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Television Review

A Show That Would Be Better Heard Than Seen

June 01, 2002|SCOTT SANDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The mind's eye is a terrible thing to waste, which is a lesson lost on Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers." Premiering at 10:30 p.m. Sunday, it yokes the art of the prank phone call to a bastardized version of "The Muppet Show," resulting in a program that's less than the sum of its parts.

The calls are from real life, perpetrated by comics such as Jimmy Kimmel and Denis Leary on unsuspecting folks. Rather than being of the "Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" variety, the ruses unfold elaborately a la Steve Allen's in the '50s or the Jerky Boys' in the '90s.

The opening segment features Dave Chappelle posing as the Wu-Tang Clan's manager, who seeks lodging for a dozen rappers in a tiny bed-and-breakfast. It's clear that Reba, the B&B's churchgoing owner, doesn't entirely grasp the Wu-Tang's wild reputation when she asks for the caller's name.

"This Shavin. S-H-A-V-I-N. Like I'm shavin' my face," Chappelle replies.

"Neat! And you're a rock group or ... ?"

"Straight hip-hop, yo, from the streets. Hard-core ... "

"Oh, cute!"

" ... the real deal, wee' smokers, y'know what I'm sayin'?"

"My daughters probably know this. I have a daughter who teaches swing."

It sounds funny enough. But looks are a different matter, and this is where "Crank Yankers" falters. The creators--"The Man Show" hosts Kimmel and Adam Carolla as well as "Man Show" producer Daniel Kellison--chose puppets to provide the visuals to the often profane and stereotypical material.

Half the fun of listening to a prank call is envisioning the participants, and for each listener the mental picture is tailor-made to his or her funny bone. "Crank Yankers," however, bows to an age in which nothing is left to the imagination by having its Muppet-like creatures mouth the words. What's worse, by Episodes 2 and 3, there is full-frontal, anatomically correct puppet nudity.

In the end, you have to wonder what was running through the creators' minds and why they had to run out and catch it.

*

"Crank Yankers" premieres Sunday at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central. The network has rated it TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children younger than 14).

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