review by Zach B.
Running Time: 157 minutes
Starring: Ashton Kutcher, Dax Shepard, Al Shearer, Ryan Pinkston
Retail Price: $24.99
Features: Audio Commentary with Ashton Kutcher, Dax Shepard and Co-Creator Jason Goldberg, Deleted Scenes , Never-Before-Seen Segments
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Stereo, English Closed Captions, Episode Selections, 2-Disc Set
Released: January 20th, 2004
Just to show you how crazy the DVD world has gotten in the past couple of years, I'm actually reviewing a series on DVD that debuted less than a year ago. While it all might be for the sole purpose of "cashing-in while the audience still remembers," I'm just slightly boggled that "Punk'd" has hit DVD so soon. While releasing so many TV shows and in a fairly quick manner on DVD is becoming a rather large (and profitable) trend, it's something that I'm only really starting to get used to - and is something that will probably become more and more common within the next few months. And even though the nostalgia factor on the show isn't that strong and MTV still airs this show on a regular basis, I still think it is kinda cool to have the DVD of the show already.
Just in case you have not heard of "Punk'd" (by this I will assume that you have been living under a rock this past year - oh by the way, Ashton and Demi Moore are dating now), it's basically a hidden-camera show involving celebrities. Ashton Kutcher commands some of his actor friends (that nobody would ever recognize) to play jokes on famous people (though sometimes ordinary folk are shoved into the mix). When it's all over, somebody's been fooled (hence they've been "punk'd) and Ashton comes out to bring them the news ("Hey man! You've just been punk'd!") and everyone being filmed has a good laugh and those who have been victimized do damage control to show that they are nice people after all (well, some of the time).
Let's be honest: the concept of "Punk'd" is not purely original. But trying to pull fast ones on celebrities - usually in pretty elaborate or rather mean-spirited stunts - is what made the show stand out, all thanks to Ashton's connections in that he could reel a bunch of his Hollywood friends in and get make them look like idiots. While I wouldn't say that every prank the show has featured has been comic gold (some stunts are a lot better than others), the show did have a lot of laugh-worthy and smile-inducing moments.
Probably the most famous stunt the show pulled was on the first episode, when Ashton fooled pop star Justin Timberlake in that he owed back taxes and they were foreclosing his house, had boxes to make it like they repoed his stuff, etc. That was definitely one of the best moments (in my opinion), but there have been a lot of other great moments of foolery too: Nick Lachey discovering some new relatives, Frankie Muniz finding out that his prized car has been stolen, Jessica Simpson encountering a kid in a restauraunt and my favorites, Ryan Pinkston more or less insulting celebrities at press lines. Pinkston could probably pass for ten, even if he is really sixteen years old.
I have to admit that when "Punk'd" first debuted, I was easily drawn in and watched most of the first season on television - it was hard to not be sucked in by what the show offered - it is a very entertaining show most of the time (and more or less the first time you see a stunt). Yes, it is somewhat low (like most of reality television) - even if it is all .in good fun (come on, Alan Funt was never this much of a bastard). Even though we see it in the media pretty much everyday, it's fun to see all these celebrities get victimized to some degree and lose their temper (you see folks, movie stars have emotions just like you and me!). My interest in the show did wane after the first season and I really didn't catch much of the second - though it seems (in a smart move) that new actors were hired to help do the cranking.
It's definitely been a whirlwind year for "Punk'd," or maybe just Ashton Kutcher as he posistioned himself as a more household name. As most of you probably know, "Punk'd" is over with (and despite some media outlets thinking they were being punk'd, Ashton wasn't lying). Taking a cue from Johnny Knoxville (who was behind another MTV favorite, "Jackass"), Ashton decided to end the show after its second season while he was on top and leave the audience wanting more (does this mean "Punk'd: The Movie" is in the works?). Even though the show was really signed on for three seasons, rumor has it that it was getting harder and harder to fool celebrities (I assume most of them got very suspictious).
With that said, you can always remember the laughter - and cherished memories - with the first season of "Punk'd" on DVD. Is it still really that amusing after repeat viewings? Personally, I think when you've seen a prank once you've seen it all - and that since you know the outcome it's not as great as it was originally. Some of you probably disagree though, and will watch all the first eight episodes (that's a whopping 24 segments!) over and over again - so knock yourself out and keep holding your breath for season two. You know it's coming sooner than you think.
Presented just how they were on television, the first season of "Punk'd" features pretty outstanding transfers that are perfectly suitable for this release. Granted, some of the images don't look crystal clear - but that's something that should be expected given that this is a hidden camera show and how it's not always properly shot. Sometimes the images are faded, are grainy or have poor lighting - but that's how it's supposed to be. The more direct camera shows look great - the image than looks very sharp with great detail and strong fleshtones and color saturation. The black and white Ashton introductions look even better and are crystal clear - but then again, that's a lot more simple. Still, the transfers have depth to the image and do stand out, and they look very nice and natural. The only downside to them is that contrast can be rather high, as if the transfers were filtered at some degree just a tad too much.
The trick is to keep in mind that "Punk'd" is a very loosely shot series - more or less like reality television. The visuals and sound aren't meant to blow your mind or show off a home theater - they're simply meant to give you a view of the action and it's not done in a very technical or serious matter (other than setting up a variety of angles). Nonetheless, the transfers are rock solid and are better than you'd expect them to be. There are no disappointments to be found here.
Straightforward English stereo tracks are found for each episode and like the transfers, they fit the series perfectly well. The first thing I noticed is how high the fidelity was which is certainly great, but the dynamics are painfully limited. While some of the action is heightened at times (crib crashing, anyone?) most of what goes on is very simple and doesn't offer any real power. The dialogue can easily be heard and sounds perfect while the musical cues add a nice touch to the background but don't stand above anything else. The tracks are very simple, straightforward and cohesive - it all comes out together unfied and it all works fairly well. Which is good, since you can hear everything that goes on (even if it doesn't put you right in the center of the parking lot where Frankie Muniz's rare car is stolen, the press lines at premieres or Justin Timberlake's house). Maybe the show could benefit from 5.1 remixes... but those are not really needed and wouldn't really add too much (or so I believe).
Yep, this DVD set actually has some extra features that should appeal to casual and obsessed fans of the series. Every episode features Audio Commentary with Ashton Kutcher, Dax Shepard and Co-Creator Jason Goldberg (Mr. Punky Brewster himself). It does feel a little weird that a reality-esque show has commentary for every episode, but whatever. There are a lot of silent moments within the tracks, and there all not always together (sometimes Goldberg is nowhere to be found), but these are fun - and kudos to the trio for making the time and at least attempting to talk their ways through each episode. There's a lot of joking around on the tracks and a lot of praising, but you'll be hard pressed to find a lot of serious moments within the commentaries. And given the nature of the talent and the show, that's perfectly fine. There's some crude comments, irrelevant information and a lot of gossiping, but you die-hard "Punk'd" fans will probably eat all of this stuff up. They are simply enjoyable, non-serious commentaries that are really best in small doses. You won't gain much from them, but it's all just for fun and like icing on the cake - you can tell these guys loved making this show. Though as a suggestion, maybe for the second season Ashton will be able to round up some of those who got punk'd and other actors who helped with the pranks on these tracks. I'm sure there'd be more joking too, but maybe there would be more on actors approaches and certain reactions from those who got fooled.
Each disc has some Deleted Scenes on certain segments. This means while you're watching an episode, a helicopter icon will appear at points. Click it, and you'll see some footage that had to be cut from the segments. Some of it is enjoyable to watch, but some of the branching is out of place (why is Ashton talking about making out with Jessica Simpson on "That 70s Show" when she's introducing her "relatives" to her husband?). I can really only see die-hards searching through every episode to find the helicopters, but if you're watching and you see one, you'll probably want to click it. It's too bad Paramount didn't have an index to jump right to the cut footage.
The second disc houses two Never Before Seen Punk'd Segments - "Young Executive" and "Blind Tattoo." The segments have timecodes on them but are fully editied. They're semi-amusing, but nothing too spectacular. The first has Ryan Pinkston fooling people that he runs the MTV network, while the second features an actor as a blind tattoo artist (this is the better segment of the two). Together, they run about eight minutes. They're worth a watch just for the hell of it, but what you won't find here (probably due to clearance issues) are some talked-about controversial "Punk'd" segments with some celebrities - where they got really mad and really embarassed (I believe one was done with Tommy Lee for the first season and he wasn't too thrilled). Would have been nice if we could see those, right? Of course - but the public probably never will.
Also on the second disc are so promos for other MTV DVD title and Ashton screaming about pirating for eight seconds (very random). Speaking of Ashton, the set has interactive menus hosted by Ashton Kutcher made just for this DVD release. They're pretty fun to watch once and are a nice touch, but after the first time it's just an old schtick that becomes a tad annoying. But on a different note and a nice touch, the episodes do have chapter marks for the segments.
Since there won't be any more episodes of "Punk'd" (for now at least), fans wishing to relive Ashton Kutcher's merry brand of pranking will probably want to relive the first season of the series (that is, until the second season comes along on DVD - probably later in 2004). For a TV show on DVD, this is a very solid release with some ample bonus features, good audio quality and good-looking transfers for a very afordable price. So if you think you'll always be entertained by watching celebrities be humuliated, and want to see those same situations again and again anytime you want, then go out and pick up this set.