Paramount // 2002 // 253 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // November 17th, 2004
Screw the innocent!
"Inane," "crude," and "fearless" are words that come to mind when I think about Crank Yankers. In a nutshell, the show consists of puppets acting out real live prank calls made by the cast. The show debuted on Comedy Central in 2002; this release contains its inaugural season. So come one and come all, cause we're having a ball...
Crank Yankers -- Season One Uncensored contains ten episodes from the first season of the show. There's not much to report concerning any kind of plot, because it's basically comedians and actors calling people on the phone and playing jokes on them. For the show, a group of puppeteers steps in and performs these calls with some very funny looking puppets on hysterical sets. The cast is somewhat of a revolving group, frequently including guest stars making prank calls. To date the biggest names have been Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, The Big Chill) and Snoop Doggy Dogg (Soul Plane), but you won't find either of them in this collection. No, the first season cast was made up of co-creators Jimmy Kimmel (The Man Show, Garfield) and Adam Carolla (The Man Show), and their friends. Sorry to say, but we don't get Carolla's childhood friend Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles). We do get Kimmel's girlfriend Sarah Silverman (The School of Rock). The simple show works for the most part, and it is indeed very funny, if a touch juvenile.
Crank calls were popular decades ago because there was no such thing as caller ID or *69 where someone could immediately call you back. Radio deejays really went to town making hilarious bits out of them on the air. Anyone remember The Jerky Boys? But then technology and the FCC decided to make it impossible to remain anonymous and yank someone's chain through good old Ma Bell. Not only did caller ID render the crank virtually impossible, but FCC regulations prevented calls from being broadcast unless the caller gave their consent. Making crank calls is illegal almost everywhere in the United States -- except for one place, Las Vegas, Nevada. Yes folks -- that is where the cast of Crank Yankers had to go to make all of their calls.
Some people accuse the calls of not being real, but take one look at any of the episodes and you'll know these are real people talking to the cast. Otherwise, they probably would be funnier. The calls seem painfully authentic at times, and sidesplitting funny at other moments. Scripted shows could never get something like this right, and I suspect this may be one of the true "reality" shows on television.
Originally the show was conceived by Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel, probably while they were hosting The Man Show. Not surprisingly, both men started in radio (at Los Angeles's KROQ), a field where the crank call is a highly-regarded, but virtually lost, art form. They originally wanted to call the show Prank Puppets, but Comedy Central was afraid that might open them up to all sorts of legal problems (?). Apparently the legal department thought the name implied "spite and malice." It was decided they would set the show in the fictional land of Yankerville and change the title to the far catchier Crank Yankers.
The show is a brilliant marriage of the old-school comedy of radio and a Jim Henson muppet aesthetic. These puppets behave very badly, and they are all the more hysterical for it. Matt Stone and Trey Parker be damned! Unlike Team America these puppets have balls (in every SENSE of the word!) They also have erections, large breasts, and occasional orgasms. They are fully equipped to be very offensive. And nobody is safe. The retarded, Jewish people, black people, Vietnam vets, Chinese people, and the British are all lampooned and sent up.
The cast is hilarious, and I loved all the guest appearances. Jimmy Kimmel voices Elmer Higgins, a cranky near-deaf old man who always seems to be trying to get an apartment or some help with a hearing aid. Adam Carolla voices bitter veteran Birchum, who has lost all his friends (and many of his limbs) in Vietnam. Sarah Silverman takes on callers as Haddasah Guberman, who she claims is a bitchy Jewish reflection of herself. Wanda Sykes (Pootie Tang and her own comedy shows) often appears as Gladys Murphy. She got my vote for favorite caller when she called a towing company to let the guys know she is convinced someone has defecated in her Toyota, which she just picked up. Jim Florentine (Rock Bottom) became the breakout star of the series with his mentally challenged character, "Special Ed." "YAAAAY!" I'm not even scratching the surface here, and could also mention Kevin Nealon (Saturday Night Live), Tracy Morgan (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back), Lisa Kushell (Mad TV), Dennis Leary (The Ref), and many others.
This set could also be interesting to fans of Jack Black (The School of Rock), because he and Kyle Gass, better known as Tenacious D, appear during many episodes as a surprise musical guest. He also appears completely nude (in puppet form) at one point. The first season seemed to play around a lot with elements like musical acts (Ween also appears), and also interlude bits that are potshots at Sesame Street. There are also segments like "Confucius Says" that seem to have disappeared from the show, which is now pretty much one hundred percent prank calls.
The DVD is presented in fullscreen and a basic stereo mix. The color saturation is optimal, and you can really see all the little details around the set that add to the show. Signs, books -- read everything! Also these calls are uncensored (except when they have to bleep the name of a business). You hear every curse word in the book streaming out of these puppets. And did I mention the nudity already? Nothing is blurred out. And believe it or not, there were reasons to blur. The ten episodes are spread out over two discs. The only bad parts of the transfer are some artifacts that seem to pop up now and then due to compression. But it's rare. The extras are as funny as the show for the most part. "Dial 'T' for TORMENT" is the feature that explores every facet of the show. It's a riveting documentary that shows you how they shoot the show and make the puppets. Also included are a pair of deleted calls that honestly are not all that funny (they deserved to be cut).
America has spoken, and has said that morality is of the utmost concern to its citizens. These shameless pieces of felt are encouraging a barbaric act of cruelty by calling unsuspecting people and making horrible suggestions to them. They are politically incorrect and completely asinine. Oh the humanity!
Isn't that the point here? Tasteless and cruel is still damn funny. Crank Yankers is currently the number-two rated show on Comedy Central (behind only South Park). If you like this sort of thing as much as I do, you will definitely want to catch this release. It's funny! Even when a call goes wrong, just watching the puppets make it fun and worthwhile. Puppets rock! This and Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles prove you can never go wrong with nasty puppets.
Absolutely free to go, and free to make one phone call before they do. I'm giving them the number to the Fu King kitchen in my part of town to order the Fu King special.
Review content copyright © 2004 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 253 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Two Unaired Calls
* "Dial 'T' for Torment" Documentary
* Prank Calls Unlimited Site