Television Review: Aliens in America - Pilot
by R.J. Carter
Published: September 26, 2007
Is America ready for Aliens in America? Actually, the country as a whole is probably more ready for the big-eyed Grays from Alpha Centauri than the Tolchuks are for their new arrival.
Set in the small town of Medora, Wisconsin, Aliens in America focuses on the Tolchuk family, in specific their son Justin (Dan Byrd), who struggles through high school as the perpetually put-upon loser.
To buy him popularity in school, Justin's mom, Fran (Amy Pietz), is convinced to take in an exchange student, having been shown a brochure with a tall, blonde European who brought with him popularity-by-association to the Madison student he housed with. She's told to expect a student from London.
What she gets is a student from London... after coming from Pakistan. Raja (Adhir Kalyan) is bright, cheerful, optimistic... and Muslim. In short, he's the last thing any of the Tolchuks expected.
Raja's naivete about American teenager interactions rivals that of Perfect Strangers' Balke, as he learns the hard way that the only thing teens talk about is sex. The jocks love to make gay jokes to put down other guys. When they notice that Justin's sister, Claire (Lindsey Shaw), has grown breasts over the summer, they ask Justin if he's "tapping that," exclaiming that if she were their sister they'd be "banging her" every night. The student-to-student interactions don't get much deeper than that, nor do they stray far from the topic.
Franny is determined that Raja has to go back, rationalizing that if she'd ordered a toaster and got a blender, she would have the right to return it. When she becomes convinced that Raja is going to convert Justin to "muslimism" (just as Bill O'Reilly had warned her on his television program), her resolve becomes solid -- to the point that Claire's straight-out demand for birth control pills doesn't even faze her.
Raja's first day of class is an experience in ignorance as well, as the midwestern teacher asks the class how they feel about having Raja as a new student. One girl finally raises her hand: "Well, I guess I feel angry, because his people blew up the buildings in New York." Raja tries to explain that this isn't true, but -- ah, ah, ah -- he didn't raise his hand. "Who else is angry with Raja?" the teacher asks, causing the whole class to raise their hands.
The only person who likes having Raja around is the Tolchuk patriarch, Gary (Scott Patterson). He's never seen a teenager (a) be polite or (b) work. Since Raja is both, Gary finds him a delight to have around the house, and is quick to take advantage of the situation. A spendthrift always out for an easy extra few bucks, the alpaca-raising dad also appreciates the monthly stipend paid by the exchange program to host families.
Crossing Borders. Raja and Justin become
friends in The CW's "Aliens in America."
(L-R: Kalyan, Byrd)
Naturally Raja ends up staying with the Tolchuks rather than being shipped back, when a particularly somber moment gives Franny a change of heart. And when Justin opens up to Raja about his problems, he finds himself feeling no longer like an outsider.
Aliens in America is filmed more like a movie than a sitcom, with subdued lighting and several outdoor scenes. The humor is in the same irreverent vein as Family Guy, but is probably a little more over the top, sexuality-wise, for the average viewer for its timeslot. Much of the funny comes from the school situations, which is usually the result of Raja saying or doing something innocent without realizing the way that the average bullying dork will take it and run with it. So far, the pattern for the series seems to be two-thirds of humorous setup with one-third heartstring-tugging resolution.
Ultimately, the series may end up being too much, too soon, and way too early. Expect Aliens in America to be deported mid-season.
Aliens in America premieres October 1 on The CW at 8:30pm, 7:30pm CST.
Read our complete look at the Fall TV season at Network Programming Falls Into Place for 2007/08 Television Viewing Season