Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Who is America?’

WhoIsAmericaHeavy prothetic makeup is the vehicle for Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest devilish comedy.

Lest anyone imagine he is Ali G or Borat, he’s padded with all kinds of altering makeup  to lure the famous and not so famous before his cameras under false pretenses in the elaborate prank undertaking “Who is America?” (Showtime, 10 p.m.).

Announced only last week, and promoted with ads that feature no less than a duped Dick Cheney, tonight’s premiere episode (only a half hour long, like the original “Da Ali G Show”) does not feature the former vice president, nor the former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin or Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, who have both preemptively said they were victims.

But it does start with Sen. “Bernard” Sanders gamely trying to keep up with the ludicrous suggestions of his interviewer, a pudgy right wing conspiracy nut named Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr., who rides a scooter to conserve his finite energy and has an idea of how to solve this problem of the 1 percent having all the wealth — put the other 99 percent in with the 1, he suggests. Sanders just looks dumbfounded at the math.

We move quickly to an example of the super liberal, a pony-tailed guy in an NPR T-shirt who tries to share his increasingly bizarre parenting ideas with a Republican county head in South Carolina and her husband, who listen patiently and even indulge him by letting him do his traditional pre-dinner blessing – a Native American chant that goes on and on, just as Borat once did, singing his nonsensical national anthem in minor league baseball parks.

Unlike Sarah Silverman’s own attempt at examining the country and trying to bridge gaps, “I Love You America,” Cohen’s “Who is America?” pushes those on the extremes further out on the edge to demonstrate how wide the divide really is.

And the liberals are as easy to fool as those on the left, he finds, when he dresses as an ex-con artist showing his works made with body fluids to a Laguna Beach gallery owner so enamored with his approach that she volunteers a couple of her pubic hairs for one of his projects and marvels at his breakthroughs.

The coup de grâs, though comes with Cohen’s most extreme character, an Israeli anti-terror activist who is on a campaign not just to arm teachers in the battle against school shootings, but to arm kids. In fact, toddlers may be the best people to teach to shoot because they’re not yet scared of guns.

It’s not hard to convince outspoken NRA and guns rights people that this is a great idea, and they volunteer to star in kiddie-centered ads encouraging them to sign up for shooting training. But then an array of congressmen, active and retired, join in with the endorsements for the ludicrous infomercial, with no less than former minority leader Trent Lott leading the parade. By the time a former congressmen signs saying, chillingly “Happy shooting, children!” you wonder if the comma is in there at all.

It’s brilliant, and appalling, and in part hilariously funny until it is shockingly sad.

And that is a successful way to push a whole lot of buttons on just a premiere episode.

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