I have to admit I am not a regular CW watcher. I am not the target demo, either, so it’s no big knock on the net.
But I am not sure that the former WPUBN, which is only going into its sophomore season, has found itself. In fact, I’m sure it hasn’t
But If Aliens in America is anything like the bearings it is trying to get, it is heading in the right direction.
In fact, I am going to have to get on the phone and try to wangle a couple more episodes of Aliens–they sent me the pilot, which my daughter, Virginia (11), and I watched.
She loved it and asked for more.
The show has more than a bit of Malcolm in the middle, and at the edges for that matter, which is a good thing. It features geeky teen Justin Tolchuck (Dan Byrd), from a small Wisconsin town, who is awkwardly attractive but like most kids his age only sees the awkward, with the help of the usual cadre of thoughtless high-school peers. His ostracism is shared by Pakistani Muslim exchange student Raja, engagingly played by Adhir Kalyan. Raja has been imported by Justin’s parents so their son will have at least one friend.
The bonding of outcasts and empathy for other cultures is a thoughtful convention for a sitcom–Justin’s mother finds the two of them praying to Mecca, a scene where the humor is at the expense of the mother, not the religion.
I could do without the "pill" and "homo" and "Fudge Pakistani" references, which I chose not to explain to my 11-year-old, but that is the currency of TV comedy today for good or ill. Bemoaning a certain loss of innocence gets old after a while, but I still claim it as an entitlement of my advancing age.
I applaud The CW for chosing to deal with issues like the assimilation of immigrant populations and our view of Muslims in a post-911 world. The Wisconsin high schoolers who don’t know what to make of the "alien" in their midst are asked by a well-meaning but clueless teacher what they think of Raja, saying they are angry that "his people" attacked New York, which of course they didn’t (the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates), unless the kids meant Muslims, which is like judging Christians by Jim Jones.
Kalyan’s character reacts to the students’ sterotypes with frustration at how little they know of world affairs, a frustration the viewers should share. The 9/11 hijackings are a risky reference for a comedy, but Aliens pulls it off.
The show, or at least the episode I saw, is funny and sweet and I hope everybody will watch it at least once. After that, you are free to stay with it or not, but try it out if for no other reason than to generate an initial rating that will carry it through a few more episodes so my daughter and I can watch a TV show together.
Remenber, a rating that would put a new major network show on the bubble could have The CW breaking out the bubbly.
By John Eggerton