Not Liveblogging: “Aliens in America”

raja makes you smile.jpg You’ve sent the bunker so many tips and emails about it, I obviously had to check it out. CW debuted “Aliens in America” tonight, a sitcom about a Pakistani exchange student named Raja. Upon learning about this…interesting concept, several of you were skeptical, while some of you were uneasy in that vague way we all are familiar with, when we hear about something and imagine the worst.

A few of you couldn’t get over the fact that the protagonist was named “Raja”, since that’s so, like, NOT a Pakistani name. Yes, this offended you more than anything else. :) Let’s leave behind the small fact that there’s no official, international governing body for judging names or anything– I get what you meant, you were worried that this was sloppiness on the part of the creators, in a “Diwali Barbie is not wearing a sari!” sort of way.

Well, the first boy I had a crush on in high school was Pakistani AND named Raja, so I was the perfect choice for this non-assignment, since I’m not bothered by that detail, at all. ;)

Here’s wiki’s first blurb about the program:

Aliens in America is an upcoming American situation comedy created by David Guarascio and Moses Port, who also serve as executive producers alongside Tim Doyle. Luke Greenfield directed the pilot. The show is about a Wisconsin homemaker who arranges to host a foreign exchange student, believing the visitor will help her shy son become more popular. When the student turns out to be a Muslim teenager from Pakistan, her plans go awry. [wiki]

And here is a plot synopsis:

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.”[wiki]

And HERE is what meandered through my head, as I watched it. Let’s call it “unLiveblogging” and call it a night. I have pizza to eat.

::

The host family Dad– that’s Luke from Gilmore Girls!

What’s up with the gong noise which plays when he sees the sister? Am I the only one who finds that more East/less South Asian?

Raja wears a “shower kameez”. Nice.

Some idiot yells “Apu! Where’s my slushee?” at him, in the halls of his new h.s. Yep, sounds about right.

Idiot teacher who is a little too real for me: “…(Raja is) a real-live Pack-is-tany who practices Muslimism!”

More from teacher, whom I am not hot for: “You are so different from us. How does that feel?” I think I would have had the same perplexed reaction Raja did.

Teacher then asks how Raja being different/there for a year makes others feel??

Vapid side-swept bangs brings up 9/11 and says she feels angry, which inspires this brilliance: “Now who else is angry at Raja?”

Love how Raja looks away kindly while the boy he’s there to “help” socially molests pillow in sad simulated make-out session I thought only 12-year old girls engaged in…

Super cute line from voiceover: “I’ve always felt like an outsider and a weirdo and here comes this kid from a village in Pakistan and suddenly I’m not an outsider anymore…just a weirdo.”

The moment Raja goes from terrorist to sweet kid, for the “Mom”, i.e. the moment she sees him the way I do– “It’s funny how everything you think about a person can change in an instant.”

::

Okay, I loved the show– what did you think? I know there was much concern about whether it would be sensitive or well-done and I think it was. To me, Raja is the most appealing character on AiA…actually, I think most of the males were, including “the dad” and the unpopular kid Raja is imported to befriend. The teacher I quoted above and “the mom” are the ones who inspire eye-rolling and hissing– but even the latter realizes she’s being unfair by the end of tonight’s series premier. By the way, to any Badgers in the house– are those Wisscansin accents realistic? And was I the only one who almost fell over because of the final scene? After certain posts and discussions we’ve seen on SM, I was delighted by how universal certain parental issues themes are.

97 thoughts on “Not Liveblogging: “Aliens in America”

  1. My main beef is that he’s not a realistic Pakistani — his clothes are off (anyone coming to the west would be wearing western clothes)

    Actually, in the episode, it’s shown that Raja owns “western” clothes. Justin is shown going thru Raja’s luggage and tries to convince him to wear “normal clothes.” But Raja tells him he is proud of his Pakistani heritage and wants to convey that to his new schoolmates, hence why he wears the “shower kameez” on his first day at school.

  2. Pravin, what did you mean by that?

    Nothing malicious. Just being my immature self with a throwaway comment on the first impression I got when i saw that pic of the Pakistani character and the fact that the mom wishing for someone who would enhance the white kid’s popularity. Sometimes I need to pause between the thought that enters my head and when I start typing. Didn’t mean to violate the comment policy. Anna can feel free to edit it out if she likes.

    Ironically, the show has a clip where they put the white kid on the list of hot chicks.

  3. My main beef is that he’s not a realistic Pakistani — his clothes are off (anyone coming to the west would be wearing western clothes)

    The Pakistani Guy portrayed is in Madarsa attire. Maybe they wanna show us how they all see Pakistanis; phasing out the westernized secular one. No way the high school guy would land in Shalwar Kameez and or in skull cap.

    Chacaji,

    I agree Pakistanis men wear Shalwar Kameez more than Indian men but they do it according to the occassion and it doesn’t include school.

  4. Maitri and Mahdhuri: for a realistic look at life in an America that many people never see: Friday Night Lights, hands-down best show on network TV! Better than most on cable. It kills me that K-Ville is so terrible when FNL shows us how good TV shows can actually be, what powerful sources of empathy and new perspective.

    In more directly brown news, just watched “The Office” premiere on TiVo – nice that the desi count there has gone up to two!

  5. I’ve definitely seen people wear the salwar kameez (guys) as everyday wear in a non-desi context.

    I thought Kurtas were for males and Salwars/chudidars were for women. I am not the expert on this obviously.

  6. “..his clothes are off (anyone coming to the west would be wearing western clothes),..”

    That is first thing that struck me too…but last weekend i was at a n’hood CPK and a bunch of desi teens were occupying the adjacent table and one the guys was wearing the traditional outfit.

  7. Pravin,

    Two different pieces of possibly the same attire, Kurta is the top and Salwar/Chudidar, the trousers.

  8. he doesn’t particularly seem to have a back-story other than “he’s good hearted and sensitive.”

    That’s not unheard of in sitcoms. When it started off, the Fresh prince of Bel-air, for example didn’t have too much of a back-story behind Will Smith’s character, besides “West Philadelphia.. born and raised. In the playground I spent most of my days” Raymond on everybody loves Raymond didn’t have a back-story when it started out. This allows the producers to use viewer feedback to develop the back-story as the series goes along. They are trying to get your interested in the characters in the first few episodes, and I guess the producers must have thought that the central character being Muslim is enough to get people interested

  9. Pravin wrote: I thought Kurtas were for males and Salwars/chudidars were for women.

    That would be an interesting society — the men are bottomless and the women are topless. It doesn not describe contemporary Pakistan, though.

    The “Punjabi suit” — which is the norm most everywhere in PK, including Karachi — has a “shalwar” (baggy pants) for the bottoms. The Churidar pants are worn by my Indian relatives, but they tend to follow Indian norms and wear western dress. I am sure Punjabis have many explanations as to why they need to wear baggy pants, while the effeminate Indian (Muslims) wear Churidar pants — but they would all violate ANNA’s comments policy.

  10. that the protagonist was named “Raja”, since that’s so, like, NOT a Pakistani name

    To debunk the above assumption – Wasim Raja a Pakistan cricketer

  11. Well – watched the pilot last night. It is more interesting than some of the other offerings – My Name is Earl, Ugly Betty (big letdown first episode last week), The Office (past its best buy date) I’ll watch this season for sure.

  12. “That is first thing that struck me too…but last weekend i was at a n’hood CPK and a bunch of desi teens were occupying the adjacent table and one the guys was wearing the traditional outfit. “

    Yeah I see some guys wearing the clothes in JH but on weekends/ evenings…never have i seen a kid wearing it to school even in the Uk where I grew up and there people tend to wear these clothes more often than I’ve seen in the US. To me it’s like the show is trying to hard to make a point of how ‘different’ this kid is.

  13. Ikram, I totally laughed. Excellent way to some up what’s what in Punjabi suits. :)

    Pravin, the difference between a kurta and kameez is simply length (or occasionally, design). Women wear kameezaa, unless they’re wearing a “kurti” (a truncated kurta, kind of like what you see folks wear with jeans or with a ghagra — not sure if I transliterated that correctly). The pant options include a salwar (baggy pants, and of course there are regional variations), churidar (the pants with skinny legs), what folks are now calling a “pant-suit” (basically straight-leg, slightly westernized pants). Each calls for a different tunic length.

    It’s easier to ride horseback if you’re wearing a salwar. Actually, it’s easier to do practically anything in a salwar, imo. Not that I know if Pakistani Punjabis are riding on horseback more than Indian Punjabis, but it’s just a thought :)

  14. I dont think i ever wore kurtha pyjama to school. except once when my parents made me dress is such a way for haloween. i thought it was lame.

  15. very off topic, but anyone notice how many comments abhi’s and amardeeps’s article on the front page have? ALL multiples of 5. (So I had to post here, can’t possibly disturb those articles :) )

  16. The baggy salwar is utilitarian and particularly preferred by rural women/men for everyday wear as opposed to churidar or tights which are worn on special occasions and are purely ornamental. No act accentuates the difference between these two variations of South Asian pants like that of relieving oneself. Let alone a wide stance just try squatting with your churidars around your ankles.

  17. The Raja guy is wearing “Awami Suit” popularized by Zulfi Bhutto in 70′s among men, before that most Pakistanis (who born in India) consider it too Feminine. It was given the identity of the national dress in an effort to rule out class difference.

    Beisdes Punjabis, I believe Pushtoon and Baloch men too wear Shalwar Kameez for quite some time.

  18. very off topic, but anyone notice how many comments abhi’s and amardeeps’s article on the front page have? ALL multiples of 5. (So I had to post here, can’t possibly disturb those articles :) )

    Even more off-topic, but you could do like razib – you could post post comments five at a time, every time, all the time :) :) I’ve figured out how he does it, but am not telling… :)

    Not to give him (or anybody else) any ideas, but many of those threads have comments in multiples of 25 :)

    In browsing old threads, I see the commenting decorum at SM back when used to be quite different – people would actually apologize for two comments in the same thread, and do so at least twice if the comment was remotely off-topic. I wasn’t here then. Oh well.

  19. In browsing old threads, I see the commenting decorum at SM back when used to be quite different – people would actually apologize for two comments in the same thread, and do so at least twice if the comment was remotely off-topic. I wasn’t here then. Oh well.

    I know, I kind of miss it sometimes :( [although this is entirely hypocritical on my part -- I am infamous for being both off topic and multi-commenting]

  20. The only way this will work in the “Perfect Strangers” sort of way is if the foreigner (Balki) keeps up a “stupid foreigner” shtick for the entire run. That would get old..and slightly offensive with this show me thinks.

    That being said, I LURVED me some Balki! (Dance of Joy anyone?)

  21. I’ve figured out how he does it, but am not telling… :)

    Open multiple windows for the same thread/post, type in comments in all, and then click “Post” one after another? Just a guess.

  22. This is like a redux of – That 70′s show – with a few changes:

    1. Awkward white and brown kids – replacing cool white and brown kids.
    2. West Pakistan for East Pakistan (Bangladesh)
    3. Of course, Shalwar-Kamiz for bell bottoms

    And I did not even find it that funny. Perhaps, thats just me.

  23. India has a miniscule percentage of Punjabi Muslims so common Pakistani Punjabi names like ‘Chauhan’, ‘Gill’, ‘Malik’, ‘Sahni’, ‘Chaudhary’ might be disorienting to Indians who are only familiar with Indian Muslims and their faux Arabic/Turko/Persian names.

    “faux Arabic/Turko/Persian names”?…cheap shot embedded in some interesting information

    need some ice in that haterade?

  24. while the effeminate Indian (Muslims) wear Churidar pants — but they would all violate ANNA’s comments policy.

    Grrr. I challenge you to a cage match!

    Indian Muslim men do not wear Churidar pants. Thats a ridiculous slander and I demand that you take it back :) Indian Muslim men sometimes wear a pajama which is of course more tight fitting than a shalwar. The pajama is completely different from a churidar which is worn by women. I think more men wear shalwar than pajamas though. Pajamas are usually worn to bed etc.

  25. was just channel-surfing and found “perfect strangers” on the ION channel.. 8:30 – 9 pm

    go watch it, ANNA and others who missed the gem that it is…

  26. I haven’t seen this show yet, but I have yet to see a single South Asian male in the US wear a shalwar kameez wherever they go. You have’nt been to Jackson Heights in Queens, have you?

    Nope. Well, I haven’t seen a desi in a small Midwestern town wear a shalwar kamaaz everywhere they go. (I’m from the Midwest.)

  27. “faux Arabic/Turko/Persian names”?…cheap shot embedded in some interesting information need some ice in that haterade?

    Not necessarily. I’ve heard the same thing from Indian and Pakistani friend. Apparently, Arabs and Iranians find some seemingly authentic (to us) sub-continental Muslim names to be hilarious.

  28. Ravin, I feel you on the WTF-with-all-the-negativity tip. I realize I am in the minority with my “review”. :)

    I think I liked AiA because I am not so sophisticated. Once I stopped worrying about impressing people with my taste in art, I started having a hell of a lot more fun. Ain’t no shame in my pop-culture lovin’ game. :D I think expectations (and as I’ve already said up-thread, mine were soooo low) are always key.

  29. CW debuted “Aliens in America” tonight, a sitcom about a Pakistani exchange student named Raja

    fobs always get the love. when will there be a sitcom about the exciting life of a south asian who’s got his green card and is living the middle managing high life in your bay area software company?

    the protagonist was named “Raja”, since that’s so, like, NOT a Pakistani name.

    i am off to spend the night with this lively, dry thing from spain, rioja.

  30. well Raja means king/ruler in Hindi/Urdu/Many other south asian languages, I don’t see why it can’t be a Pakistani name —its not religiously affliated so it shouldnt offend muslim people unlike if they named him “Ram” or something. the only place i’ve seen the name Raja misused is in Disney’s Aladdin: the tiger’s name is Raja i don’t think they use that word in that part of the world.

    one question: do Pakistani villagers ALWAYS where traditional clothing? in india i’ve been to villages and guys just where pants+shirt even muslim ones…well older muslim men wear kurta-paijaama but not kids of Rajas age.

    i hope this show makes a good impression for south asians :]!!

  31. when will there be a sitcom about the exciting life of a south asian who’s got his green card and is living the middle managing high life in your bay area software company?

    When they actually start living exciting lives… ;-)

  32. well Raja means king/ruler in Hindi/Urdu/Many other south asian languages

    Not only that, there are homonymic (and synoymic) cognates of the word in Latin-derived or influenced languages and Indo-European languages as well.

    For example, the German ‘reich’ as in ‘The Third Reich’, the Latin ‘Regis’, the French ‘royale’, the English ‘royal’, the Spanish ‘real’, they all have similar sounds for similar meanings (i.e., they’re homonymic and synonymic).

    So, we get back to: ‘Raja’ is very much a ‘Pakistani’ name.

  33. Cool show…(not as cool a debut as ‘Caveman’ best new show hands down)..but it won’t be able to beat ‘Chuck’

  34. I can’t resist commenting that everyone’s objection to Raja’s clothes for school seems based on the idea of the character being first generation here, whereas in the plot line the idea is that he is an exchange student, and part of the idea is to introduce his country and culture to Americans (kind of like the show does?) I thought it kind of cool that the writer (the main one is desi, by the way) makes it clear that Raja owns western clothes as well but “stubbornly” insists on wearing his Pakistani suit for his first day, vastly under-estimating the etiquette of his host school and fellow students and teacher.

    I join Anna in being very positive on the show in general, my one worry while watching was that Raja’s scenes of being helpful around the house, which Asian families would perceive to be normal behavior, might be interpreted as some sort of subservience by an American audience, but I still think that is minor. I think there is a line even in there that says that the dad has never seen a teenager be so helpful before.

    Finally, I LOVED the way they used the music for the show and promo (“What’s so funny ’bout peace love and understanding” as covered by Junoon) and what’s the name of the one they played at the end, from the ’60′s- another anthemic peace tune that never got “dated”.

  35. I figured out that that song is by an obscure band called Thunderclap Newman from 1969, it is called “Something in the Air” and when you hear all the lyrics together it is kind of subversive, but the little sound clip they used is pure sweetness

  36. I join Anna in being very positive on the show in general, my one worry while watching was that Raja’s scenes of being helpful around the house, which Asian families would perceive to be normal behavior, might be interpreted as some sort of subservience by an American audience, but I still think that is minor. I think there is a line even in there that says that the dad has never seen a teenager be so helpful before.

    I don’t know about Pakistan, but in India, though being very respectful to elders, middle class teenage sons seldom help out around the house. There are usually servants or sisters for that. What kind of helping out was Raja doing?

  37. Maitri:

    a young South Asian man in America wears a salwar-kameez to school everyday (which most don’t especially if they are brand new here) or anoter stereotype which makes us roll our eyes, it is a gross misrepresentation.

    why does it make you roll his eyes that he’s wearing traditional clothing to school? As Kate eloquently said a few comments upthread, he is an exchange student and the purpose of that is to showcase his culture, aand someone else mentioned upthread that he is shown having Western clothing but he wants to wear traditional clothing because he is proud of his culture. I’m having a hard time understanding why anyone would roll their eyes at that or think that it is a ‘gross misrepresentation.’ I don’t even see how it can be considered a stereotype, considering that South Asian media representation is next to nil.

    I’m sorry if I come off like I’m attacking you, but I just get SO aggravated by the insinuation that if a desi actually exemplifies something perceived as brown by American media but which isn’t thought of in terms of any sort of ethnic identity in the homeland, then it’s automatically an unflattering stereotype because they aren’t stripped of any and all ethnic markers. In my eyes, it basically smacks of fob-phobia. I’m not pro-exoticism either, but I don’t think this attitude is any good either.

    Also, damn, I missed this premiere. I’m trying to cut down on TV, and only have time for the Wednesday night whammy of ANTM + gossip girl (I was disappointed as well, and speaking of gross misrepresentations, how this show presents class issues in NYC is SO laughable), and Ugly Betty.

  38. Also, damn, I missed this premiere. I’m trying to cut down on TV, and only have time for the Wednesday night whammy of ANTM + gossip girl (I was disappointed as well, and speaking of gross misrepresentations, how this show presents class issues in NYC is SO laughable), and Ugly Betty.

    I forgot to add that you don’t have to worry ANNA, cuz my tastes are definitely more lowbrow than yours :P

  39. Just a couple notes about the show:

    The boy who plays Raja is Adhir Kaylan. He’s not ABD, he’s South-African born.

    And hopefully there will be more authenticity because the main writer is: Sameer Asad Gardezi. He’s written other stories about racial tensions: http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendID=88953803

    The song played when Raja saw his exchange sister is from Pussycat Dolls.

    I enjoyed the show, but I’m still skeptical. I’ve seen too many shows go south after episode one.

  40. Tara, I see what you mean about servants, but in the absence of them the Asian people that I live around and with generally clear their parent’s plates from the table as a sign of respect. That’s all. Nala, (and all) in case you want to catch up on the premier episode they already have it launched online, you can watch it on the CW network. Now it sounds like I work for them! Actually, I am like you in cutting back tv, but what I like is streamed tv that I can watch at my convenience. It looks like the whole season will be streamed.

  41. I don’t know about Pakistan, but in India, though being very respectful to elders, middle class teenage sons seldom help out around the house. There are usually servants or sisters for that. What kind of helping out was Raja doing?

    exactly what i was thinking : ).

  42. Ok so if you go to cbs.com you can watch full episodes of shows. I just watched this episode of the Big Bang Theory called “The Grasshopper Experiment” where the Indian guy gets set up on a blind date by his parents. He doesn’t know how to talk to women, but he finds out that if he drinks Grasshoppers, he can. It’s cute.