Sixteen-year-old Raja Musharaff, a character in the new CW series "Aliens in America," has a tough year ahead of him.
As a foreign exchange student in small-town Medora, Wisconsin, the Pakistani Muslim played by Adhir Kalyan will have to make new friends, adjust to life in America and convince his host mother and classmates that he is not a terrorist.
The 30-minute sitcom faces the usual challenges of a new show --- grabbing eyeballs while developing the program's plot. But this series faces another hurdle: Dispelling stereotypes without perpetuating prejudices.
So far, "Aliens" has done a good job of walking that line, said Radhi Al-Mabuk, a University of Northern Iowa professor and Muslim.
"I think the show really shows that you need to interact with other people to get beyond your initial stereotypes and misconceptions," he said. "Then you can reach the point where you can understand and accept and tolerate differences."
In the pilot episode, which premiered Oct. 1, the affable Musharaff wins over the affections of his host family, but not before the clan attempts to ship him back to Pakistan. The show ends with a friendly meal, but subsequent episodes continue to address stereotypes of Muslims that have been percolating in American society since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The satire-laden "Aliens" scripts offer an avenue for dialogue between Muslim Americans and their neighbors, said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"I think it has the potential to raise issues for discussion that some people might be uncomfortable discussing otherwise, because it's raising them in a humorous way," he said. "The underlying issues are quite serious and I think they need to be addressed.
In the show's first episode, one of Musharaff's teachers asks his classmates for their thoughts on "Raja and his differences."
"I guess I feel angry because his people blew up the buildings in New York," answered one girl, as the rest of her peers nod their heads in agreement.
Hooper hopes that "Aliens" encourages Americans to talk about their views of Muslims --- even if he doesn't agree with all of their opinions.
"Sometimes there are people who are otherwise good people who hold these (prejudiced) views and do not express them," he said. "I think that if they were able to express them in a comfortable environment, some of their fears may be dispelled." (MORE)