras, including audio commentaries for every episode, dozens of deleted snippets, and a couple of unaired pranks.
Video: Punk'd bounces between aspect ratios, presented full-frame for the videotaped pranks, while Kutcher's host segments are black-and-white and letterboxed, providing that sort of art house feel viewers crave from a hidden camera show. Because the nature of the series requires numerous different types of cameras to be scattered around, the quality of the video is unavoidably variable. The best of the footage still looks a little crisper than what I'm used to seeing on digital cable. The Mandy Moore bit looks pretty bad, but because both the finished product and the rough cut supplemental footage have a similarly digitally glitchy appearance, I'd assume that's an unavoidable problem with the source material. I don't remember noticing that sort of look in the original broadcasts, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. I also spotted a few compresson hiccups in the "No Keys For You" prank in episode six where the image briefly breaks up a bit. One slight visual change between the airings on MTV and this DVD set is that Ashton's then-girlfriend, Brittany Murphy, was clearly visible in the background of the locksmith prank. Her head is mostly blurred out here, although it's sloppy enough that her face is still clearly visible every once in a while. Anyway, the DVD set isn't home theater demo material by any stretch, but for the most part, it looks about as good as I'd expect.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (192Kbps) is almost entirely uncensored. Every once in a great while a word or phrase will be bleeped out or made silent, but for the most part, every conceivable four-letter word and innumerable variations thereof are freely tossed around. More sensitive viewers may want to stick with tamer fare. The music used throughout sounds decently full, but similar to the video, the setups don't always lend themselves to pristine audio fidelity. The participants can generally be understood, despite the lack of crystal clarity. Didn't Punk'd air closed captioned? The DVD doesn't have any subtitles or captions, at least.
Supplements: All eight episodes are accompanied by audio commentary by host-slash-star Ashton Kutcher, Dax Shepard, and, briefly, producer Jason Goldberg. Those hoping for a subdued, coherent discussion that delves deep into the series might not want to bother -- Shepard and Kutcher careen off on every possible tangent, often using the show as a springboard but frequently avoiding direct discussion of it entirely. That's not really meant as a criticism since that's what makes these tracks such a blast. Among many, many, many other topics, they rant about the terrible Growing Pains-meets-Leave It to Beaver pitch that Frankie Muniz inexplicably loved, Kutcher's impending "Kojak stage" and his hiding of bottles of Rogaine, gaining oodles of respect for former douchebag Justin Timberlake, the appeal of Christina Aguilera's orange skin, mic farting and sink pissing, arguing the merits of the space program, Australian quasi-El Caminos, areola sizes, the real-life inspiration for the nekkid Dax bit, showering together, fawning over Brad Pitt, Ryan Pinkston's martial arts might, the origins and proper pronunciation of Nick Lachey's surname, Al's divergent spin on the English language, statutory rape, Busta missing a bit after an altercation with Ja Rule, and Jerome Bettis' immaculately maintained beard. They also ogle pretty much anyone on-screen without a Y chromosome and speak at length about what they look for in their ideal woman. Absolutely worth a listen, and I'd recommend listening to all eight commentaries in a row.
|"Why you walkin' 'round wit' all your bidness hanging out? I teach hip-hop down at th' centuh!"
Whenever a helicopter icon appears on-screen, whacking the 'Enter' button on your remote launches extra footage. These additional snippets range anywhere from a few seconds to around three and a half minutes a piece, usually shorter rather than longer, with thirty on disc one and another twelve on disc two, unless I'm confusing some of the extra titles with some hidden Easter Eggs. There are lots of extra little host bits from Kutcher, Ryan tormenting more celebs on the red carpet, Dax buttering up the locksmiths, and some extended Mission of Burma-style post-punk reactions. Justin Timberlake, Seth Green, Nick Lachey, and Pink are lavished with the most attention, including Green snooping around dangerously close during the craps game and Timberlake breaking down on camera. The best stuff in Punk'd often isn't the elaborate setups or the celebrity's reactions, but just the way the performers improvise and spout off these bizarre, outlandish tales, somehow managing to keep a straight face through it all. The best of the deleted footage pits Mandy Moore against Dax, who chats about the damage he inadvertently inflicted on himself as a welder, stumbling upon a snake with what may have been a coral pattern in his rundown trailer, the possibility of adding a duct-taped plastic skylight, ripping out his sink, and proposing a M.A.S.H.-inspired paint job. Because of the way the branching is tackled, there's a brief delay when making the transitions between the episodes and this footage, and that can be kind of jarring. I wouldn't recommend checking out all of the footage during a first viewing, or maybe just peeking at the titles individually with your remote and ignoring the helicopter icons altogether. Also, those on-screen indicators can be toggled in the 'Bonus Stuff' submenu.
Disc two has a few other extras, beginning with a pair of celebrity-less pranks that never aired. The first of 'em is "Young Executive" (3:48), in which Dax and Ryan Pinkston convince prospective MTV interns that a prepubescent kid runs the network. "Blind Tattoo" (3:13) features Al Shearer as a blind tattoo artist who chats up a couple of girls in his shop, with Dax putting in a brief appearance as a thief. I'd guess they were lopped off for time since they're both pretty funny. Rounding out the supplements are nine seconds of Kutcher railing against peer-to-peer piracy and plugs for other MTV releases.
The DVD opens with an interminable barrage of forced studio logos and disclaimers, lasting around 72 seconds total. That might not sound like all that long, but when sitting impatiently in front of a TV waiting to watch something that's neither a logo nor a disclaimer, it seems like an eternity. The disc features a set of 4x3 animated menus hosted by Kutcher, including a steady flow of insults if you don't select something quickly. The episodes have been divided by prank into three stops each, and the discs have a 'Play All' feature to ease the pain of button-pressing during marathon viewings. There are also Easter Eggs on the main menu of the each disc.
Conclusion: Punk'd hits all the right notes, offering an extremely funny show that holds up pretty well to repeat viewings, a healthy smattering of extras, and an appealing price tag. Circuit City is reportedly selling the set for $15.99 during its first week of release, almost half off the $29.99 MSRP. Especially at a tough-to-top price like that, Punk'd: The Complete First Season comes recommended.