Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Satire That Tires Quickly Is Da Ali G Show

The Good: Almost undeniably funny, Some hilarious moments, Interesting concept
The Bad: Repetitive humor/concept, What is not seen is not on the DVDs
The Basics: While Sasha Baron Cohen's character acting is flawless and humorous as three investigative reporters, his schtick wears out on Da Ali G Show.

When the summer hit Borat: Cultural Learnings To . . . became a success in the United States and various people pranked in the film objected to their place in the movie based on the stupid things they said and did, I had little sympathy for one simple reason: Borat was a regular feature on Da Ali G Show and by the time the film came out, there had been a sufficient amount of time for most people to have heard about it. In short, if one was clued in to pop culture, the fact that Borat was a fictional construct of Sasha Baron Cohen was easily accessible to anyone. Indeed, one wonders about the research department of the local news station (for example) utilized in Borat that it did not catch the fabrication. Fools!

This is predicated, of course, on seeing Da Ali G Show, made easier now that all twelve episodes are conveniently boxed up in Da Ali G Show - Da Complete Seereez. Had anyone who had been approached about the stops made by Borat bothered to look up the name, even well before the film came out, Da Ali G Show would have come up. Borat and Bruno (a homosexual fashion reporter) are regular features on Da Ali G Show.

So, what is it?

Over the course of twelve episodes (six in the first season, six in the second, encapsulated on four DVDs), actor Sasha Baron Cohen portrays a British talk show host who is an ethnic amalgam most closely resembling urban black culture in the U.S. with the bright yellow warm-up suit, dark glasses and cap. He speaks in a broken Ebonic twisted with British English that makes it easy to see why so much of what he says on the show goes over the heads of the people he interviews.

Basically, though, Da Ali G Show is a talk show where Ali G, Cohen's urban construct, interviews world leaders, experts in fields such as religion, pornography, and reproductive health, and common people with an array of ridiculous questions and misstatements that he deadpans so convincingly that his guests usually play along. So, for example, when sitting down with a variety of religious leaders, he asks if God exists and even asks directly, "So does Jesus really exist, or is he just your father dressed up?"

The first episodes are edgy as Ali G wins interviews with notables such as Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Buzz Aldrin, and others. Ali G tours the UN Building, debates religions with a priest, a minister, a rabbi and a deist, talks with scholars about STDs and even speaks with Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. At the end of each episode, there is a schtick where Ali G manages to get a notable to rap (one of the quests even writes his own!). It's funny and it's clever for the most part. Interspersed between the ignorant and ill-informed Ali G segments are segments involving Borat, a journalist from Kazakhstan, and Bruno, the German fashionista. Borat's segments usually involve the most base form of ignorance playing off well-meaning, but ignorant Americans. Bruno's segments - which I did not initially enjoy - endure as a monument to the hypocrisies of the fashion world. One of the best segments ultimately is Bruno walking a fashion designer rhetorically around his own fashion show. Bruno gets the designer to declare his own show about being free and controlled, for everyone and tailored to the elite, fun and serious, etc. Bruno's interviewing technique is distinctive and watching him lead the pretentious fashion designer around by the rhetorical short hairs is wonderful.

Moreover, the three characters are distinctive and different. Bruno is the archetypal fashion commentator without a hint of irony or ignorance to that environment. Borat and Ali G, both ignorant and playing off the stupidity, ignorance or tolerance of others, do it in dramatically different ways. While Borat is stupid and bumbling, Ali G - despite his appearance - is scholarly and inquisitive. Sasha Baron Cohen masterfully acts each part without an apparent hint of himself.

On the DVDs, the bonus features are largely more of the same schtick that the show is. The best bonus is Ali G addressing the graduating class of Harvard one year for their commencement exercises. He's entertaining and funny.

But as the episodes progress, Da Ali G Show ceases to be edgy and simply becomes repetitive. In its second season, acts I anticipated enjoying, like Ali G interviewing Pat Buchanan, fell well below expectations and anticipated humor. Instead, Ali G stretches to say anything new. This falls into a schtick reminiscent to the weaknesses in Comedy Central's series Strangers With Candy (reviewed here!), which had an amusing concept but became repetitive quickly.

And eventually, even the guests begin to tire of Ali G. Koop suggests that Ali G is just stupid in a conversation about memory, Andy Rooney cannot take two minutes of Ali G's questions before declaring the interview over and even Sam Donaldson seems bewildered by how Ali G got into the studio to interview him. Rooney's walking off after Ali G accuses him of being a racist is notable, but it's not the first time this happens on the show. Sadly, the other times, the viewer is not treated to the actual walk-off. In at least one other segment, where Ali G is interviewing a panel of four notables, one walks off and by the end of the segment only three remain.

The result is a collection of twelve episodes where perhaps six might have done. For those looking to understand yet another allusion in The Simpsons, when Homer buys the ice cream truck and he suits up for the first time, the suiting up scene is a reference to the opening credits of Da Ali G Show wherein the narrator is dressed by having his clothes whipped onto him. That's one less thing to understand, I suppose.

Beyond that, the humor gets repetitive, like Ali G calling Buzz Aldrin Buzz Lightyear or adding a few extra "Boutros's" to "Boutros Boutros-Ghali!" And it's neither the quality of timeless sketch humor like Monty Python's Flying Circus or the immediately, rich satire of The Daily Show With John Stewart. Instead, it's amusing, perhaps worth watching a few episodes once, but ultimately forgettable and not worth owning.

For other works on HBO, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
True Blood - Season Four
Six Feet Under


For other television show reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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