Preview: Aliens in America

Aliens in America

In the US: Mondays, 8:30/7:30c, The CW. Starts October 1

In the UK: Not yet acquired

Wow. Who saw that one coming? Of all the pilots for new shows, this is one of the ones I’d heard the least about. Yet it’s easily one of the smartest, is easily the funniest and it’s also quite touching.

Plot (exchanged with another plot from the CW’s web site)

Justin Tolchuk is a sensitive, lanky 16-year-old just trying to make it through the social nightmare of high school in Medora, Wisconsin, with the help of his well-meaning mom Franny, aspiring-entrepreneur dad Gary, and his popular sister Claire, who is sweetly unaware of how good-looking she is. When Franny signs up for the school’s international exchange student program, she pictures an athletic, brilliant Nordic teen who will bestow instant coolness on her outsider son. However, when the Tolchuk’s exchange student arrives, he turns out to be Raja Musharaff, a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim. Despite the cultural chasm between them, Justin and Raja quickly develop an unlikely friendship that just might allow them to navigate the minefield that is contemporary high school. It’s going to be a very interesting year for Raja, Justin, his family and the entire population of Medora.

Is it any good?

Well yes. It is. This is essentially a show about the xenophobia, racism and cluelessness about world affairs that afflicts a certain part of the US population*, married with an education campaign to explain another country’s culture to its intended teenage viewers.

The small town to which Raja comes has no idea about Pakistan, Islam (aka “Muslimism” as one teacher describes it), global terrorism, etc, other than what they’ve learnt from Fox News, and just about every stereotype on the block is thrown in the poor Raja’s face by the inhabitants, even though he’s clearly quite sweet tempered, etc.

But as the title suggests, Raja isn’t the only ‘alien’ in America and the story is also about being ostracised and uncool at school, a subject about which the show is equally perceptive. Narrated from some future vantage point by an older version of the show’s protagonist, it is able to explore the horrendous nature of his life as a 16-year-old from the perspective of an adult, even while his younger self remains clueless.

But Aliens in America is far from some well meaning and worthy dullfest. It’s laugh out loud funny, with some great dialogue, good visual humour (I especially liked the ‘dead clown in the living room’ gag), good characters and a whole lot more going for it. The horrors of high school ring true, without retreading too much established territory. Even if Raja is a little clich?ɬ�d and too good to be true at times (you could argue that Raja is somewhat of a stereotype, albeit quite a nice one), he remains three-dimensional enough that you can empathise and root for him as a person rather than an idea, and the somewhat dumb town denizens aren’t so dumb that you can only hate them – they’re mostly just poorly educated.

Definitely one to watch, I reckon.

Here’s a nice long YouTube trailer to give you the idea of what’s going on. FYI, the part of the Dad has been recast since the pilot – it’s now that bloke off Gilmore Girls


Dan Byrd (Justin Tolchuk)

Amy Pietz (Franny Tolchuk)

Scott Patterson (Gary Tolchuk)

Lindsey Shaw (Claire Tolchuk)

Adhir Kalyan (Raja Musharaff)

*Hey, you can find it anywhere, not just in the US, so let’s not point fingers