By James Hibberd
July 17, 2018 at 01:50 PM EDT
Gavin Bond/Showtime

The most buzzed about TV show all week in the media got off to a softer start than might be expected on Showtime.

Who Is America? had an extremely low on-air premiere: Just 327,000 viewers and a 0.1 rating among adults 18-49 at 10 p.m. Showtime points out that On Demand and multiple repeats keep boosting that number, however, which has now crossed the 1 million total viewer mark. It’s hard to imagine the network didn’t expect a greater initial pop given Baron Cohen’s profile, but nor is this the disaster that some have said either.

The controversial series was handled in a rather unusual manner that seems unlikely to be repeated. The project was announced just one week before air, which didn’t give the network much time to do any of the traditional marketing that tends to accompany a new series. Only one photo, which half covers Baron Cohen’s face (seen above), was released. The secretive Baron Cohen didn’t do interviews for the show either.

Who Is America? generated plenty of headlines, however, but they were largely about which political celebrities (such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Vice President Dick Cheney) were duped and conservative claims that the show should be boycotted — not about the show’s actual entertainment value. Claims that one of Baron Cohen’s characters was a disabled veteran went unaddressed for nearly a week given the network’s “no comment” policy about the show until Showtime finally issued a statement blasting the depiction.

Reviews were heavily mixed on the series, with some critics saying the prank show’s cringe factor combined with our toxic current political environment made for a less-than-pleasant mix. Meanwhile, others praised the show as a welcome return for the comic who took advantage of today’s shame-free spotlight-seeking politicos.

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