Sacha Baron Cohen is back—and Sarah Palin wasn't the only person he was able to dupe in new series Who Is America?, which debuted on Showtime on Sunday night. In the first of seven episodes, the British comedian of Borat fame meets assorted Americans while posing as conspiracy-obsessed Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., Israeli terrorism expert Col. Erran Morad, ultra-liberal Dr. Nira Cain-N'Degeocello, and ex-con artist Rick Sherman. Here's what reviewers are saying:
- Hit and miss. The only effective segment of the four was the one involving Morad, who managed to persuade gun enthusiast Philip Van Cleave to take part in a video for "Kinderguardians," which advocates arming 4-year-olds and features guns disguised as stuffed animals, writes Linda Holmes at NPR. Segments like the one where Ruddick meets Bernie Sanders don't work as well because the subjects aren't in agreement with the Baron Cohen character, instead considering him a crackpot.
- "Aims high but goes low." Charles Bramesco at the Guardian found it frustrating that the gun segment worked so well, while others, including one in which Sherman "pitches his bodily-secretion artworks to a Laguna Beach dealer," flopped. "In a fractious and chaotic nation beset by families torn asunder, militarized forces suppressing protests, and lives lost, he sets the bar extremely high for himself," he writes. "When he manages to clear it, the results are dazzling ... but anything less feels like a waste of time."
- The great divide. Baron Cohen also mocks liberals, but for them, the "show serves as a kind of horror-comedy comfort food, a cathartic validation of the feelings brought on by the current news," writes Steven Zeitchek at the Washington Post. But at the same time, "it is likely to reinforce the beliefs of the conservatives who view Hollywood as, essentially, a place of knee-jerk scorn that will stop at nothing to mock its audiences, particularly in middle America."
- "No moments of truth." The show "offers no moments of truth when the hunted, led to the extremes by a stranger with funny facial hair, finally realize that they are in a logical pretzel and suddenly comprehend the consequences of their thinking," writes Mark Kennedy at the AP. "No, Baron Cohen isn't interested in confronting his subjects head-on or breaking them like 60 Minutes, only mining the absurdist humor of those who are absolutely certain they are right." He adds, however, that the upcoming second episode is better than the first.
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