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"Aliens in America" is not what the CW might make it look like. It is so, so much better. The basic network-pitch premise finds an average Caucasian middle-American family, The Tolcheks, taking in a foreign exchange student and devout Muslm, Raja (Adhir Kalyan), for some culture clash comedy and no doubt a Hollywood education about the peace-loving religion of Islam vs. the vile, materialistic west.
While Raja does more often than not suffer from the kind of straight-man syndrome that handicaps many characters in the name of political correctness, the titular aliens of the series are actually the outsiders in high school - cast by the series as a fascist place of cliques, living clichés, ignorance of all kinds and general unfairness that sees no difference between Raja and self-proclaimed dork Justin Tolchuck (Dan Byrd, "The Hills Have Eyes"). And there in lies the genius rub of "Aliens in America", which actually turns out to be an insightful, well-acted, smartly written and refreshingly honest satire of contemporary high school and family life. Surprise!
Created by David Guarascio and Moses Port, "Aliens" is dead on in so many ways. Like a distant, more mature cousin Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle", in that it successfully manages to chronicle what it's like to grow up a young male in high school. It reminded me of how much artificiality we put up with on TV and how rare it is too see a high school show that appears to have been written by someone who actually did go to high school. Some of the topics are a bit racy without calling attention to itself, yet clever enough to pass as family entertainment. Justin's adventures are frequently tangles with social and personal humiliation. Byrd's narration is one of the best on TV in recent memory. It recalls "Dead Like Me" in that instead of simply having a character summarize the action or catch us up, Justin's is an opportunity for some of the show's best one-liners, insights and story expanding detours. It is one of the show's greatest achievements.
The Tolchecks befriend a sex offender next door, Raja tries to put together an explicit pro-abstinence float in a school parade and Mom joins a radical group of mothers to wipes the smut out of the school's reading list. Mom, by the way, is played by Amy Pierez and in the show's funniest performance she sports the world's thickest Minnesotan "don't ya know" accent and spastically throws herself around in a full-body comic frenzy. Watch her eyes almost cross in a few scenes.
The show is imaginative. Dad bough a herd of Alpacas in a get rich quick scheme. Justin gets into a popularity contest when he is voted by Raja to die in the school's drunk driving skit. This last bit is actually a runner in the show's single season run: Raja wanting the best for Justin, but not knowing the high school social structure inadvertently putting him in an awkward social situation that breaks those social barriers of what you can and can't do. The results are hilarious and heart-warming.
Every single thing about it works. From the mechanics of the cast and the writing to the warmth and personality radiating off the screen. "Aliens in America" didn't last more than one season but that doesn't make it any less than the best new comedy of the 07/08 TV season. It is so much better than it's placement on The CW would suggest. And it's quick expulsion (a year after the classic "Veronica Mars") should pretty much prove. This is a great show, people. Do not miss it.
* * * * / 4
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