TV and Radio

TV review: Sacha Baron Cohen's new show is a long way from the brilliance of Ali G

Philip Van Cleave is convinced to promote a gun, disguised as a toy, for toddlers
Billy Foley

Who is America? Channel 4, Monday at 10pm

There was one section of Sacha Baron Cohen's new show which was close to brilliant.

English ex-con Rick Sherman, straight out of prison, visits a Californian gallery owner to see if she would be interested in his ‘edgy' art.

She loves the “juxtaposition” of his composures on rough cardboard, painted with the materials available to him in his cell – faeces and ejaculate.

And she was completely wowed when he announced he found her inspiring, excused himself and returned with a portrait of her.

It was classic Cohen, sending up the pomposity of elites, getting prominent people to say unfortunate things and exposing their gullibility. Remember the Ali G interview with Sammy Wilson about being British and if he was visiting Ireland?

The only problem was I'm not entirely sure that the gallery owner was a real person. It had the feel more of The Office that an art idiot being duped.

And that feeling continued through the whole first episode of Cohen's new series.

The one person who will be well know to Irish and British audiences – former US presidential candidate Bernie Saunders – was not duped as another heavily made-up Cohen character interviewed him.

Billy Wayne Ruddick jnr was a disabled man in a wheelchair who thought people shouldn't pay taxes to support the disabled.

He argued that the Democrats' policy should be to transfer 100 per cent of the people into the one per cent and he produced a ridiculous chart to support the policy, where all that had to be done was “move the nines”.

Saunders looked a bit confused, but the comedy value was nil. If the idea was to expose Saunders it failed.

I'm also not convinced that the Trump supporting couple Dr Nira Cain-N'Degeocello interviews were real people.

The doctor, who was wearing extreme prosthetics, told the couple that he didn't leave his wife when she started having an affair with a dolphin. They blinked but the wife told her husband not to be “judgmental”.

Often comedy characters take a while to develop and grow, so it's probably too early to write off Who Is America? but thus far Cohen has failed to create anything near the side-splitting funny of Ali G and Boat.

***

Our Guy in Russia, Channel 4, Monday at 9pm

There's a comparison to be made between Guy Martin and Sacha Baron Cohen. Both have previously made fantastic television but their new shows are pale imitations.

Martin, a motorbike racer and truck mechanic, is engaging when discussing subjects he is passionate in. His TV break came as the subject of a film about the Isle of Man TT and he became a hit with the Speed series.

Put Martin near an engine and a light comes on. He's not like numerous jobbing television presenters who are fronting the news one month, doing a travel show the next and breakfast TV the following year.

Our Guy in Russia - one of a dozen TV shows timed to coincide with the World Cup - follows a format of Guy travelling to China and India.

Clearly aware of his limitations, the producers turned India into a motorbike journey across the country.

The opening episode of the Russia journey, on the other hand, was a disaster. It was as if a researcher was tasked with finding the 10 most interesting unrelated things to do in Moscow and then they sent Guy along.

The nadir was as interview with a young woman who was making a name for herself by climbing tall buildings and posting the results on Instagram. We all squirmed as an uncomfortable Guy interviewed her.

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