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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this nean-spirited British series revolves around behavior that most parents wouldn't want their teens imitating. It uses actual recordings of prank calls to unsuspecting victims, with animated footage recreating them. Not surprisingly, the reactions of the people who pick up the phone vary from confused to annoyed to irate, and they sometimes swear, though particularly strong language is bleeped. The mysterious Fonejacker often places calls in character as people from various ethnic groups, and some of the shtick can seem borderline racist.
What's the story?
British comedian Kayvan Novak has a secret identity: He's the FONEJACKER, who uses outrageous accents to call unsuspecting people and make outlandish requests. His motto is to “seize control of a telephone conversation, by farce,” and Novak’s specialty is his vast cast of characters. These include Ugandan scammer George Agdgdgwngo, who asks people to share their bank account numbers; a gang of Chinese DVD pirates trying to hawk their wares; and absent-minded old man Mr. Miggins. The Fonejacker’s prank calls yield a variety of reactions, from befuddled to annoyed to truly irate; the show is made up of actual recordings of the calls, accompanied by animated clips recreating the people on either end of the line.
Is it any good?
The victims' emotions are real, and it’s hard to make comedy out of anger. Sure, teenage boys may find it hysterical -- in fact, they’ll probably want to try a few Fonejacker-style calls themselves -- but that doesn’t mean that the show is funny. It mines stereotypes, accents, and broad ethnic humor for its laughs and veers into territory that some people might consider racist.
All of this is an attempt to goad people into reacting with anger, hostility, confusion, or a few choice words. It’s mean-spirited, crass, and juvenile, but it’s not very funny.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about practical jokes. Are they just harmless fun? What if the person on the other end of the joke doesn't see the humor? Some practical jokes can be dangerous or have potential to damage property or feelings -- do you think prank calls have less risk?
Is it ever OK to play ethnic stereotypes for humor? What do you think about the Fonejacker’s characters, with their heavy accents and frequent cultural references? Are they accurate? Do they cross the line into racism?