This 'Ali' is anything but the greatest

The imported British comedy "Da Ali G Show" (11:30 p.m., HBO) does the near-impossible: It actually makes me feel sorry for Ronald Reagan's attorney general, Ed Meese. Ali G is the comic persona of performer Sacha Baron Cohen. Dressed in a gaudy yellow outfit, Ali acts like a brain-addled "hip-hop journalist" who "interviews" former public officials in the hopes of tricking them into saying silly or stupid things.

"Ali G" is a big hit in his native land, and that itself is proof that not all humor survives the trip across the big pond. London newspapers have called him the next Peter Sellers. Brit wannabe Madonna considers him a "genius." But I won't hold that against him.

In tonight's premiere, Ali curses repeatedly and acts like a fool while undergoing basic training as a Philadelphia police recruit. He also interviews former attorneys general Dick Thornberg and Meese. Both men keep a straight face while trying to answer Ali's increasingly juvenile and scatological questions.

If dressing up in funny clothes and behaving cruelly toward septuagenarian Republicans is the height of current British satire, I'll stick with old "Monty Python" reruns. Combining Tom Green's tiresome rudeness with minstrel-show condescension, "Ali G" is a trans-Atlantic dud.

  • "Save Our History" (7 p.m., History) examines efforts to preserve the USS Sequoia, the yacht that served as a floating White House for every president from Herbert Hoover to Gerald Ford. In the years before Air Force One, an invitation to accompany the president on the Sequoia was a great honor, as well as an opportunity for presidential arm-twisting and salesmanship. President Carter, who saw the Sequoia as a symbol of the "imperial presidency," sold the yacht as a cost-cutting measure in 1977.
  • Winners of 13 Grammys, bluegrass favorites Alison Krauss & Union Station perform songs from their new album "New Favorite" on the 90-minute concert "Alison Krauss & Union Station Live" (7 p.m., CMT).

Tonight's other highlights

  • Arsenio Hall is host of "Star Search" (7 p.m., CBS).
  • The new senator's old pal runs into a political roadblock on "Mister Sterling" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • The former host of "Politically Incorrect" gets a new comic forum on "Real Time with Bill Maher" (10:30 p.m., HBO).

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