Impractical Jokers

Impractical Jokers debuts tonight on truTV at 10 p.m. Eastern

Competitive reality series are generally developed with a proven episodic formula in mind: Establish personalities, provide tasks or challenges and conclude with a ritual for triumph and/or failure. (The scandalized 51 Minds production company behind Megan Wants a Millionaire, I Love Money et al pretty much perfected this.) TruTV’s enjoyable but dopey new offering, Impractical Jokers, mostly adheres to that mandate, but only really succeeds at one of the three steps.  

The concept—lifelong friends and former Staten Island schoolmates Joe, Sal, Murr (Murray) and Q (Quinn) are put in everyday situations, relay embarrassing directives for one another from a separate location, catch the action on hidden cameras and award points based on who goes through with the humiliation, with the loser being creatively punished—sounds like a potential nightmare hybrid of Punk’d-style manipulation, Boiling Points’ agitation, Jackass-inspired brotasticness and Silent Library’s meanness. 

As it turns out, the gags are pretty harmless and fun, there’s more to laugh with than cringe at and the joke’s generally on our juvenile foursome. If anything, their prank targets are merely accomplices in attempts to one-up themselves in the sport of victimless adolescent dares.

In tonight’s premiere (a second episode airs immediately after it at 10:30, though we did not have a chance to screen it by press time), the Impractical troupe takes turns weirding out White Castle customers from behind the counter, soliciting signatures for increasingly ludicrous petitions, getting a little too familiar with Manhattan tourists and mouthing off at Costco customers on the checkout line.

The latter segment is the only point at which Jokers get dicey and uncomfortable, especially when Murr asks someone en route to a memorial service, “Who kicked the bucket?” But Joe saves the day moments later by going above and beyond at his buddies’ instruction to poke customers and objects with his nose. Like much of what works in this debut installment, it’s silly and infectiously hilarious.

This is where the show finds its sweet spot, just having the bird’s-eye cameras roll and letting us witness four grown men act like 12-year-olds for our amusement, with occasionally adult content to keep things interesting (e.g. Sal being pressured to regale unassuming visitors to NYC from North Carolina about the handjob he once got there, and absolutely hating himself in the process). 

Sometimes, they just find their shtick a bit too funny, like that guy who always laughs harder at his own punchlines than anyone else. Subtlety, in other words and as one might expect given the premise, is not Impractical Jokers’ strong suit. In lieu of providing a ton of background about our stars, we’re shown an awful lot of cutaways to them practically imploding at the sight of each other’s debasement. It kind of kills the buzz and has the opposite effect of endearing us to their camaraderie. At times, it’s a bit like watching the world’s most sophomoric director’s commentary. 

The other area where Jokers disappoints is even needing to have a “punishment.” In this case, germaphobe Sal is forced to pick up and hold dog poo in his hand for 20 seconds. But, inexplicably, while wearing latex gloves. No one’s suggesting any Jackass chicanery where Sal projectiles the shit out of his own ass. But if you’re gonna fit the reality mold and wrap each week up with a coup de consequence, you may as well either really go for it, or decide on a less precarious repercussion. (Although Sal gets points for telling an onlooker, “I’m a collector.”)

There’s a good chance audiences will make up their mind about Impractical Jokers from the trailers or opening seconds of tonight’s premiere alone. And there are definitely tweaks that can be made to improve on its pacing and lightness. It’s worth giving the boys a shot though, because they sure are working hard to make themselves and us smile.

Stray Observations

  • I would say I genuinely laughed out loud and shook my head with bemused compassion for these guys between five and 10 times. Not a bad ratio.
  • Funniest improvised moment: Joe ask a man to sign his inane petition to allow white people in the military, man berates Joe and says this is how we’re always waving our dicks around, Joe replies, “I wanna just get more white dicks.”
  • As a native Long Islander, I love that Sunrise Highway was referenced during the opening sketch, and was a bit charmed by the guys’ unpretentious New York-ness. 
  • Did you guys enjoy the show? Think it’ll stay on the air?

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