Most fish-out-of-water stories are told at the expense of the poor fish. But not so with Aliens in America, which may well be the best television show you’re not watching. Well, you’d first have to find that misbegotten offspring of the WB/UPN marriage, the CW channel.
Your efforts will be well rewarded with a very funny comedy that takes on racism, the war on terror, Islam, and that most hallowed of American institutions: high school. How can you resist a show that throws together a devout Pakistani teenager and small-town America?
Hollywood is usually at its excruciatingly racist worst when it comes to any plot that involves foreign exchange students of the non-white variety — think Long Duk Dong slobbering over Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles. The joke is always at the expense of the "fish."
But not so in Aliens in America. Raja’s arrival in Medora, Wisconsin is an opportunity not to mock that weird Third World village kid, but the deep-set prejudices and endearing quirks of our American life. The writers handle a potentially difficult premise without ever preaching or veering into gross sentimentality. They do so by focusing the show on the friendship between Raja and the narrator, Justin Tolchuck, a 16-year old bona fide geek who has enough problems making it through the day at school without a Muslim exchange student in tow.
Yet the primary moral of this story is not about peace, love or tolerance, but self-acceptance. It’s about Justin learning to like himself — with a little bit of help from a most unlikely source.
You can read more about the show and catch up on past episodes here. Aliens in America airs every Monday, 8:30/7:30 central.