Talk about dashed expectations.
Sacha Baron Cohen’s Showtime series “Who Is America?” wrapped over the weekend without showing the most-talked about segment of the limited-run series.
The Sarah Palin interview. Team Showtime hinted the much balleyhooed segment might not make the final cut a few weeks back.
They were right … and a truckload of sardines couldn’t smell as fishy as PalinGate.
Palin herself inadvertently teased the segment weeks earlier via her Facebook page. The former Vice Presidential candidate described her ordeal with the show, saying Cohen dressed as a wounded military veteran to ask her absurd questions.
This “legit opportunity” to honor American Vets and contribute to a “legit Showtime historical documentary” was requested of me via a speakers bureau.
For my interview, my daughter and I were asked to travel across the country where Cohen (I presume) had heavily disguised himself as a disabled US Veteran, fake wheelchair and all. Out of respect for what I was led to believe would be a thoughtful discussion with someone who had served in uniform, I sat through a long “interview” full of Hollywoodism’s disrespect and sarcasm -- but finally had enough and literally, physically removed my mic and walked out, much to Cohen’s chagrin. The disrespect of our US military and middle-class Americans via Cohen’s foreign commentaries under the guise of interview questions was perverse.
That brand of goofy Q&A is what Cohen does best. Think “Borat,” “Bruno” and “Da Ali G Show.” Only Palin said impersonating an injured veteran to cheap laughs was beyond the pale.
She’s right, of course.
Showtime didn’t respond to her charge right away. Odd, no?
Eventually, the network called Palin’s assessment false.
“Baron Cohen did not present himself as a disabled veteran, and viewers nationwide who watched the premiere on Sunday can now attest to that,” Showtime said in a statement.
The network claimed Cohen interviewed her as fictional, far-right character Billy Wayne Ruddick. The Alex Jones-type figure uses a motorized scooter to maneuver. He is in no way way physically impaired. Nor does he carry himself as a military veteran of any kind.
So … did Palin get her facts all wrong? We don’t know, since Showtime never aired the segment in question.
The show generated plenty of ink, as Cohen hit right-leaning targets with a fury lacking in his liberal “guests.” The ratings? That’s another matter, with most outlets describing them as low or modest at best.
It leaves Showtime with five simple questions to answer to clear up PalinGate:
Will We Ever See the Segment in Question?
Typically shows like “Who Is America?” include bonus footage when they reach home video shelves. Can we expect the Palin video on the Blu-ray edition?
Why Cut It in the First Place?
It’s like hiring a major movie star for a cameo and then cutting her out entirely. It does happen for time to time, but it makes little sense. The network suggested Cohen and his team are constantly “refining” their work, and that’s understandable. A tweak here, an edit there. Lose your biggest guest star of the debut season? As Wallace Shawn might say … “inconceivable!”
Why Not Go for Ratings Gold?
Palin is a shadow of her old self. That’s not a personal dig, just a reflection of her cultural clout. She’s not as politically active as she once was. She hasn’t so much as teased a return to office. And, in the Age of Trump, we’ve moved on to other figures to cheer or taunt.
She still has some cache, particularly with liberals who can’t stop hating her. What progressive didn’t salivate over the sight of Cohen peppering her with insulting questions? The show’s lukewarm ratings might have jumped had they teased just such an episode.
Don’t You Want to Show Your Cards?
“Who Is America?” isn’t a hard news program. It’s comedy, but it aims to make serious points about gun control and other hot issues.
The show did snare a scalp when Georgia state lawmaker Jason Spencer resigned after being shown using the N-word on an early episode. The network also openly backed both its star and the fact that it didn’t insult military veterans with its programming. Only the network dragged its feet with its defense and couldn’t even show some footage to prove its argument.
Does Showtime Want the Fake News Moniker?
Showtime primarily serves up movies and original shows like “Shameless” and “Ray Donovan.” It’s not a hard news network by any stretch of ye olde imagination. The network still shows documentaries like “Years of Living Dangerously,” a climate change alarmist series, and the upcoming “Cradle of Champions.”
It’s part of its business model. Could that model be tarnished by PalinGate, the refusal to back up the network’s words with visual proof? Consider Palin’s Facebook message as a taunt:
Here is my challenge, shallow Sacha boy: go ahead -- air the footage. Experience tells us it will be heavily edited, not pretty, and intended to humiliate.
Let’s be clear. If Cohen did play his Ruddick character during his Palin chat the former Governor has some significant explaining to do. How could she mistake his getup for that of a military veteran? Spreading aggressively false news on social media? That’s another major gaffe, as bad as the damage wrought by Tina Fey’s devastating imitation circa 2008.
Or, Palin accurately described Cohen’s approach and it’s Showtime with major egg on its corporate face. There’s an easy way to make PalinGate go away. Show the footage.
Your move, Showtime.
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