Who Gets The Last Laugh? debuts tonight on TBS at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Given TBS’ increasing insistence that it’s a force to be reckoned with in the arena of original programming—along with the relative success of its recent foray into reality competition series with King Of The Nerds—it’s none too surprising to find the network giving the genre another go. This time, however, it’s melding it with another well-tested format—the hidden-camera practical-joke series—while sprinkling in an additional ingredient designed to intrigue potential viewers: celebrities.
Hosted by Donald Faison, Who Gets The Last Laugh? takes three celebrities and pits them against each other in the least-heated competition in recent memory to see who can pull off the most side-splitting prank. (The prank is generally played on two or three different people, interspersing the footage to show either the similarity or disparity of the reactions.) Using a recurring team of actors and comedians skilled at ad-libbing and quick thinking, each celebrity watches his or her prank go down via hidden cameras, surreptitiously feeding the pranksters whatever additional lines they believe might add to the hilarity. It’s ambiguous as to what methodology is being utilized to determine the victor—there’s no suggestion that the audience members are voting in any formal sense, so one presumes that it’s based on the amount of audience laughter, the volume of the applause, or, more likely, merely the whims of the producers—but whichever prank comes out on top, that celebrity receives a $10,000 donation to their favorite charity.
The Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar and stand-ups Bill Bellamy and Jeff Dye are the competitors in the première episode, which has the unfortunate potential to mislead viewers into believing that the series will be regularly drifting into the occasional bit of gross-out humor. Or perhaps that isn’t a mislead, but neither of the other two episodes provided to critics for advance screening suggest that the series will be going down that road on a regular basis. Still, Bellamy’s prank, which involves people parking in front of a Porta-Potty, only to return to find that a hose has ostensibly burst, spraying their car with the contents of the facility, causes the proceedings to feel less like TBS and more like Spike TV, setting a tone which could easily cause first-time viewers to instantly become last-time viewers as well. Thankfully, the other pranks—Nayyar’s involves people being pulled over by the police and subjected to increasingly bizarre treatment, while Dye tortures new office assistants by having them endure a theft of a substantial sum of money on their first day at work—have a vibe suitable for just about anyone’s sense of humor.
Although destined to receive comparisons to Punk’d—or, if you’re old TV’s Bloopers And Practical Jokes—the fact that the victims are just everyday folks places Who Gets the Last Laugh? much closer to being a descendent of the granddaddy of these sorts of shows: Candid Camera. Yes, there’s the competition aspect, but as hinted at above, it’s only just barely a competition. There’s no sensation whatsoever that anyone’s there to do anything other than enjoy themselves, to the point that the charitable donation seems almost like an afterthought, possibly only added to the mix as a last-ditch selling point to snare stars who might be on the fence about participating. (Adding credence to this suspicion is that, unlike many game shows with celebrity contestants, only the winner is given the opportunity to even make mention of the charity of choice.)
Are there any other problems with Who Gets the Last Laugh? Sure, a few, starting with the decidedly minor quibble that the bumper photography attempts to sell Donald Faison as an über-hip host in a way that no one short of Michael Ian Black in full obsequious mode could possibly pull off successfully. (Photos aside, Faison does just fine in his role.) There’s also the fact that, like so many of its peers in the studio-audience-sits-around-and-laughs-at-videos-on-the-monitor realm, the laughter is far too raucous and the number of cutaways to audience reaction shots could easily—and really should be—cut in half. But while it’s inarguable that the series breaks precious little new ground, the initial trio of episodes reveal material that, excluding the aforementioned bit, is funny no matter what your comedic sensibilities, which is never a bad thing when it comes to cultivating viewers. Indeed, if the gags stay this strong and clean through later installments featuring the likes of Chris Kattan, Kevin McDonald, and Nicole Sullivan, then—wait for it—it might be TBS who gets the last laugh.