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TV Series Review

Imagine, for a moment, a puppet act on The Ed Sullivan Show. As the scene plays out in your head, do you hear any of the puppets cursing? Do you see them stripping down to their anatomically correct birthday suits and having sex with each other? Are you forced to watch in agony as they verbally abuse innocent souls?

It’s unthinkable. As well it should be. But cable channel Comedy Central, already responsible for the vulgar and demeaning South Park, The Man Show and TV Funhouse, is bringing each of those nightmarish visions to life—minus Mr. Sullivan—with Crank Yankers. If series creators Adam Carolla and Tim Kimmel (The Man Show) are intentionally trying to show how far TV has fallen since variety shows ruled prime time, they’re succeeding.

Airing after South Park on Sunday nights, Crank Yankers begins with the following punch: "The crank calls you are about to hear are real. The names have not been changed. Screw the innocent." Things deteriorate rapidly after that. Nudity, vulgarity, drug abuse and sexual perversion abound. Puppets act out visually what’s being heard on tape. A call to a strip club takes viewers inside for a personal tour. While a would-be dancer yanks the bar manager’s chain, the camera leers at a nude female puppet engaged in a sex act.

Other calls are placed to adult book stores where sex toys, bondage paraphernalia and nude (puppet) pictures abound. One particularly mean-spirited call is made to a random residence at which a lady is informed by a caller posing as a sales agent for an Internet porn company that her husband is a regular client. The scene ends with the wife clubbing her spouse with the phone. Disturbing calls are also placed by a man pretending to be mentally retarded who fishes for laughs by preying on the sympathies of the unsuspecting.

No more detail than that is needed to illustrate how vile this material is. But it should be noted that the series’ malicious tone is compounded by the use of puppets—playthings universally associated with innocence and childhood. Episodes have even shown a replica of Big Bird smoking and swearing, and Miss Piggy and Kermit having sex. A channel-surfing child familiar with Sesame Street and homemade sock puppets would, almost by reflex, stop and watch if he or she were to stumble upon Crank Yankers. Not fair. If only we could imagine a world without the likes of Comedy Central. I can’t help but wonder what Ed Sullivan would think.

Episodes Reviewed: June 2, 9, 16, 23, 2002

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Steven Isaac

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