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PUNK'D
Season One

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Ashton Kutcher, Al Shearer, Dax Shepard, Jason Goldberg
Directors: Various
Audio: Dolby Surround
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 157 Minutes
Release Date: January 20, 2004

"You just got Punk'd!"

Shows ****

Playing a huge prank on anyone can be funny on its own, but when the targets happen to be some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, it's twice as engaging and riotous. Having said that, I think Ashton Kutcher should be given a lifetime achievement award for executing this action in pure genius style. His hidden camera show, Punk'd, not only became one of MTV's more popular and for that matter, watch-worthy shows, but marked a pure return to form of the hidden camera show. And by going after some big name marks, the laughs seem to increase with each episode.

Kutcher, of course, is the ever so likeable co-star of television's That 70s Show, as well as the feature comedies, Dude Where's My Car and Just Married. But it's with Punk'd that Kutcher displays his true self; that of an ultra-cool smart ass goofball with a knack for pulling off huge elaborate pranks. MTV thankfully gave Kutcher the opportunity to put this work to good use by going after such big names in the mediums of music, television, and film.

The pure pleasure of watching a show like this isn't so much the fact that you're seeing big named celebrities being played for fools, but the notion that they react just like you and I would if something out of the ordinary is happening before their eyes. If anything, these pranks demonstrate that celebrities, even though they may live under the most extraordinary circumstances, are people first, and react just like everybody else under such circumstances.

Consider the case of Justin Timberlake, one of Ashton's targets in the pilot episode, and possibly the most high profile celebrity of the crop. Timberlake arrives at his new luxurious home, only to find it seized by the government, as agents representing a tax agency inform him that he owes back taxes adding up to $900,000. Timberlake's reaction is of astonishment and disbelief, as he sees all of his prized possessions being removed from the area to be auctioned off. When Timberlake comes close to the brink of exploding in tears, Ashton wanders onto the scene asking him, "Are you guys moving, or what?" A truly priceless moment.

And Kutcher's list of targets doesn't end there. Among the other victims of his elaborate pranks include actress Eliza Dushku being set up as a thief in a clothing store (remind you of another actress?), Seth Green being pressured by cops raiding a room of illegal gambling activity into giving up the name of the game-runner, Stephen Dorff denying that he owes a bar tab of $8,000 to a restraunt manager, Justin Timberlake returning to pull a punk of his own (this time on Kelly Osbourne) and three of the NFL's toughest players being put through interview hell. There's even a bit where Britney Spears attempts to pull a punk of her own on the punk master, which has to be seen to be believed.

In short, Punk'd is one of the few reality based TV shows that merits any viewing at all. Ashton Kutcher's sharp wit help elevate that appeal of the show even further, as he frequently pops up with some funny interludes in between the bits. Kutcher, after only two seasons, recently announced that he was pulling the plug on the show, which has me wondering if we're being punk'd. We'll have to wait and see.

Video **1/2

Since a good portion of the show's footage is viewed through hidden cameras, the video playback on DVD can only do so much. The picture quality is actually fine given the limitations of the video source. The night sequences, occasionally grainy but not at an excruciating, fair less better than ones shot in daytime or in heavy light. Overall, I maybe giving it less credit than I should be, but as mentioned earlier, only so much can be done with a limited source.

Audio ***

I was quite surprised of the quality received with that of a 2.0 track, especially for a package designed specifically for TV. The sound quality does offer some background music and occasional sound effect cuts to enhance the flow of the shows. Spoken words are actually not that badly delivered, since they are basically picked up by hidden video playback. Very nicely done.

Features ***1/2

Paramount applies a good touch of extras to this double disc set. Featured on the discs is running commentary by Ashton Kutcher, co creator Jason Goldberg, and co-punk-er Dax Shepard. Also included are deleted scenes, two never before seen segments, and some nice interactive menus hosted by Mr. Kutcher himself.

Summary:

Punk'd is hidden camera comedy at its razor sharpest. Ashton Kutcher and his team of pranksters are flawless in their elaborate stunts, making this one of the rare TV presentations worth checking out.