Gainfully Unemployed

Pranks! They’re the lowest form of comedy and we all know it. They’re the kind of thing your unfunny mate tries to get you to watch during half time at the footy, and you’ve only got yourself to blame because what are you doing at the footy in the first place. But we’ve laughed at fart jokes before: maybe The Inspired Unemployed (Impractical Jokers) won’t be a prank played on us?

We won’t leave you in suspense: the first episode wasn’t shit. It wasn’t classic comedy either, but you know… pranks. The secret sauce here is that the pranks were mostly being played on each other, a la Hamish & Andy when they were actually funny. Mates winding each other up = funny, The Chaser running up behind a politician waving a big prop = not so much. Sorted.

It’s a bit of a weird one to be airing in prime time on Australian television in 2023, in that it’s just a bunch of prank stuff that you’ll probably have forgotten before the end credits. Unless of course you’re the kind of person who hangs around the school yard / office kitchen asking people if they saw this amazing show you watched last night and if they’re silly enough to say no you then proceed to re-enact it (badly) for them. Isn’t this kind of thing why we invented the internet? So we could phase these people out of our lives?

(of course, the internet – mostly Instagram and TikTok – is where The Inspired Unemployed come from. Gotta get the kids back into the habit of watching commercial television somehow)

With four cast members, and with a format that requires each one of them to go through each prank scenario, decent ideas are a must. Spending eight minutes on a dud is the last thing you want. Fortunately, episode one featured a couple of decent comedy set-ups that were flexible enough to provide some variety in how things went. Strong basics: tick.

The four guys are just generic guys, with no real on-air personalities beyond “top blokes”. At this stage there’s no strong “oh shit, the blonde one hates this kind of stuff” side to things. On the other hand, nobody seems like a bastard either: they’re just mates trying to throw each other under a bus. So the character side of things… let’s say neutral for now.

As far as the actual pranks go, as you’d expect we’re talking hit and miss – but with more hits than misses. At worst they’re just kind of there (the balloon blowing-up one) or too over-the-top to be plausible to the regular people present (the “anal gazing” bit). But when they get a good thing going, they’re usually able to build on it to create a decent run of laughs (the phone break-up bit).

This kind of series is a bit hard to judge because while it’s good at what it’s trying to do, what it’s trying to do is be extremely disposable television. Ten is currently going all-in with local comedy – they’re currently showing four Australian comedy series a week, which no network has managed in a very long time (even the ABC’s Wednesday line-up usually tops out at three). While none of them are aiming all that high – it’s all panel shows, quiz shows, and prank shows – they’re all watchable at the very least. Which isn’t something that can be said about all current Australian comedy.

It’ll be interesting to see where (Impractical) Jokers goes from here, as episode one was almost entirely about the guys messing with each other – until the final “punishment” bit, where a wedding had to put up with a mildly offensive speech. It’s a lot harder to get successful laughs out of playing pranks on the unsuspecting public, mostly because 99 times out of a 100 there’s nowhere to go – you do the prank, they react, it’s over.

Remember when Kinne used to go out on the street and do stupid stuff trying to get passers-by to react? There’s a reason why your answer was “nope”.

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