Who Is America? shot itself in the foot a bit, yeah? Its first several episodes featured astounding stunts that cunningly nudged figures of immense power into stunning displays of irresponsibility, racism, and moral corruption, setting up an expectation that, along with Showtime’s claim of the series being “the most dangerous TV show ever,” was impossible to sustain, even across the show’s relatively tight episode order. The last few episodes have lacked in jaw-dropping spectacle, resulting more in Ali G-style exercises in awkwardness and low-stakes humiliation. Sure, it’s fun seeing a Silicon Valley douche try to make his dick look bigger by wedging a doll’s arm in his pants, but, on the same show that gave us Kinder Guardians, it’s just a raindrop in the ocean of Baron Cohen’s potential.
That’s not a criticism, necessarily. Funny is funny, and some of Who Is America?’s best sequences have involved the not-so-newsworthy. Tonight, for example, ex-con Rick Sherman’s attempts to impress food critic Bill Jilla (the proprietor of the low-rent DinnerReviews.com, which, as of this writing, appears to no longer exist) ends with the man eating what he believes to be the flesh of a Chinese dissident before looking into the camera to tell the deceased man’s parents just how delicious their son tastes. “It’s just simply melting on my palate,” he says. That is insane, and the more I think about it, the funnier it gets, which is exactly how I reacted to Kinder Guardians and Jason Spencer’s hairy, jiggling ass. Like Nathan Fielder, Baron Cohen is best when capturing moments of humanity that are simultaneously surreal and recognizable—you can’t fathom someone actually saying the things they’re saying, yet you can absolutely recognize the journey that brings them there.
Also, holy shit at the veal that’s been “anally aged for eight days” in a “strawberry-flavored condom.”
Jilla raves, “The best braised veal I’ve ever had in my lifetime.”
As a cooking show devotee—I also review Top Chef for this site—I also appreciated the jabs at modern foodie culture, in which it’s considered close-minded to scoff at the idea of eating testicles, brains, and stomach lining. While incorporating offal is a good thing—less waste, etc.—you can’t necessarily fault someone for not wanting to eat intestines. One of this episode’s great joys was watching Jilla’s face slowly fall when he realized Rick was going to serve him human flesh, as well as the anticipation of whether or not he’d actually do it.
Rick’s malleability has proven to be a boon for the show. His first outing, in which he sought to be a shit-and-cum artist, felt like a bluer riff on Brüno, but his journey into the kaleidoscopic world of EDM last week was nearly as good as his trip into the kitchen here. The concept in general lends itself to no shortage of modern “makeover” reality shows, allowing for Baron Cohen to lampoon a slew of different industries.
One wishes that flexibility also manifested in Billy Wayne Ruddick, Baron Cohen’s far-right conspiracy theorist. Here, he gets two plum sit-downs, one with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and another with Howard Dean, the one-time Democratic nominee whose campaign was undone by one particularly strange bellow (simpler times!). The problem is that Ruddick’s character is just so relentlessly one-note; he complains about fake news, then tries to combat readily provable facts with blatantly manufactured charts and photos, one of which finds a massive penis photoshopped against the leg of Hillary Clinton. Sure, this is exactly what the Alex Joneses and Mike Cernoviches of the world actually do—I’m sure there’s a whole corner of 4chan convinced that Hillary is a man—but the jokes don’t seem to have any legs beyond the mere presentation of these theories. Baron Cohen seems to be leaning hard on the responses of Stein and Dean (and, in previous episodes, Bernie Sanders and Ted Koppel), but all we’ve really gotten are patient, well-reasoned explanations for why these particular talking points are demonstrably false. Maybe it functions as a satire on the detrimental politeness of Democrats? An effort to get left-wing leaders to call out lies out for what they are? I dunno, but the bits just really aren’t working.
One wonders what Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello could’ve done with Stein, who many cite as a key factor in Hillary’s 2016 loss. What if Baron Cohen hit her with #Resistance-type concerns instead of silly cracks about manmade hurricanes and “climax change”? Whatever the outcome, it would’ve at least given Nira something more interesting to do. This episode’s idea of having him shoving a toy doll up his ass in an effort to replicate the sensations of childbirth is funny in theory, but the execution here was sloppy and blue. The best bits were in the narration, with Nira describing describing impregnation as a “misogynistic and shameful process.”
Thankfully, Erran Morad again proved himself to be the show’s most reliable character in a sketch that brought a new dimension to the Israeli defense expert. Here, he works with Gretchen Rossi, a cast member on The Real Housewives of Orange County, and “her pussy husband,” Slade, on the best ways to prevent a home invasion. Unlike in previous sketches, the methods themselves take a backseat to the banter, in which Morad routinely takes jabs at Slade’s masculinity while flirting with Rossi. Repeatedly pronouncing his name as “Slut,” Morad calls him “flabby,” implies he takes stinky shits, and pretty much asserts that he’d be better at pleasuring his wife. “I worked in the army also as a seducer,” he says. “I spent three years learning how to make a woman climax...but I’m sure Slut is very good, too.”
- There was a post-credits sequence with OMGWhizzBoyOMG and Jan Brewer, the former governor of Arizona, but it’s fairly uneventful. Brewer, a big Trump supporter, disagrees with a Shopkins’ desire to ethnically cleanse its fellow toys, but still believes it should be able to buy an assault rifle. So that’s heartening.
- Still chuckling over Morad’s relentless attacks on Slade. “A lot of people hate you,” he says. “They mock your clothes, I expect.” Slade, to his credit, handles it all with an insane amount of grace.
- I really disliked Nira’s “baby” sketch, but him keeping his argyle socks on during “birth” was a nice touch.
- Add the cello to the list of things Baron Cohen is insanely good at.
- “Do you think the trouser press created a perfect penis?”