Sacha Baron Cohen’s newly unveiled Showtime series Who Is America? got some great advanced press when Sarah Palin and Roy Moore were added to the list of people who claimed they’d been duped by the actor. We’re now close to 20 years removed from Da Ali G Show, which produced Baron Cohen’s clueless characters Ali G, Borat, and Brüno. He has always been unrelenting in his trolling. When people are getting trolled relentlessly online everyday, and prank culture has turned toxic, how does a show like this stand out?
Nathan Fielder, who is much more nuanced with pranks on Nathan for You, is listed as a consulting producer in the credits of the first episode, which debuted Sunday. But, according to the credits and IMDb, the series features no women on the writing staff. More damning, as pointed out by BuzzFeed’s Summer Anne Burton, Kurt Metzger is a writer on the first episode. A comedian and former writer for Inside Amy Schumer, Metzger was called out for his disturbing comments on rape allegations in 2016 and has a history of harassing women online. (However, he was allegedly not fired from Schumer’s show, as she stated back in 2016.)
So uh the the Sacha Baron Cohen show has some great moments but realized (while noting that the show has no female writers on its 10 person staff) that they hired Kurt Metzger, a comedian fired from Amy Schumer’s show because he’s a violent misogynist.— Summer Anne Burton (@summeranne) July 16, 2018
Fuck this guy!!! pic.twitter.com/swgI0u1ZDr— Summer Anne Burton (@summeranne) July 16, 2018
If you go into the first episode knowing no women were involved, it certainly colors the proceedings. One of Baron Cohen’s characters, who wears a stereotypical balding ponytail and NPR shirt, apologizes for being a white man and for his white privilege. Another character, an ex-con, gives a female gallery owner a piece of art that is covered in semen, then regales her with tales of how he used being raped in prison to make other pieces of art. She patiently endures his scatalogical stories, but it’s hard to tell if she’s just being polite, or if she’s flipping his assumptions of her. His stories involve semen, shit, blood, and pubic hair, and at the end of the segment we’re not sure why this conversation even happened, but we assume it was to humiliate her.
Elsewhere, Baron Cohen’s anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad tries to help with America’s school shooting epidemic by consulting with gun-rights advocate Philip Van Cleave, which leads into a surreal bit about a program arming school children with guns. In a conversation with Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt, Baron Cohen makes a joke about his wife shooting him once when he got “horny” during the night. “It’s not rape if it’s your wife,” he says to Pratt, who laughs a little too hard.
But that is Baron Cohen’s end game: Getting people to show themselves, even if it takes a rape joke to get there. The gun segment specifically captures politicians with their ids out, gleefully unloading their thoughts about how children should have guns, and it feels the most vital. It could have been the whole episode. Joe Walsh, the former congressman who’s included in the bit, is yet another person who claims he was tricked, but he’s already shown himself.
At a time when Hollywood is attempting to shift to dynamics of writers’ rooms and representation, it seems tone-deaf to have all men directing and writing a show about America, but then Da Ali G Show didn’t fare much better in terms of representation. Perhaps Who Is America? is showing itself too.