Twisted doesn’t even begin to describe “Crank Yankers,” Comedy Central’s perverse puppet show that breathes sick life into the lost art of prank phone calls. Taking divine inspiration from the Jerky Boys, a cult act that hit it big years ago, this way-out-there half-hour pushes the language envelope along with multiple taste barriers but does so in such a sweet fashion it will be hard to take any watchdog group seriously when they zero in on the content. And boy, will they ever.
As if there is any legitimate comparison, “Yankers” one-ups Fox’s “Greg the Bunny” in almost every category: The puppets are funnier, the bits are cruder, and the overall sense of cutesy reality is more genuine. It could do without the interstitials that bring nothing to the table — “This show brought to you by the letters ‘F,’ ‘U’ and ‘K,’ ” for instance — but like “Beavis and Butt-Head” and “South Park” before it, it certainly does what it sets out to do: offend equally … and with love.
Here, everyone lives in Yankerville and spends their day phoning company operators, little old ladies, shopkeepers and regular Joes. What spins the viewer into bizarre-o land is that actual conversations between pranker and prankee are mouthed by soft and squishy creations that don’t quite look like Muppets but are as charming as anything Jim Henson ever made.
First episode dives right into the madness as comedian Dave Chappelle takes on the personality of Shavin’, Wu Tang Clan’s manager who rings a church-loving bed-and-breakfast owner in order to secure some reservations. She tries her hardest to accommodate the obnoxious rappers into her establishment, and it is simply a riot, especially when she can’t understand him because of his rapid-fire speech pattern and penchant for profanity.
Second best gag involves Hadassah (Sarah Silverman), a “normal” person who answers a family’s ad for a nanny. After asking a few harmless questions (“Do you have cable? Do you have covered parking?), she accepts the job before it’s offered and starts to freak out the potential employee by “inviting” herself over.
The ultimate in frat boy television, “Crank Yankers” works so well because it’s completely fresh. There never has been a collection of skits so warped and so oddly produced as this, with caricatures enhanced and stereotypes highlighted. (Hadassah has a big nose and Wu Tang Clan are portrayed as record-spinning, jewelry-wearing loudmouths.)
Voices come from everywhere — from “The Daily Show” regular Stephen Colbert to more established talent like Denis Leary and David Alan Grier. Even the character names are funny: Spoonie Luv, Special Ed and Niles Standish.
Fountains of Wayne front man Adam Schlesinger, who wrote the catchy title song to “That Thing You Do,” has penned an infectious opening ditty, and the production design, from a team known as Funny Garbage, is quite a trip. Interestingly, all calls used were made in Nevada and New York, the only two states where harassment prosecution isn’t possible.