It’s mind-boggling to realize that Punk’d first debuted on MTV nearly a decade ago. Just mull that over for a second, by the way: Almost ten years ago, That '70s Show star Ashton Kutcher yelped into the camera wearing a trucker hat and helped usher in a hit for the network that become so ubiquitous, it was eventually parodied on Saturday Night Live.
In its new incarnation, the tabloid presence known as Kutcher is gone, as are the wild, multiple-angled cameras focused on him as he describes the impending pranks on the slate. Though it had initially been announced that pop sensation Justin Bieber would helm the rebooted show, the format eventually settled on has a different celebrity helm each episode to punk their friends.
For tonight’s premiere, Bieber kicks things off with the promise of punking his good buddies Taylor Swift, skateboarder/reality star Rob Dyrdek, and pop singer Sean Kingston. While the latter two end up being quicky blips, the first prank on Swift is a solid return to (what only a fool would refer to as) the “glory days” of the hit show.
But viewers will also remember that, in those days, pranks against Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Zach Braff, Lindsay Lohan, and other budding stars of the early aughts oftentimes became overwrought, high-tech spectacles in order to convince stars they weren’t a part of the ever-popular series. As a result, it’s clear Bieber and his gang felt the need to up the ante for their first return to prankdom since 2007. The elaborate hoax has Bieber inviting Swift over to a beachfront rental in Malibu where he’s putting the finishing touches on his upcoming Christmas album (well hello, plug!). Once there, she joins his gang out on the deck as they set off some fireworks “from Japan.” By the time they’ve cajoled her into setting one off, too, a beautiful yacht just so happens to be in the line of fire. In seconds, the firework has struck the boat, ignited a massive fire, and forced an entire wedding party to jump ship into the ocean.
Never happy to leave well enough alone, the Punk’d producers get carried away, layering the prank with a bride who starts having second doubts because of the yacht blaze as well as a scenery chewing neighbor who rattles on about how his evening merlot sip was interrupted by the commotion. It’s typical Punk’d overkill but still a success on the whole given Swift’s terror-stricken eyes. She’s an risky subject given she already has a penchant for looking surprised by every single thing going on around her, but her freaked face is especially rewarding.
When the crew comes racing in from the makeshift control room with cameras in tow, it serves as an oddly nostalgic flashback to when the show first made its mark on pop culture. And while we’d all love to forget everything involving Two And A Half Men and The Kutch’s eventual May-December romance with Mrs. Bruce Willis (and her subsequent descent into abusing Whip-Its), we just can’t forget, really. So, anyone craving MTV-style pranks just better get on board with scrawny lil’ Bieber and his posse and rest assured there probably won’t be a trucker hat in sight.