'Punk'd' has a new look: guest hosts

Justin Bieber takes a turn as celebrity host of MTVs "Punkd," the revival of Ashton Kutchers old bag of tricks on his Hollywood friends. MTV
Justin Bieber takes a turn as celebrity host of MTVs "Punkd," the revival of Ashton Kutchers old bag of tricks on his Hollywood friends. MTV
Posted: March 29, 2012

Allen Funt was one of TV's true visionaries. He realized how flustered we all get when the rules are suddenly changed without warning. And how funny we look when we're the only one not in on the joke. Simple, universal, hilarious. Candid Camera used hidden lenses to capture that priceless reaction and the show ran - forever.

In 2003, Ashton Kutcher was savvy enough to adapt Funt's concept for our modern tabloid era, when celebrities have been deified. The result, MTV's Punk'd, made well-known young performers the hapless victims of elaborately arranged pranks and videotaped the results.

MTV's viewers lapped it up. Because it caught stars in casual, unguarded moments, it created the illusion of familiarity. And when they freaked over what looked like an intolerable situation, the situation indicated that even the famous have feet of clay.

By 2007, Punk'd had become a victim of its own success. It became almost a cliche that when a person of any social station found themselves in bizarre circumstances, they would crane around as if searching for cameras and ask, "Where's Ashton?" The whole country became temporarily prank-proof.

Until now. MTV has revived Punk'd with a new wrinkle: weekly celebrity hosts including Miley Cyrus, Dax Shepard, Bam Margera, and Hayden Panettiere. Guess what? It's still as irresistible as a bowl of pistachios.

Make sure you watch the first segment of the first show Thursday when guest prankster Justin Bieber takes his pal Taylor Swift down a crazy rabbit hole. Swift's inherent sweetness makes her the perfect foil. I doubt if anything else on the new Punk'd will be this good. But it won't be much worse either. Laughingstock always makes tasty soup.

Punk'd is followed by another new series, The Pauly D Project. Who would have ever guessed that Pauly, the eternal fifth banana on Jersey Shore would be the first castmate to get his own spin-off series?

Maybe he's the only one of the Inebriate Eight who was seen as stable enough to support a shooting schedule. Say what you will about Paul DelVecchio (like for instance that he copied his stiff, flanged hairdo from the old Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold), but the guy has an impressive immunity to hangovers. So he's got that going for him.

Oh, and he's a DJ. The series follows him and his original crew from his hometown of Johnston, R.I. ("I'm a local guy in the smallest state in the whole entire world," Pauly informs us) to a regular gig spinning records at the Palms casino in Las Vegas.

Meet the gang. There's Biggie, the brains of the operation; Jerry, the incredible shrinking security man (Jerry loses half his body mass on a diet between the first and second episodes); and Ryan, the wasted wingman.

When Pauly is at the sound console, they all pack in tightly behind him, sweating profusely. Except Ryan, who wanders the dance floor, looking for fights. It's like Ugly Guys' Entourage.

Somehow Pauly misattributes his good fortune. He thinks the Palms brought him in for his mad turntable skills. He doesn't seem to get that the casino might be more interested in a phalanx of MTV cameras constantly on premises and the value of massive prime-time exposure.

The activities the guys engage in are fairly similar to the Jersey Shore routine, except there's room service, someone else seems to do their laundry for them, and there's no Situation drama. Can I get a "Yeah, buddy"?

Pauly comes across as a genuinely nice guy - open, loyal and genial. The question is why would you want to take time out of your life to watch his?

Contact David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @daveondemand_tv. Read his blog, "Dave on Demand," at www.philly.com/dod.

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