In 10 Words or Less
Ali G's cast of characters act up again
Loves: Ali G, seeing self-serious people made fun of
Likes: Bruno, Goofy comedy
Dislikes: Borat, Indahouse
The Story So Far...
Born of the UK's "The 11 O'Clock Show," Sacha Baron Cohen's character Ali G is a wannabe; a white guy from suburban England who acts like a gangsta. As host of his own youth program, which coincidentally appears on HBO in America, he interviews politicians and other important people, and basically makes fun of them to their faces. Thanks to a fear of losing control on camera, Ali's accent and an insulting view of young people, they simply sit and take the abuse. Two other characters, Borat, an Eastern European television host, and Bruno, a gay German fashionista, do much of the same, but with their own unique angles.
HBO Home Video released the first season of "Da Ali G Show" in August of 2004. DVDTalk has a review of that set here.
I was having lunch with two of my ladyfriends today, and I popped in this DVD set because a) I wanted them to see the Bruno bits, and b) one had heard of a song about throwing a Jew down a well. Incredibly, this set fulfills both of those reasons for watching. This season of "Da Ali G Show" includes some of the most hilarious segments in the show's two-year run, including one of its most infamous moments, the aforementioned song.
Each episode follows something of a formula, with an interview by Ali G, a segment by Borat, and a roundtable discussion between Ali and four experts. In most episodes, Ali will also take a trip to explore a topic and Bruno will explore some aspect of fashion. It may not be the most original way to put a show together, but when it's not broken, why fix it?
Among Ali G's interview victims this time are veteran newsman Sam Donaldson, former governor Christie Todd Whitman, writer Gore Vidal and failed presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. While Buchanan's self-importance blinds him to Ali G's questions about "BLTs," one of the best sit-downs is with Olympic champion John Naber. It's not a combative interview and Naber has a sense of humor, making questions about buying Olympic medals like "Best Grandson" funnier than it might have been.
Ali G also wrenches some big laughs from the roundtable discussions, which focus on topics like whether an idiot should get to vote as much as a smart person, how to get a disease that will allow one to smoke ganja and animal rights as well. It's not so much the nonsense that dribbles from Ali's mouth that makes these segments funny. Instead, it's watching intelligent people try to maintain composure in the face of stupidity that makes for the best comedy.
Of the bits on this series, the Bruno segments are some of the funniest and most biting, as he takes on some of the more two-faced interview subjects. Bruno at the barn dance is a bit of fluff, but during "Fashion Polizei," he is able to make people lie and completely do an about-face on their opinion, with just a few words. These bits say more about these people than any article or book could. It's amazing how he is able to entice people to say such stupid things like sending Burt Reynolds to Auschwitz or that house music could have prevented World War II.
The Borat segments can be a bit slow, as he explores American experiences like wine tasting, hobbies and buying a house. It's the Borat character that created the two most recognized and fantastic bits on the show. In the first, Borat follows around a Christian Conservative Republican politician, as he goes door to door to gather votes. Borat certainly doesn't help his efforts in threatening and insulting the voting public.
The other is more well-known, more extreme and more revealing. Taking the stage as a country singer at a southern bar, Borat sings a song called "Throw the Jew Down the Well." It's not the song that's shocking, but instead the crowd's reaction. They quickly begin clapping in rhythm and singing along, creating one of the most horrifying scenes of southern hospitality since Deliverance. The question is, which is more horrifying: seeing these people or not knowing they are out there?
Included in a single-width keepcase with a tray are two DVDs. Each disc has three episodes, plus bonus features. The discs feature animated, full-frame menus, designed similarly to the first set, with options to select episodes or view "Unseen S#!+". Inside the selection menu, the episodes are broken down by segment, with four or five each. There are no language or subtitle options, but there is closed captioning on the episodes.
The episodes included are:
Once again, HBO has delivered in terms of the visual quality, presenting the show in its original full-frame format, with nice clear transfers that include solid color and excellent detail. The three characters' segments purposely differ in quality, with Borat's looking soft, like the foreign public access show it is, and Bruno's coming across harsh and washed-out, for that hip, edgy look.
The sound is a nice clean Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, with clear dialogue and good separation between the talk and music. The music pumps a bit harder than the dialogue naturally, but there's nothing that could really be improved on this track.
The first DVD has one extra, a 16-minute video of Ali G delivering the commencement speech on Class Day 2004 at Harvard. This isn't as funny as hoped for, as Cohen is following rules laid out for him by the school, and the crowd isn't responding well, as most are parents wondering if this guy is the reason why they pay so much in tuition. The pun-filled speech has its moments, but it also shows the limitations of the character outside of the comfort-area of the show, and presents questions as to why he was chosen.
Disc Two features three unaired bits for Ali and Borat, and two for Bruno, which are hardly the kind of material that would get cut from other series. Each character's trademark bits are represented in some way, at the same length they would be in an episode, and they can be viewed separately or all together. Ali G's segments include a roundtable on education, a sit-down with Noam Chomsky and a trip to a Civil War Navy ship. Chomsky's world is way over Ali G's head, which makes it an ideal interview, and the people leading Ali around the ship make for some fun moments.
Borat's clips are somewhat similar to each other, as each has a southern bent, like most of the Borat bits. Up first is a hunting trip in Texas, followed by a football lesson and a visit with some Republicans. The hunting trip is disgusting, thanks to some bigoted, sickening asses who admit some disturbing things, but at least Borat is funny. The football segment is a purely visual joke, an oddity for Borat, while the Republican bit is just an uncomfortable view of people's exceeding politeness.
Once again, Bruno gets gypped, with one less bonus than Ali and Borat. The first segment sees Bruno visit a psychic who enables him to talk to Gianni Versace and his ex-boyfriend. It's a bit stretched out, and less funny than he normally is. The second is more traditional Bruno, as he lets an air-headed stylist hang himself with his ego. Listen to his ideas for making over Jesus Christ is a riot.
The Bottom Line
The second season of "Da Ali G Show" is where the series really took off, but it also looks to be the last one, as he became too big to be able to pull off his pranks anymore. This set features some classic moments, and is full of laughs. That is, if you can get into his uncomfortable brand of jokes. Fans of Andy Kaufman should find a lot to like in Ali, and this set provides them with a proper audio/video presentation and a slim, but entertaining group of extras. It's a must-see for fans of the show, but the curious will want to dip their toe in with a rental.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.