Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Taking a Lighter Look at Our Human Foibles

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Taking a Lighter Look at Our Human Foibles

Article excerpt

EMBARRASSING one another for fun and profit is a TV tradition. Consider that Allen Funt's "Candid Camera" made its debut in 1948 and continued, off and on, until 1991.

These days, practical joking via hidden camera is experiencing something of a resurgence, thanks to the new series "Buzzkill" on MTV cable and to tonight's "Pranks" (7 p.m. on Channel 30), a special that would like to be a series, or at least a series of specials. Cameras have shrunk a lot since Funt's day, and now it's possible to hide one almost anywhere. That allows setups to be a lot more elaborate, but it doesn't make the jokes any funnier.

In fact, the new shows tend to focus so much on the prank that they forget what made "Candid Camera" work - the reaction of the victims.

On "Buzzkill" (various times during the week, including 9 p.m. Tuesday and 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday), the three young hosts - Travis, Frank and Dave - are so caught up in their acts that they hardly even notice how the stunts are being received. Or maybe it's just that their twentysomething targets are too cool to react much. So, depending on the prank, "Buzzkill" is uneven, sometimes downright hilarious (Frank, who looks uncannily like designer Isaac Mizrahi, stages a fashion show in which models plucked off the street are dressed in garment bags or bathmats) but more often only mildly amusing (tourists in New Orleans are invited to taste hot, bad food).

"Buzzkill," with a logo of a happy face criss-crossed with a target, aims for a sense of danger, but it's not nearly as edgy as David Letterman's scary and funny segments in which pal Rupert is wired up and fed bizarre remarks to pass on to unsuspecting passersby.

For its part, "Pranks" pretends to have a good heart. Friends and relatives explain, earnestly, to host Matt Gallant that they are playing these jokes ("pranking," in the show's vernacular) for the victims' own good.

One young woman, in love with an unlikely fellow, is desperate to get engaged. Her friends are annoyed by her obsession. So they set her up to think this is the night - only it isn't. (Eventually, it is, and tears are happily averted.)

A job-interview prank involving doctored resumes and a very hot burrito is mainly puzzling, and the setup of a woman who wants to make perfect mashed potatoes, even if it means taking a class in "potato nirvana," ought to be funnier than it is. …

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