To understand the potential pay-off of the new CW comedy “Aliens in America” it’s best to begin at the end.
By now many are familiar with the show’s hilarious premise: a Midwestern mom desperately needs a friend for her awkward/loser son and ends up with Raja Musharaff—a Pakistani exchange student, who practices “Muslimism.”
Both outsiders, Raja and Justin Tolchuk become fast and not too unlikely friends by navigating the terrors of high school together.
But when Franny Tolchuk catches the boys in the act—prostrating in prayer towards Mecca—Raja’s booked on the first one-way back to Islamabad before you can say “as-salamu alaykum.”
It was in the final scene of this week’s premiere episode, according to several Muslim watchers who work on the Hill and at Washington-based advocacy groups that lifted “Aliens” from sappy sitcom to something more.
In it, while Raja slowly folds shirts to lie back into his suitcase, Mother Tolchuk learns he doesn’t have parents to go home to.
“It’s funny how everything you think about a person can change in an instant,” narrates Justin in a “Wonder Years” style that continues throughout the series. “For all the times my mother referred to Raja as ‘that boy,’ she didn’t really see him as one until right then.”
That instant is what makes “Aliens” must-see-TV for politicos like Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who once said the United States should consider bombing the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina as a “deterrent.”
Or even CNN host Glenn Beck who in 2006 asked freshman Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who is also Muslim, to prove he was not “working with our enemies.”
Laila Al-Qatami, director of communications at the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee, a civil rights organization in Washington, hopes “Aliens” will kick start some conversations along with the laughs—of which there are many.
“They were trying to raise awareness through humor,” said Al-Qatami. “It was a good way to expose people to the prejudices that do exist.” . . .
“You might be uncomfortable saying, ‘Yeah, I am uncomfortable,’” added Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations based in Washington. “The issues are raised in a way people can comprehend and are able to deal with.” . . .
Still, having a Muslim character co-starring on primetime network television is major. Although CAIR’s Hooper conceded it might be difficult for the show to hit “that one note all the time”—connecting the playful and the political—“Aliens” has obvious merits. (MORE)