Aliens in America – A Review

Posted on October 26, 2007. Filed under: Reviews |

 Aliens in America – A Review

With shows like 24 and movies like The Kingdom, Muslims are on our collective consciences as we continue to recover from 9/11.  With that in mind it’s great to see a show which is not afraid to challenge our perceptions and is willing to poke fun at our fears.  The basic premise of Aliens in America is that a nice Christian family from Wisconsin decides to take in an exchange student, to their surprise said exchange student is none other than a young Muslim Pakistani boy.  The jokes simply make themselves.

Adhir Kalyan plays Raja, the innocent yet brilliant exchange student who is more than eager to learn from his American experience.  Raja’s comrade in adolescent arms is Justin, played by Dan Byrd (The Hills Have Eyes).  Both boys attempt to navigate the minefields of high school, parents, prejudices and misconceptions as they grow together as friends.  Through every new challenge the teens face, they are accompanied by Justin’s well-meaning if clueless parents, ex-jock Gary and overprotective Franny (Scott Patterson, Gilmore Girls and Amy Pietz, The Whole Ten Yards).

                                                                                                                                           

Anyone who has gone through any kind of high school experience (or heck, even been a teenager) will appreciate the different subjects tossed around from week to week.  Topics tackled include the crush on the popular pretty girl, trying to establish independence (without your parents noticing), trying to be accepted while displaying your individuality, dealing with “uncool” parents and coping with your rampaging hormones.  With this kind of atmosphere, you can have scripts for days.  The excellent acting simply adds juice to already great writing.

Unfortunately, where this show gets some of its humor from can get old very quickly.  While our recent national obsession with Muslims may deserve at times to be laughed at, it will get quite old rather quickly if it is continuously used as a central gag (just look at That Eighties Show in comparison with That Seventies Show).  Mixed in here and there and used properly it would produce good laughs and could maybe even enlighten the viewers on prejudices in their own lives.

Another detrimental factor of the show is that it tends to rely too heavily upon the “Magical [insert favorite minority here]” device to make its philosophical statements.  It appears to be that the only one with any wisdom to give is young Raja while everyone else around him seems to simply careen through the various trials and tribulations they are faced with.  At the end of the show, innocent Raja is there to impart some sort of profound advice that can only come from someone who is not culturally or racially similar to his/her cohorts.

Don’t get me wrong, the injection of Raja into Justin’s existence is exactly what he needs at this moment in life.  The duo helps us to see the importance of having a friend who will be there for you, to look after you, no matter what the cost to themselves.  Friends like that in high school are few and far between.  It’s also difficult to face all of the social and physical changes going on at that time when you have no one in your age group to empathize with you.  We see Justin taking this stranger and helping him wend his way through the varied customs and rights of passage that would be completely foreign to poor Raja.  And, we see Raja helping Justin cope with the difficult moral and social decisions that come naturally with being a high school teenager.  This show is (and hopefully will continue to be) a great case-study in what a friend is. 

I must further mention the fact that the show’s unique characteristics for the role of Raja also puts a fresh face on the struggle of being a young person in today’s society while maintaining the essential hold on your faith that can help you get through this difficult time in life.  In a conversation in which Justin and Raja are reconciling with each other Raja states, “You know, I pretend to be above certain feelings because they are outside my faith and, well, because sometimes they are easier to deny, but in truth, they are there.”  It’s comforting to see a television character who is so steadfast in his faith admit to ordinary human weaknesses and experiences.  In this one line, Raja confesses to the fact that even though he is faithful to his God, he is still a growing human being with the same feelings and desires as everyone else.

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