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TV Series Review

Have you ever been punk’d? Have you ever seen the word punk’d? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines punk’d as … well, it doesn’t define punk’d at all. Not surprising. Punk’d is the ultramodern moniker for a new MTV prank series. If you asked host Ashton Kutcher (That ’70s Show) what it means, he’d say it’s what has happened to you when you’ve been had. It means you’ve been made the butt of a practical joke. Become the focal point of a comic sting.

Punk’d sometimes falls back on tried-and-true antics such as taking over a valet stand and "losing" diners’ cars. But its obsession isn’t tripping up unwitting commoners, it’s maligning mid-grade celebrities. In the recent tradition of Survivor clone I’m a Celebrity—Get Me Out of Here!, the entertainment industry is looking to its own in the eternal search for the next stooge.

Sometimes Kutcher’s methods are innocent and the results hilarious. Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember) falls for a stunt in which she thinks she’s guest-starring on the MTV series Crib Crashers (a show that remodels people’s homes). After meeting the trailer home’s owner and touring its gloomy interior, she looks on in horror as a falling iron beam decimates the structure. All have a good laugh when the gag is revealed. Other monkeyshine is meaner and designed to make marks sweat. A nude man harasses Jessica Alba (Dark Angel) in a clothing store. Shop owners accuse Eliza Dushku (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) of felony theft. Actors make Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis think he killed a man.

Add to the show’s chaotic capers a nonstop flow of partially bleeped profanity and vulgarity (Is there a celeb left on the planet who doesn’t swear?), and rude sexual comments, most of which flow from the mouth of a 15-year-old cast member. As brainless Jacka-- fans have proven over and over again, kids are inspired by what they see on TV. And that inspiration sometimes translates into stupid behavior. Punk’d takes the art form of practical joking to new extremes. While it thinks outside the Candid Camera box, it fails to ponder the possible consequences. Impressionable, unsupervised fans will be hard-pressed to sort out which Punk’d pranks are suitable for home use and which are hurtful, dangerous or illegal.

Episodes Reviewed: May 15, 17, 26, 28, 29, June 1, 2003

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