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Da Ali G Show - The Complete First Season Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 August 2004

Da Ali G Show - The Complete First Season

HBO Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: Not rated
starring: Sacha Baron Cohen
TV broadcast year: 2003
DVD release year: 2004
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

I is here wit’ none other ‘dan my main man Ali G, the funniest, freshest comedy I have seen on TV since the cutting edge Tenacious D show. HBO has been so ahead of their time with comedies like the “Ben Stiller Show,” “Mr. Show” and the aforementioned Tenacious D and they are keeping that streak alive with Da Ali G Show. Ali G has been all the rage in the U.K. and some forward thinking exec at HBO has brought this brilliant show to the U.S. The concept of the show is pretty easy to follow. British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen plays three different characters that consist of hip hop TV show host Ali G, Russian news magazine show host Borat and the gay Austrian fashion show host Bruno.

Most of the camera time goes to the star of the main start of the show, Ali G. The show’s producers have somehow been able to gain access to some of the biggest names in news and politics including Newt Gingrich, Andy Rooney, Ralph Nader and Boutros Boutros Ali, just to name a few. One of the great mysteries of the Ali G show is how this pretend character who is a completely illiterate, wannabe gangsta, from this streets of Stains, England, who hosts a fictitious show geared towards the urban youth in the U.K. can get a sit-down interview with Buzz Aldrin, a tour of the United Nations or go on a full day of training with the Philadelphia police department.

When Pat Buchanan is sitting down with Ali G, talking about weapons of mass destruction, Ali G keeps referring to WMDs as “BLTs.” Buchanan takes it perfectly in stride and realizes that he’s probably in the middle of some kind of joke but manages to play along. Andy Rooney was immediately turned off by Ali G’s exceptionally poor grasp of the English language and corrected him about 10 times in the first few minutes of the show. Ali G starts off most questions by saying “Does you think that….” and he frequently refers to older people as “geezers.” He also likes to talk about how he has sex with his girlfriend or, as he likes to say, “bones me Julie.” In one partiality funny moment he ask former U.S. attorney general Dick Thornberg the bold question, “What is legal?” Then he asks, “What is illegal?” He finally asks, “What is barely legal?” Needless to say, this isn’t a kids’ show. It’s so over the top that the looks on the faces of the people he’s interviewing are a mixture of uncomfortable shock and disbelief.

Ali G also hosts discussion groups where he and a panel of unsuspecting experts talk about social topics, all sitting on a ridiculous set that has been painted to look like a ghetto, with a chain link fence in the background, graffiti on the walls and a chalk outline on the ground to add to the “urban” feel. When talking about religion, Ali G mistakenly thinks that Jewish people have their “dongs cut off” when they are circumcised. Other topics include the media (or as Ali G says, “da mejia”), education and law. His complete ignorance shows for example when talking about the problem with 7-11, and a guest corrects him saying, “Don’t you mean 9-11?” Ali G quickly flips the tables and says, well, maybe for some people 7-11 is a problem.

As Bruno, Cohen focuses on interviewing people across the United States who work in the fashion industry and is often seen backstage at the openings of fashion lines or at spring break parties, asking unsuspecting college frat guys to pose on camera before telling them it’s for a gay fashion show in Austria. In one particularly hilarious episode, Bruno goes to Alabama to interview some locals on their opinion of gay people. He manages to find of the most homophobic hillbillies on the planet, lets them speak their mind and the hilarity ensues. He catches an Alabama football player off-guard by asking, in a thick Austrian accent, how big his “schvansenstroodle “ is and if he has considered dating any of the other players on the team. He even takes to the field to dance alongside the cheerleaders, decked out in an over the top purple satin shirt. Needless to say, the drunken Alabama football fans “don‘t want no queer” dancing on the sidelines of their football games. Some of the thoughts and opinions expressed by the interviewees are so frighteningly backwards that you’d think that the term “civil rights” has never been uttered in some parts of the U.S. Bruno ends up being as much of an indirect social commentator as he is a funny wannabe male sex symbol for Europe.

Last but not least is my favorite character, Khazakhstani television show host Borat, who travels the heartland of America doing a mock documentary called “Borat in America.” With the thickest bad Russian accent, Borat interviews people ranging from real estate agents to dating service employees, occasionally lapsing into a made-up hybrid of Polish and Hebrew to make the people think that he is truly from some desolate region of Russia. Kazakhstan does exist but, with the level of intellect that his interview subjects have, Cohen could have made up a fictitious Eastern European country and probably pulled off his faux television show just as easily.

While shopping for real estate, Borat asks the realtor if the neighborhood has “man with chocolate face” and then when shown the inside of the home, he proceeds to ask the realtor, “Where is the cage?” When the realtor doesn’t understand why Borat would ask such a question, Borat replies, “A so my a wife, she does not run away.” When interviewing with a dating service, Borat frequently asks the woman in charge, “When do I get to make sexy time intercourse?” It’s amazing that he does not completely crack himself up and can get through these interviews without blowing his own cover. He somehow pulls off the feat of portraying a cheesy, overzealous TV Russian reporter as though was born to play the part. He frequently speaks of his dead wife from Kazakhstan and despite his naïve manner, he is seemingly on the prowl in America for a woman with “much plow experience” and will “crush” any woman who ever cheats on him. By using these Russian stereotypes, he is able to easily score interview after interview with unsuspecting people across the heartland of America.

The show is very formulaic in that, in every episode, Cohen plays each of his three alter egos and never varies from this pattern. It seems as if this formula would be quickly tiring, but in the middle of any given episode, I’d find myself laughing at a particular Ali G bit while in the back of my mind asking myself, “I wonder what Borat and Bruno will do this episode?” Knowing whom to expect next but to have absolutely no idea what topic or place that character is going to be covering leaves the element of unpredictability perfectly married to a format that is comfortable and works well in half-hour chunks.

The extras on the disc are a little lighter than I had hoped for. However, the commentary by Cohen and the show’s co-writer/producer Dan Mazer is particularly enlightening. We learn that rather than using fake moustaches for each character, Sacha grows out his over-the-top Borat moustache and shoots a series of those segments then grows out the thin Ali G beard/goatee combo (think Prince) to do a large chunk of Ali G segments and then finally shaves all of his facial hair and gets a very short haircut to do his Bruno segments. The bad gray suit that Borat wears has never been washed since they started doing the show so that it will lend an air of realism to the character – they claim that Europeans and Russians don’t tend to take as many showers and use deodorant as much as Americans so not only does Borat look and sound Russian, he smells Russian too.

I’ve told many people about this show and how I think its one of the most brilliant things I have ever seen. However, I can tell you that many people simply don’t “get it.” I have a feeling that some of them will come around eventually, but I fear that Cohen will have to expand his number of characters, because as the popularity of the show grows, it’s going to be more and more difficulty to get the caliber of interviews that he has been able to get so far. I find the dry, subtle humor that Cohen is able to coax out of the three characters just as funny as the obvious cheap laughs that he gets when he goes for crude sexual jokes. If you like your comedy edgy, uncongenial and occasionally socially awkward, then Ali G is your kind of show.

more details
sound format: Dolby Digital 2.0
aspect ratio: 1.33:1
special features: All 6 episodes from the 2003 season, one with commentary by Sacha Baron Cohen & writer/producer Dan Mazer, Unedited "Spyz Movie" that Ali G pitched to Hollywood, Previously unseen outtakes, Glossary of Ali G jargon
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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