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Last Updated:  Saturday, 22 February, 2003, 21:58 GMT
Ali G's Stateside flop

By Maggie Shiels
BBC correspondent in San Francisco

The King of Bling Bling and Britain's pseudo homeboy Ali G has hit American TV screens with a massive whimper.

From coast to coast a plethora of critics gave the main man of the Staines Massive the thumbs down for his first foray into the living rooms of the USA.

The premiere show of a six part series created by the British comic Sacha Baron Cohen aired Friday night on HBO, a cable channel that is known for its savvy in bringing The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under to the delight of the viewing masses.

But if HBO thought they were onto something hot with Ali G, the channel should think again because Ali G's big debut was a big flop.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G
Most US reviewers were unimpressed
Entitled "Law and Order", the first programme opened up with something of a mission statement from Ali G, who explained that he is on this side of the pond to help with some of the problems the US of A is having following 7/11.

An obvious clanger to punctuate the sanctity of events surrounding the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and a shabby one at that, according to the Washington Post's Tom Shales.

"Cohen in character is clueless as Caucasian hip-hop interviewer Ali, but nothing excuses joking about 11 September 2001. The word 'tasteless' doesn't even begin to cover it," an indignant Shales said.

RD Heldenfels of the Beacon Journal in Ohio calls the show "Nitwits times three" in reference to the three main characters that appear throughout the night.

Audience sympathies

They include the hapless Kazakstani TV presenter Borat Saddiyev, who is painfully boring in trying to get tips on how to date women.

Austrian style reporter Bruno does make you snicker as he wangles a runway role, modelling some very fitting underwear for men.

So when's it alright to murder someone?
Ali G to former US attorney general Richard Thornburgh
But it was Ali G who took up most of the half hour with his usual mix of "gangsta" patois and interviews with unsuspecting national politicians.

The big set piece of the night was a sit down grilling of former US attorney general Richard Thornburgh about the law.

"So when's it alright to murder someone?" Ali asked Thornburgh.

"Never," replied a clearly shocked Thornburgh.

"But what if de call your ma a 'ho'?" persists Ali G, decked out in his garish yellow hip hop gear and sporting enough "ice" to open a high street jewellery store.

'Public access TV'

Ali G fails to carry you along and your sympathies lie with the well meaning Mr Thornburgh, who is doing his best to illuminate the dumb talk show host.

Later in the show Ali G asks Ed Messe, a "main man" of former President Ronald Reagan, "How come it's a crime if someone steals your telly, and it's not a crime if he steals your girlfriend?"

The word 'tasteless' doesn't even begin to cover it
Washington Post's Tom Shales
Entertainment bible Variety says the late night show is "a good spot for Ali G, which appears ready for public access TV."

Next week's show features former UN General Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who is asked in a discussion about world politics: "Is Disneyland a member of the UN?"

But it seems it will take more than a few wicked one-liners to win over the hearts of America.

TV critic Lynn Elber has a simple message for the man who has become a comedic phenomenon in the UK.

"Nice to meet you, Mr Cohen. Now go home. Please."


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