'Yankers' Puppet Pranks Fall Flat

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Rest easy, Jerky Boys: Your seat on the throne of prank phone call-related comedy faces no threat from Crank Yankers, Comedy Central's newest original series entry.

The premise behind Yankers
— the creation of Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla, who brought us The Man Show
— is simple: Get some famous friends to make prank telephone calls with humorous premises and have cute, Sesame Street
-style puppets act them out. If the idea is simple, though, then so is the show's sense of humor.

Case in point — "Special Ed," one of the program's recurring characters that is, as his name suggests, mentally disabled. His vignettes are more offensive than funny for those whose sense of humor has progressed past thinking it's humorous to knock down the weak kid in the schoolyard.

Mercifully, at least for those who don't offend easily, that's the most offensive thing Messrs. Carolla and Kimmel offer up (though an Asian-American character called "Moo Shu, the Chinese rapper" comes pretty close).

The rest is boilerplate basic-cable bad-boy humor — there's a visit to an all-puppet strip club, during which a blind stripper calls about applying for a job; a jilted lover who urges a florist to address the card on a bouquet to his "cheatin' ho"; and a man who tries to buy a "penis pump" from an adult bookstore — only to have his mom pick up the other line.

Though the staged puppetry is elaborate — and such name talent as Tracy Morgan (Saturday Night Live), Denis Leary (The Job), Sarah Silverman and Dave Chapelle has been recruited to make calls — it seems as if the whole show was shot on one take. It looks as if the producers went with the first call made, regardless of the victim's reactions. Some of the calls are just seconds in length, and end abruptly when the caller hangs up.

And in one case — in which a fictional woman claims that a tow-truck driver left a "steaming turd" in her backseat — the victim (who suggests the woman bring the offending item back so it can be put in a lineup for identification) throws out far better one-liners than the perpetrator. Maybe Carolla and Kimmel should hire him as a writer.

And in perhaps one of the more inexplicable things ever aired on television, rappers The Wu Tang Clan are billed as "musical guests" in the first episode. In puppet form, they take part in a prank.

They also perform — or rather, the puppets built to look like Wu Tang mouth the words to one of the rap supergroup's songs. What's the point of that?

Crank Yankers
bows Sunday, June 2 at 10:30 p.m.

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