Reviewed by David Williams (February 13, 2004)
Ashton Kutcher is the unlikely superstar who burst onto the scene a few years back in the surprise Fox hit, “That 70’s Show”, as well as feature films like Dude, Where’s My Car? Kutcher took Hollywood by storm, enjoyed his instant success, and lived the life of a young, good-looking, and fabulously rich megastar. However, one thing Kutcher didn’t do is lose himself in the hustle of bustle of Hollyweird, as he seemingly remained unimpressed with the fame and celebrity of himself, or others like him. It’s because of this cavalier attitude that MTV armed Kutcher with a big budget and lots of cameras and let him run wild in order to play pranks on all of his famous friends. Acting talents and personal opinions aside, Kutcher’s personality seems to one of a very likeable and fun-loving smartass … and for the type of show Punk’d became, it works perfectly.
The show was an instant hit for MTV and Kutcher and company single-handedly reinvented and reintroduced “Candid Camera” to the current crop of the MTV generation. It was something that they could all immediately relate to and connect with and Kutcher picked marks that were, for the most part, instantly recognizable. By going after such big name targets, it made people want to tune in to see who Kutcher would “punk” next and what ends he and his crew would go to in order to embarrass them or put them in an unusually stressful and/or odd situation. The celebrity reactions, while predictable, were still funny … and when Kutcher showed up to let them off the hook, the sense of “angered” disbelief/relief was palpable.
There’s no sense in going into great detail on all of the punks, as they aren’t elaborate enough to warrant pages upon pages of explanation. I also feel that the vast majority of you reading this review have seen at least one episode of the show and know what to expect from the majority of the pranks. Paramount’s two-disc boxed set contains all eight episodes from the inaugural season of the show and included the following:
- Disc One -
My Assistant: Frankie Muniz is the recipient of the first televised “punk”, as he is led to believe that his $250,000 car was stolen by a valet. He’s also pitched a terrible screenplay that he respectfully tells them he loves and he chats with the car thief on his cell phone.
Repossessed (Deleted Footage Included): Justin Timberlake is fooled into thinking that his $8 million dollar home has been repossessed by the government because of back taxes that he’s told he owes and hasn’t paid.
VH1 Big In 2002 Awards (Deleted Footage Included): Young Ryan Pinkston interviews celebrities on the red carpet from the VH1 gala and absolutely brutalizes them with some hilarious questions. Celebrities interviewed include Ray Liotta, Christina Aguilera, Denise Richards, Tori Amos, Eddie Griffin, and others.
Shopping Spree: Eliza Dushku gets busted for shoplifting in a trendy LA clothing store.
Crib Crashers (Deleted Footage Included): Mandy Moore is appalled when she is led to believe that a trailer she and Todd Oldham are redecorating is demolished. She is told that it’s her fault that the person’s home was destroyed.
He Got Game: A cocky boxer is brought back down to earth when he thinks he’s fixing to have to fight Oscar De Lay Hoya.
Naked Shopper: Jessica Alba gets slightly perturbed when she is bothered constantly by a naked shopper (Dax Shepard) who wants to talk and talk and talk.
Wilmer’s Car (Multi-Angle Footage Included): Wilmer Valderrama is in love with his Escalade and he devastated when it’s destroyed by a “jealous boyfriend” of one of Ashton’s female conquests who thinks that the Escalade belongs to Kutcher.
Housesitter (Deleted Footage Included): Potential assistants for Kutcher must make it through a day of babysitting Tom Arnold’s bratty kid and other horrors.
Diesel Red Carpet: Ryan Pinkston returns to the red carpet and once again puts celebrities on the spot with his hard-hitting questions. Celebrities include Danny Masterson, Erika Christensen, Eric Balfour, Pauly Shore, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, and others.
Wag The Dog: Justin Timberlake wants to return the favor from earlier in the season and punk Kelly Osbourne. In this episode, Kelly gets advice from some “image consultants” who think she could revitalize her career by becoming more and more like Christina Aguilera.
Locksmith Larceny (Deleted Footage Included): Three locksmiths find themselves punk’d when they are conned into opening up a store and then framed for burglary.
Metal Detector – Part One: Celebrities wanting to get into MTV studios are treated pretty rudely by some of the Punk’d crew posing as security guards.
Craps Game (Deleted Footage Included): In one of the funniest bits to ever air, Seth Green finds himself in quite a bind when federal officers bust Ashton’s craps game and they approach Green to see if he’d be willing to rat out the others involved in the game in order to save his own skin.
Tattoo You (Deleted Footage Included): A girl’s jealous boyfriend gets quite upset when Dax continually flirts with her while posing as a tattoo artist.
- Disc Two -
Watch My Kid: An unsuspecting Jessica Biel gets punk’d when she agrees to watch a fan’s kid for a few moments. The kid is pretty rude to Jessica and her friends and when the boy’s father shows back up, he accuses Jessica of swearing around his kid and mistreating him.
RV Park (Deleted Footage Included): Jessica Simpson’s long-lost redneck “relatives” show up in LA by parking their RV in the driveway of Simpson and her husband, Nick Lachey’s home. The “relatives” claim they are there to help her career and Lachey gets pretty perturbed when they refuse to leave and stay somewhere more appropriate.
No Keys For You: Al Shearer and Dax Shepard pose as valets at a local LA hot spot and they treat customers wanting their keys back pretty shoddily.
Metal Detector – Part Two (Deleted Footage Included): More celebrities attempting to get into the MTV offices are given the third-degree by MTV “security guards”.
Pinching Pink (Deleted Footage Included): Pink is punk’d by her boyfriend, BMX’er Carey Hart, when he names her as an accomplice in a stolen motorcycle scheme.
Drinking Games (Deleted Footage Included): Stephen Dorff is stiffed for a large bar tab when a fan claims to be buying drinks for he and his friends and then stiff him with an $8000 tab.
Hit & Run (Deleted Footage Included): Rosario Dawson finds herself in the middle of a punk when the limo that she is riding in hits a pedestrian.
Britney Spears: Britney and the Punk’d crew attempt to punk Kutcher, but he turns the table on his crew when he gets Britney to go along with him and punk his crew.
NFL Challenge (Deleted Footage Included): The Punk’d crew pisses off some NFL players at a golf tournament. Players featured include Jerome Bettis, Jeff Garcia, and Rod Smith.
The first season of the show was refreshing from a programming standpoint, but like most anything else, it contained some inconsistent moments. The pranks that worked (admittedly, the vast majority of them), worked marvelously, while the ones that weren’t quite as interesting went over like a lead balloon (with me, anyway). However, good punk or not, Kutcher goes after all of his high profile marks like a rabid pit bull and regardless of who they are - or who they think they are - Kutcher shows no mercy and gets his rocks off by watching his celebrity peers sweat. No mark is too big or too high-and-mighty as far as Kutcher is concerned and it was fun watching him set up such elaborate traps for his Hollywood pals.
Punk’d works well because Kutcher is good at what he does, he absolutely loves his “job”, and he has surrounded himself with a great supporting cast to pull off all of the elaborate high jinks. The bits are long enough to be involving and short enough to be interesting … and it doesn’t hurt that we all enjoy seeing something bad/unusual/awkward happening to someone else … especially when that someone is a celebrity.