"What do you think Iraq would have been like if you didn't liberate it?" Sacha Baron Cohen, playing an admiring Israeli anti-terrorism expert named Col. Erran Morad, asks Dick Cheney. "Would it have been a breeding ground for terrorists and unstable?" Cheney, oblivious to the sly knock against his disastrous war, gravely agrees that "it would have been."
The interview with Cheney, during which the former vice president happily agrees to sign Morad's "waterboard kit" and expresses curiosity about the results of a Google search combining "Dick" with "torture," is one of Cohen's more impressive pranks: entertaining, revealing, and restrained by the standards of his new Showtime series, Who Is America?
But as with Cohen's prior work in the guises of British rapper Ali G, Kazakh TV journalist Borat, and Austrian fashion reporter Bruno, some of the stunts leave you with the queasy feeling that he is picking on people who don't deserve it.
I have little sympathy for Jason Spencer, the Georgia state legislator who resigned in disgrace after Who Is America? showed him doing a crude impression of a Chinese tourist, shouting racial epithets, and running at Cohen backward with his pants down, all as part of Morad's anti-terrorist training. But I'm not sure what point is served when Cohen, playing the smug progressive Nira Cain-N'Degeocello, subjects a couple of perfectly polite Trump supporters to an increasingly graphic and offensive description of his home life designed to test their patience and hospitality.
Cain-N'Degeocello, as lacking in self-awareness as Dick Cheney, describes his mission as "listening respectfully, without prejudice, to Republicans, with the hope of changing their racist and childish views."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Who Is America?".