Punk'd Confuses Cruelty With Comedy As It Goes All Trash and No Laughs

Short-form mobile digital content service Quibi has revived MTV prank show Punk'd, with new celebs, new scenarios, and a new host: Chance the Rapper. In case you might be wondering, Ashton Kutcher isn't getting any screen time this round. He's not even a producer on the series, which is a little weird but it's probably so MTV could retain all the rights and keep milking this until people finally realize MTV reality shows are increasingly terrible any way you slice it. Imagine this: you're going about your day as normal, and then you watch your friend and stylist get arrested for tax fraud. Or how about this: imagine thinking you broke a girl's nose on her Bat Mitzvah? Oh! Better yet, wouldn't it be fun seeing your personal possessions hauled from your home and thrown in a dumpster? Wacky shenanigans, right?

Chance the Rapper pulls off another prank on Punk'd, courtesy of Quibi.
Chance the Rapper pulls off another prank on Punk'd, courtesy of Quibi.

Wrong. These events all happened to celebrities, but they're not exactly living the nightmare scenarios as outlined, they're being manipulated into feeling horrible for Quibi's revival of classic prank show Punk'd, and of course, your entertainment (supposedly). If I could rate this on a negative scale, I would believe me. I wanted to like this show because I enjoy pranks and being silly and especially love seeing people laugh when they finally get it – but this show delivers none of that. There's only anger and tears and suffering. Maybe they're hoping to cater to the nostalgia crowd who, like me, didn't remember how problematic the original series was, but it just falls completely flat. None of this is comedic, it's just cruel. TV without compassion is cruelty; if seeing people be unkind to others is your jam, go watch Fox News.


One of the episodes features social media personality and host Liza Koshy thinking she opened a door with a girl on the other side of it, leading to her being hit in the face and breaking her nose. And to top it all off, it's her Bat Mitzvah! Now, Liza feels bad and tries to help her. Watching her bring the girl to her family and relentlessly apologize while trying to make things not awkward and navigate a culture that's unknown to her may sound like a sit-com like situation, but the fun of sit-coms is that nobody thinks they're real. In that moment, Liza fights back tears, tries not to freak out, and keep rolling with the situation. And her reaction is perhaps one of the most graceful of the entire season, but it's still far from funny.

Other episodes feature actor Adam Devine and rapper Ty Dolla $ign, both of whom are very attached to their nice cars, having their parked cars destroyed and stolen by a valet, respectively. Is property damage amusing to anyone? That's a resounding "no" from everyone, in case you were wondering. It's not nice, kind, educational,  informative, uplifting, or funny. So why is this happening? This is very likely development executives at Quibi looking at the 20s/30s viewer set and hoping to cater to them with the nostalgia factor – especially seeing the Legends of the Hidden Temple game show reboot on their lineup.

Punk'd Hasn't Learned From Its Past Mistakes

That's not to say that the original was perfect by any means, because it was still mean-spirited, but for some reason having a revival of the show be the exact same, even worse in some aspects, just feels wrong. It feels wrong in a, "look, you used to watch this back in the day, and you thought this would be fun for a laugh now, but how about you feel bad and question everything you were ever into and over-think all the television shows you used to love instead" kind of way. I don't know about you, but when you really think about it, no reality show is really redeeming. This makes for seriously problematic viewing history, especially if you were into TV during the reality boom of the 2006 writer's strike, or the 2008 recession, or the 2000s reality lineup of VH1 and MTV.

I know – this coming from a girl who still has opinions on at least 3 seasons of The Surreal Life, still watches Catfish, and falls down the How Far is Tattoo Far rabbit hole a little too often – but the more I think about it, the more Punk'd crossed the line, and it is not okay. I mean, take Kutcher's idea for a current prank with a current celeb from this interview on James Cordon earlier this year. That seems like more harmless fun with an emphasis on choices as opposed to trauma and suffering. I would maybe consider paying for Quibi if their version of Punk'd were full of these types of pranks instead.

Maybe I've grown up (she types, while drinking chocolate milk from a crazy straw and wearing novelty bear feet slippers), but this series just feels mean instead of funny. Was it always like that and I just wasn't emotionally mature enough to realize the suffering and distress of celebrities wasn't funny at all? Possibly, but this just seems like cruel punishment, especially to people who work hard to entertain us with their professional and personal lives on display to everyone all the time.

This is how we as a society repay the people who entertain us? Nope, do better, people. It's not okay if a celeb does it to another celeb, it's not okay if a "real person" does it to a celeb, it's not even okay if anyone does it to anyone. If you are manipulating someone for the end game of laughing at their suffering and/or reactions, you are a terrible person who needs professional help. We should be more discerning viewers, because what we watch and stream becomes the content they will keep churning out. And no, the world does not need prank shows again – kindly leave those in the "questionable reality TV shows of the 2000s" bin and please move along.

Long story short, I suffered through these six-minute chunks of social sadism so you don't have to. Save yourself so you're not morally culpable, please, I'm begging you. If you really want to watch social media influencers and current D-list celebs get picked on, maybe start by asking yourself why you want to see that do some introspective searching as to what is wrong in your own life to where you feel the need to watch others be bullied. Then, if you absolutely must, watch Impractical Jokers. It's lighthearted, harmless, and still gives you those same "WTF" reactions from unsuspecting people – without the emotional trauma.

About Eden Arnold

With over a decade of writing experience and by-lines in print, books, and online in addition to a lifetime of television watching experience, Eden is passionate about combining the two. Obsessed with all things TV, she is thrilled to bring all of her many television opinions to the masses.

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