Despite an initial rush of controversy over how the participants or “marks” were lured into participating, Prank Encounters drops today on Netflix and features a bunch of unsuspecting folks who “got paid” and “left super happy.”
Executive produced by veteran prankster Kevin Healey (Scare Tactics, Betty White’s Off Their Rocker) and Stranger Things star Gaten Matarazzo, the show was initially dinged on social media for preying on folks who were simply looking for work. “In the show we do make clear they are one-night assignments,” Healey tells EW. “Everyone had fun. We make very clear to everyone that it’s a one-night assignment. They are going to have an adventure. They were compensated for being part of something pretty special.”
Over eight episodes, unsuspecting marks are “hired” to perform relatively low-skill tasks, be it a babysitting gig or helping out an insurance adjuster at a crash site. Matarazzo wears multiple disguises so he can participate in the pranks. “Every episode is a 20-minute short film with two people who don’t know they are going to become stars of that short film,” explains Healey. “The idea is that these are two people who never met and have no idea they are going to become stars.”
Participants are told they may be filmed while completing their gig, but no one seems to question why a camera would be rolling. The initial description released by Netflix said “each episode of this terrifying and hilarious prank show takes two complete strangers who each think they’re starting their first day at a new job. It’s business as usual until their paths collide and these part-time jobs turn into full-time nightmares.”
“Unlike most prank shows, we go through a process for them to do a one-day gig,” says Healey. “We work with friends and family. By the time they show up, we’re super confident they are the right person.”
One of the pranks involves a young woman who agreed to babysit for the night while a man across town is tasked with collecting toys that kids don’t want anymore. Part of his job is to collect a teddy bear that’s at the house where the woman is babysitting, but the child warns the two adults that “bad things will happen” if the teddy bar leaves the house.
Naturally, the babysitter and the man immediately assume the teddy bar is some kind of furry version of Chucky. “Having it be both scary and funny is important,” says Healey. “It’s like we are doing a live play with 40 to 60 people behind the scenes.”
Prank Encounters is streaming now on Netflix.