Snap judgment: 'Aliens in America'

Aliensinamerica_lAliens in America, which premiered last night on the CW, is a sweet, adorable, funny, mildly biting sitcom that I probably would have enjoyed more if I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I’d seen it before. Let’s see: single-camera show about a teenage misfit in the suburbs (like Malcolm in the Middle); the kid is a wisenheimer who lives in Wisconsin and who befriends a swarthy exchange student (à la That ’70s Show); and he has a penny-pinching dad, and he finds himself caught up in issues of bigotry and tolerance as he faces hazing from his classmates (see Everybody Hates Chris, which is on the CW… right before Aliens).

Still, the pilot showed some promise (in fact, EW TV critic Gillian Flynn, who’s seen more episodes, gives the series a B+). I like Dan Byrd (pictured, left), who stars as dorky Justin; he makes Topher Grace’s Eric on That ’70s Show seem suave and cool. I like Amy Pietz, as Justin’s fretful, borderline racist mom; she’s a lot funnier here than she was as Lea Thompson’s slutty pal on Caroline and the City. And I especially like Adhir Kalyan (right), who has the trickiest role, as lovable Pakistani exchange student Raja. Like Justin, he’s a pretty ordinary teenage boy, but his foreign clothes, his extreme politeness, and his eagerness to help out with household chores mark him as an even bigger dork than Justin, so it’s no wonder that they become fast friends.

Where the show veers into new territory is in its frank depiction of the hatred directed Raja’s way because he’s Muslim. Justin’s mom fears he’s a potential terrorist, and Raja’s classmates and teachers are angry with him because of 9/11 (despite his protests that Pakistan had nothing to do with it). I worry that the show will get too self-congratulatory over its politics, as if it were doing something bold by creating a positive Muslim character; actually, Raja is such a model kid that hating him is as absurd as hating Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or hating Tom Hanks in Philadelphia. If, as Aliens progresses, it dares to show Raja as a Pakistani Muslim who’s worthy of respect and affection despite his flaws and foibles — not because he has none — well, that might actually be courageous.

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  • Anonymous

    I hope this one makes it — I laughed out loud quite a few times.

  • ny name

    um, mr reviewer, if you broke down any show or movie or book, (even the most original ones), you’d probably find those particular elements of the story elsewhere. it’s the way that it’s combined that makes it interesting and new.

  • Great but …

    I really liked this show but I share the same issues as Gary. I’ll add another one to the mix – the noble minority archetype. Like movies (of varying quality) such as The Green Mile, Driving Miss Daisy, and Clara’s Heart, Ailens employs a noble, humble and kind minority to bring wisdom and understanding to the mainstream family. While again I thought the show was charming, I wish we could get more multi-dimensional and nuanced minority characters on TV. Say what you will about Isiah Washington, his Preston Burke was a real character, not a cut-out.

  • Great but …

    I really liked this show but I share the same issues as Gary. I’ll add another one to the mix – the noble minority archetype. Like movies (of varying quality) such as The Green Mile, Driving Miss Daisy, and Clara’s Heart, Ailens employs a noble, humble and kind minority to bring wisdom and understanding to the mainstream family. While again I thought the show was charming, I wish we could get more multi-dimensional and nuanced minority characters on TV. Say what you will about Isiah Washington, his Preston Burke was a real character, not a cut-out.

  • Justine

    I found this show both offensive to the genre of the sitcom and to the individuals they chose to stereotype.
    Just because you decide to represent a minority, does not make it positive.

  • monica

    i laughed a lot too…and surprisingly i did not feel shameful about it.

  • Andrea

    I’ve only seen one episode but the kid playing Raja is really likable. I actually teared up a bit at how he handled the lines about losing his mom and dad the previous year. I’m thinking if it keeps up this level of sweet/funny (not a CLASSIC but better than 90% of what’s on now) I will keep watching.

  • Daisy

    Gary, you’re overanalyzing. Take it for what it is. A comedy. A very likable comedy. And those are few and far between.

  • Daisy

    To “Great But…” This is a comedy. How can you possibly compare character developements between a one hour drama that a character was on for two seasons and the very first episode of a 30 minute sitcom?

  • Gringo

    Amy Pietz’s reactions are priceless…especially when Raja catches her staring at him at the dining table.

  • Rose Tyler

    I really liked this show. It had a great way of mixing awkward/funny/sweet. I’m giving it a season pass. I now have more shows on my DVR from the CW than CBS. Interesting.

  • Keri

    I was genuinely surprised by AIA. I was laughing several times (more than I can say for 99% of sitcoms) and was shocked to find that I had a lump in my throat when Raja revealed both his parents had passed away and said, “It was. It is,” of how sad the event was. I loved the mix of light and dark here. I’ll definitely recommend this show to friends.

  • named

    PC drivel. There are lots of muslims at my college and I’ve never seen them subject to any bigotry although they put a lot of hate out themselves, but it would be to Un-Pc for anyone to be rude to them (they did complain to the dean when they got put on a watchdog list for passing out lit which claimed it was a sin to talk to non-muslims). In terms of bigotry only 13% of religeous hate crimes in america are against muslims, the majority of hate crimes are against jews. Oh, and support for Bin Laden was among the highest in the middle east in Pakistan. Oh, and they stormed the American embassy in the late 70s and murdered some Americans. And it’s probably where Bin Laden is hiding. So if you were going to hate someone from the middle east Pakistan would probably be your best bet. This is just another show from sheltered Hollywood writers, its nice to depict someone from a group that’s gotten a bad rap as sweet, but I hope they also talk about why people have greivences.

  • Simon

    I liked the first episode. So far, so good. Looking forward to the upcoming episodes. It is a nice 1/2 hour break in between Monday Night Football.

  • Um.. what?

    “Named”… you’ve never seen ANY Muslim subjected to bigotry? Ever? Hhmm… wow, what a wonderful world you live in. Too bad it’s not reality. And, FYI — Pakistan is not in the Middle East. Check a world map. It’s in South Asia — next to that big country called “India”. It’s really hard to take you seriously about what’s prejudice or not when you’re obviously pretty ignorant. Perhaps the writers had people like you in mind when they wrote the show.

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