Screenshot: Who Is America? (Showtime)

Okay, let’s start with the good stuff. Joe Arpaio, the aggressively racist Arizona sheriff who was pardoned by President Donald Trump after illegally detaining Latinos, appears in this episode on the “unboxing” show of OMGWhizzBoyOMG, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest creation. A Finnish celebrity with bright orange hair, the character speaks in a goo-goo-ga-ga parlance that, when paired with the bizarrely popular unboxing trend and the offbeat patter of your typical YouTube show, creates the perfect setting for the kind of disorientation Baron Cohen hopes to create for his marks. Setting an out-of-touch old fart like Arpaio against such youthful idiosyncrasies is brilliant; by couching him in what is no doubt an unfamiliar setting—with a foreigner no less—Baron Cohen is able to make Arpaio feel as if anything he doesn’t understand can be chalked up to differences in age or culture.

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And that’s how he can get Arpaio to argue about guns with a tiny Shopkins donut—“D’lish Donut, you have to understand that you have to follow the constitution”—and agree that, yes, Trump has probably had “a golden shower”—“It wouldn’t surprise me,” Arpaio says—and, yes, he “may have to say yes” to giving Trump a “blowjob.” Sure, it’s all misdirection and wordplay, an attempt to humiliate rather than expose, but it’s great fun, regardless. Arpaio, who’s currently vying for the Republican nomination for Senate in Arizona (and, based on what we’ve already seen of Arizona residents on this show, would probably get it), is a true villain, and there’s something so uncannily hilarious about watching him get jerked around against such a bright, stupid milieu.

“I felt uncomfortable with some of the words they were using but I had to live through it,” Arpaio recently told Breitbart about his experience on the show. “I am not the type of guy who gets up and walks out. I never walked out in thousands of interviews. I just take it. I was kind of shocked. But I figured this is Finland and this is a famous comedian.” Well, he didn’t seem shocked, not even when WhizzBoy said he was collecting guns in advance of the coming “race war.”

And then there’s Shaun McCutcheon, a Republican “activist” and fake news screamer who made waves earlier this decade when he successfully sued the Federal Election Commission over its aggregate contribution limits. Here, he and his glowering “employee” Zan work with Erran Morad to address terrorist attacks in the workplace. It’s absurd, funny stuff, with Morad getting McCutcheon and Zan to run drills that include barreling at gunmen with a slab of pork or wearing a headpiece made from file folders. Still, it felt a bit like a retread of the stunt Morad pulled with Jason Spencer, the now-resigned Georgia state representative who famously dropped trou to intimidate ISIS with his exposed ass. McCutcheon definitely looks like a fool here, but the stakes aren’t as high and the stunts not as sublime. The funniest part might’ve been Zan’s dead eyes watching from the sidelines as his boss played the flute through the shittiest Osama Bin Laden beard on the market.

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Screenshot: Who Is America? (Showtime)

More effective but similarly dispiriting was billionaire Gio Monaldo’s search for a mega-yacht for his business partner, who he won’t name expect to say he’d be “very Assad” if his identity were revealed, because he’s a very “Syrian-iss” guy. Of course, the “project manager” for a “luxury yacht sales company” with whom he’s speaking is more than happy to build a yacht for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, even one with “military hardware”—guns, “flammable liquid”—and the ability to electrify the water for the express purpose of killing refugees. And though the salesman bats an eye at the reveal that the yacht would double as a vessel for transporting illegal prostitutes, he’s quick to promise Gio that, sure, you can squeeze thirty girls in the boat’s undercarriage. “The NDAs are going all over the place,” the guy promises. “If they want it, and they wanna write the check for it, it can be done.” Christ, we’re all fucked.

It’s shocking, comically terrifying stuff, but the best part might’ve been Baron Cohen’s interplay with his svelte cohort, with whom he trades annoyed asides as she gives him a handjob (and, after a bit, blowjob) under a blanket right in front of the guy. Her disaffected performance was pitch perfect.

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Screenshot: Who Is America? (Showtime)

Not so perfect was Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello’s segment, during which the “self-hating white male” interviews David Pyne of the Utah Republican Assembly. Pyne has some horrifying ideas about internet pornography—he thinks it should be criminalized, but, should it be kept legal, he’d like anyone using it to consent to their name being added to an ominous “database”—but there’s nothing all that enjoyable about watching him get confronted with Nira’s “reclamation” of the word “pedophile” and his perverse approach to sexual education, which includes a children’s book—Flopsy Finds a Funny Picture— featuring a bunny “bukakke party,” blowjobs, and plenty of furry boobs. Pyne is clearly uncomfortable, but he remains steadfast in his replies and astoundingly professional as Baron Cohen continues to needle him. The bits are funny in a vacuum—Flopsy’s vulgar, yet lovingly drawn, illustrations will make you scream—but here it feels like Baron Cohen is trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Much of the joy of Who Is America? resides in just how easy it is for Baron Cohen to draw out his subjects’ prejudice’s and ignorance (see: Jason Spencer, Kinder Guardians), not to mention the way those biases continue to blossom once they’ve been exposed (see: the Kingman, Arizona mosque focus group). Here, he’s satirizing conspiracy theories like Pizzagate and QAnon, which posit the Democratic Party as a hotbed for pedophiles and child sex trafficking, but Pyne doesn’t seem the type to peddle such beliefs. What we’re left with are Baron Cohen’s attempts to break this man, to try and shove him into an outburst. Who Is America? is exploitive by nature, but here it’s cruelly so.

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Stray observations

  • That said, Nira’s means of teaching his 12-year old about the dangers of internet pornography—forcing him to masturbate to every video on a massive porn tube site until the mere mention of sex causes him to “shudder”—does serve as a sharp critique of the damaging impact of associating sex with shame, a far-too-common byproduct of abstinence education.
  • Who else heard Baron Cohen slipping into his Ali G voice during the Arpaio segment?
  • Sheriff Joe: “[Trump] doesn’t act like he’s rich.” Sure, buddy.
  • “What are you doing?” “Playing the flute.” “Why” “Uh...raise the snake.”

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