First Impressions: Sacha Baron Cohen gets boldly political on Who Is America?

Ultimate troll Sacha Baron Cohen is back in form for his new show Who Is America?, screening for Australians exclusively from today on Stan, and this time he’s splitting his time between four characters. You’ve got the right-wing blogger for a fictitious website dubbed “truthbay.org”; a cis-gendered liberal who is so open-minded he watches his wife have sex with sea mammals; an ex-con turned abstract artist who uses bodily fluids to create his works; and an Islamophobic ex-Mossad agent dripping in machismo and unwavering gun advocacy. It’s messy and unbalanced, but Bacon Cohen’s penchant for stripping away niceties and exposing the idiocy of his guests, through often extreme levels of satire, is still very much in tact.

Billy Wayne Ruddick, aforementioned right-wing blogger, gets the jump of the seven-episode series with an interview opposite Bernie Sanders. Aside from mild prosthetic changes and a wig, this is certainly not one of Cohen’s most nuanced disguises, and his accent seems like only a small jump from some sort of weird hybrid of Ali G and Bruno. It’s clear Cohen isn’t as great at accents as he seems to think he is, but none of that really matters when he’s confusing the absolute fuck out of Sanders with a complete lack of basic mathematics. It’s not the best way to kick off the series, but watching someone of Sanders’ repute struggle to be polite to a very dumbed-down Cohen is entertaining enough.

Firing shots to his left, Dr. Nira Cain-N’Degeocello is Cohen at his most ridiculous. This pastiche of extreme liberals isn’t quite as biting as his vicious insinuation that Trump supporters are bumbling idiots, but placing the character in a house with an incredulous husband and wife works quite well. Cohen deftly builds a tale so tall about his unconventional belief systems that he quickly has this conservative couple believing their heavily powdered guest is actually in an open marriage with a dolphin.

Ricky Sherman is the satirist’s least political jab, dotted with prison rape jokes and an over-the-top gag that has him convincing an art gallery owner that he is a forward-thinker who wants to turn bodily fluids into beautiful pieces of work. Paintings made with feces, semen and pubic hair are designed to test just how falsely open an art gallery owner is, but there’s little point beyond that. There have been plenty of jokes made at the expense of the age-old question of “what is art?”, and Sherman’s inclusion on the show feels jarring in the wider political context. Still, the crude humour really hits the ceiling with this, and it’s admirable to see just how committed Cohen is to making a fool of guests.

The first episode’s final character reveal will easily be the show’s most controversial and successful. Erran Morad is played with extreme machismo, like a buffed version of Borat. Again, Cohen isn’t quite as adept at accents as he used to be, and the way he slips into this character is clumsy and much too explicit and cartoonish. Lucky for him his guests are complete morons.

Morad is unleashed on the gun nuts of America, and not just the hidden ones secretly pulling strings to keep rifles accessible to the each and everyone. Gun Owners of America douche Larry Pratt is interviewed for example, and being able to force this men into sharpening his views for the world to see is pure energy for Cohen. Morad is the comedian’s most physical character yet, and its this uncompromising Rambo-like figure that has his interviewees actively trying to escalate their views in order to impress him. It doesn’t take long until they’re on-board with the idea of toddlers being given guns, hence the episode’s highlight where Morad actually convinces Philip Van Cleave to help him make an infomercial, “Kinder Guardians”, pushing guns onto children. It’s the kind of ‘almost fall out of your seat’ laughter Cohen hasn’t justified since Borat.

If nothing else, Who Is America? is an effective reminder of how important satire is in a political landscape like this, highlighting the ridiculousness of some beliefs in uncomfortable and confronting ways, boosted by Cohen’s uncanny ability to fool his guests into exposing themselves.

Who is America? is streaming now exclusively on Stan, with new episodes dropping weekly, same day as the U.S.