As we get closer to this Sunday’s premiere of Who Is America?, Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to the TV prank/interview genre, more and more of Baron Cohen’s “victims” seem positively desperate to step forward and perform inadvertent PR for the series. Sarah Palin has already made her objections to the Showtime show known in a way that can only drive ratings forward, and she’s now been joined by Alabama judge, defeated Senate candidate, and accused creep Roy Moore, who issued a statement threatening to sue Baron Cohen for tricking him into appearing on the series, which we have to assume is a big part of the point of clowning on Roy Moore in the first place.
Not that Baron Cohen isn’t doing plenty to keep the fires stoked himself; earlier today, the comedian—or rather, one of his characters, “Dr. Billy Wayne Ruddick Jr.”—fired back at “Vice-President Palin” on Twitter, accusing her of “being hit by a bullshit grenade” and suggesting that she’s now “bleedin’ FAKE NEWS.” It’s all perfectly funny, right-wing-baiting stuff, so why does reading it—and anticipating more of this sort of thing as the show’s run begins—make us feel so goddamn tired all of a sudden?
It seems weird, after all, to suggest that it hasn’t been long enough since Baron Cohen’s last reign of undercover terror. Bruno is nine years old at this point, and it’s clear that he and his team are as good as ever at working their ways into places they really aren’t supposed to be. (Case in point: This Hollywood Reporter piece about their infiltration of the show of conservative radio host Austin Rhodes, which includes a firsthand account of the tactics Cohen’s team uses to make sure their targets stay disoriented and wrong-footed.)
But here’s the thing: When Baron Cohen was first doing his thing, making a fool of Newt Gingrich and tricking people into revealing their secret prejudices for the ever-watchful camera, it was back in an era where people were at least surface-level interested in keeping those prejudices secret. But the sad fact is that we no longer need elaborate stings or disguises to prove that people like Palin or Roy Moore are small-minded, xenophobic, frequently racist idiots; these days, that’s the makings of a moderately successful political brand. It makes the comedian’s antics feel a bit like yelling that the emperor’s got no clothes on, when we’ve spent the last two years knowingly staring, dead-eyed and helpless, at his wrinkled genitals as they flop around hatefully in our face.
Of course, Baron Cohen has surprised us before; it’s entirely possible that his series will tease something legitimately shocking or revelatory out of his encounters with America’s political elite. Hopefully we’ll be awake to see it.