Review: Who Is America? will destroy this country in the most hilarious way

 
Sacha Baron Cohen with gun rights advocate Philip Van Cleave on  Who Is America?  - SHOWTIME

Sacha Baron Cohen with gun rights advocate Philip Van Cleave on Who Is America? - SHOWTIME

 

The surprise pilot of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who Is America? wastes no time introducing viewers to four masterfully conceived characters who exude crude hilarity, while also providing a stunning indictment of America’s naive cruelty, and the banal pretentiousness that allows it to fester. As with previous Cohen efforts, each character’s appearance is made incredibly distinct – less so by makeup, and more so by the comically overdone mannerisms Cohen cooks up. Such things would have the potential to be annoying if they didn’t serve the clever purpose of drawing his interviewees into making bigger and bigger fools of themselves by refocusing their attention off what they are saying and onto his weirdly captivating charisma.

As with Borat, Who Is America? will inevitably serve laughs to those who are looking for cruel, perhaps even mean-spirited jabs at marginalized people. In this case the formerly incarcerated and disabled veterans (even though Cohen’s character is technically neither disabled or a veteran). However, it’s pretty clear that Cohen is putting his spin on society’s perception of these groups, and utilizing the sympathy that comes with it to gain access to the true thoughts that people in power have about them. The pretentious gallery owner, for instance, seems to associate ex-con “Rick Sherman’s” struggle with the potential for creative genius regardless of the aesthetic outcome, with the unspoken implication that she could profit off it. Her commitment to this outcome is played to such an extreme by Cohen that she ends up cutting off her own pubes to give him.

By virtue of the obscene heights the pilot brings its situational comedy to, the show seems to have a lot of potential in the coming six episodes to expose just how ridiculously deep America’s current political divide can go. While it may have been impossible just a few years ago, the current political climate is such that an incredibly wealthy, presumably well-educated southern couple with Fox News-borne brain rot can be genuinely convinced that  “Dr. Nira Cain-N'Degeocello” has used his Liberal beliefs to live out a never-ending Aristocrats bit sponsored by the Clinton Foundation.

The strongest, and perhaps most poignant bit of the four comes with the introduction of “Col. Eeran Morad”, an embodiment of the surprisingly-untapped well of humor surrounding Israeli machismo. Morad’s segment is full of subtle quips about the crossover between Israeli and American society, warping the Mossad assassination clique’s unofficial motto of “rise and kill first” into the title for his segment “KILL OR BE KILLED”. Not only is this segment simply the funniest, but it also makes a much needed joke out of the far right’s deeply held beliefs by coercing them into admitting their support for child soldiers using their two Achilles heels: guns and Israel. Unfortunately, the fact that one segment really outshines the others may in fact be a mark against its potential.

Just as he was twelve years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen remains weirdly in touch with the cartoonish insanity that seems to permeate the headspace of this entire country. A large chunk of the entertainment value from this show comes from seeing someone who has found the cheat codes to the American psyche, and uses it to make people say the craziest shit physically possible. Unlike Borat, this time around Cohen’s focus seems to have turned more towards those with some sort of substantial social and economic privilege. His interviews strip away the veneer of status that our culture drapes over them, showing most of them to be just as much of a rube as the drunk college shitheads that picked up Borat off the highway and said they wished women were their slaves. Along the way though, it seems to be one of the few political comedy shows out there that has the potential to glimpse the true political implications of each others’ views without being completely blinded by the intense orange floodlight like everyone else.

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Good if you like: South Park and other nihilistic, irreverent satire

Pros: Punchy and witty start to a series that has potential to entertain in ways most comedies won't, and expose America's worst people

Cons: The disparity in quality between sketches

James Dellasala Comment