Regular airtime: Thursdays, 10pm ET (Spike)
Cast: Jarrpi Leppala, Jukka Hilden, Jarno Laasala, H-P Parviainen
PopMatters Film and TV Columns Editor
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“This is THE LIFE of the Dudesons.” This black and white title card appears frequently during Spike TV’s new series featuring four Finnish funboys. It suggests that everything you see comes out of these extreme stuntmen’s everyday existence. Two of them, Jarrpi Leppl and Jukka Hilden, will be familiar to anyone who has seen Viva La Bam, where they were featured in two episodes. Turns out they were more hyperactive versions of their death-wishing American counterparts.
The Dudesons shows another side: while Johnny Knoxville and company had good, if gross-out, fun, the dares here are disturbing. A collection of “skits” (to use the Jackass vernacular), the show features four major “personalities.” Jarrpi, Jukka, and their pals Jarno Laasala and H-P Parviainen perform as if they’re insane, or maybe just incredibly nave (though someone has a sense of how to profit from this behavior). Their enthusiasm regularly leaves them covered in welts, bleeding from having beer bottles broken over their heads, or nursing baseball bat blows to their nut-sacks, as well as chortling like Scandinavian psychopaths. In the first episode, they laughed while wallowing in crap and suffering multiple body blows from a shovel.
Knoxville always let us in on the joke, setting up the stunts with segments showing trepidation, concern and worry on the part of the participants. The Dudesons just cut right to the chase. Jukka jumps in a car, sends it careening off a badly built5 jump ramps, and walks away from the overturned and trashed vehicle like he just got out of bed. The MTV show left us feeling that no matter how precarious the prank, the boys had physical as well as common sense limits.
This is not the case with the Dudesons. Jarppi is missing his right thumb, the result of a wrestling match with a wild Arctic Bear, and the others apparently don’t mind being knocked unconscious for the sake of a snicker. Shots of casts and stitches imply these Finnish freaks take unnecessary, and at times, unfunny, risks, undermining what could be an entertaining, if derivative, show.
At the same time, they come across like decent, dopey guys who enjoy their rare downtime like other decent, dopy guys, with liquor and chicks. During the pilot episode, the boys brought a gaggle of Finnish cowgirls to their ranch to parade around in buttless chaps and animal skin bikini tops. As cleavage and cheeks appeared in close-up, the guys engaged in the usual macho posturing while the babes looked on in chest-heaving approval. It was odd, a break from the bedlam that supposedly shapes the Dudesons’ every waking hour. And, being rather generic, it provided little in the way of clarification as to their motives or interests.
The pilot episode revealed nothing of their past, no explanation as to how they became famous. It only offered act after act of mindless destruction: the boys teed up golf balls and sent several through the windows of their home, then used Jarrpi’s ample ale belly as a dartboard. This sequence featured Bam Margera and members of the rock group Bloodhound Gang, so as to make sure we didn’t miss the MTV connection, and a seal of approval.
In fact, the episode began with Steve-O and Margera singing the praises of these Nordic numbskulls. The Dudesons is primed to the farty frat boy demographic, via wild montages cut to horror-riffed rock tunes with bass that rattles. The camerawork careens from competent to incredibly shoddy, so we often miss the payoffs to skits. Language is also a problem, since a great many of the slit set-ups are described in something like pidgin English. The Dudesons addresses this with a weekly segment on “understanding” Finnish. But if the first lesson is any indication (we learn how to say “Satan” and “Satan’s Father”), we’ll be needing a crash course at Berlitz.
Perhaps Jarppi, Jukka, Jarno, and H-P can take a lesson from their more famous American counterparts concerning satire. Jackass, for all its pain and perversion, framed its heroes as rebellious “youth,” trying to comment on the chaos of their environment. Blamed for violence in the world, yet force-fed brutality and aggression by virtually all entertainment media (TV, music, videogames, etc.), the lost boys decided they might as well join in on the metaphysical fisticuffs. And what better way to show your sense of alienation than to remove yourself even further from the mainstream? Anyone who pierces his butt cheeks together or takes a ride in an upended Port-a-Potty is not seeking universal acclaim.
The primary difference between The Dudesons and Jackass is attitude. We never thought Knoxville and his cronies where engaged in acts of mayhem just to hurt themselves. Injury was merely a necessary evil resulting from their slapstick. But for the Dudesons, it’s all about the commotion, the more extreme, the better. For them, pain is a reward. For us, it’s more frightening than funny.