Film and TV

Reality Bites: Impractical Jokers

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Hidden-camera humor dates all the way back to the early days of photography, when Matthew Brady famously encouraged Union officials to "bomb" his portrait sittings of Ulysses S. Grant. Tragically, misunderstanding of slang led to one general being executed for attempted murder and treason, and the practice was largely abandoned for almost a hundred years until the arrival of Allen Funt's Candid Camera, which also ushered in the Sexual Revolution.

Subsequent efforts have produced mixed results. MTV's Jackass incorporated goofs on unsuspecting bystanders as part of the show's general theme of combining cringe humor with severe body trauma, while HBO's Taxicab Confessions demonstrated the technology's utility in capturing drunk people feeling each other up in the backs of cars.

Impractical Jokers, which premiered in 2011, is the latest in this illustrious line. It changes up the formula a bit, but as is often the case with these types of shows, isn't nearly as funny as it thinks it is.

TruTV is an old friend of "Reality Bites," by which I mean there's always *something* airing on the network I can dredge up for coverage when needed (Lizard Lick Towing and Killer Karaoke being two examples). It's now home to Impractical Jokers, hosted by the four members of New York City's Tenderloins comedy troupe.

The gentlemen in question are named "Q," "Murr," Sal and Joe. They're lifelong friends from Staten Island, and the goal for any given episode is for each man to complete a task assigned by the other three; failure to do so results in punishment of a presumably embarrassing variety. Yep, sounds like lifelong friends all right.

The aforementoned twist on the usual point-click-laugh formula is the fact that the victims in most of the skits are the guys themselves (the unsuspecting audience are often more bewildered than offended/angered). There's also an improv element, as the current guy on the hot seat is fed instructions via earpiece to fuel his presumably uncomfortable interactions.

The Episode I Watched took place (in part) at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. Each of the four was remotely prompted/fed lines/antagonized by the other three until they complete or fail their tasks. For example, Joe was told to cannonball into a hot tub with three women in it. Murr, on the other hand, has to apply sunscreen to a stranger without asking permission beforehand. Both complete their tasks, in what would normally have taken little time if not for the incessant guffawing from the other three dudes directing the action.

Sal has a little more trouble, but mercifully balks at telling random kids at the pool about the birds and the bees. Luckily, there's the option for a "backup challenge," which in Sal's case consisted merely of drinking water from the kiddie pool. And in case it wasn't obvious to everyone from the outset, "Q" and the other guys remind us roughly ten times the water has a lot of urine in it. Outrageous.

My impression from this episode and clips/previews of others is that Sal loses a lot, possibly because he's addicted to flop sweat.

It goes on like this. The next set of challenges involve reading drafts of mildly offensive emails to coffee bar patrons in an attempt to get them to approve their being sent. None rise about the level of barely amusing, and even at half an hour, Impractical Jokers feels like being stuck in an elevator with those four guys from high school who all came up with the idea about Dolly Parton releasing an album called Greatest Tits.

Curiously, I never considered the possibility that the Parents Research Council crowd might need some variety of Jackass-Lite to help them break the ice at their FCC letter-writing parties, but here we are. Apparently some people prefer their TV pranksters to be more John Boy than Johnny Knoxville, and to all you Flanderses out there, I say: Enjoy your show.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar