Aliens in America
Empty8:30-9 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1
Growing up, the aliens I heard about were from outer space. Later, the aliens that mattered most were people who came to the U.S. from elsewhere. The CW's "Aliens in America" reminds us in ways both satiric and sweet that it is possible to feel like an alien even if you don't belong to either of these groups.
Thanks to Justin Tolchuck of "Aliens," Chris is no longer the only one everybody hates on the CW on Monday nights. Justin, played with perfect exasperation by Dan Byrd, is a high school junior in small-town Wisconsin. No matter how hard he tries or what he does, Justin is teased, bullied and ignored. As he correctly sums it up, "The problem is me and I was never going to change."
It's enough to make his mother, Franny (Amy Pietz), visit the school guidance counselor for advice.
If Justin can't make a friend, the Tolchucks should import one, the counselor suggests. They agree to accept an exchange student.
Their eagerness turns to shock, however, when they see that the exchange student is Raja Musharaff (Adhir Kalyan), a religiously observant Muslim from Pakistan. "It seemed impossible, but somehow my life had just gotten worse," Justin says in one of many voice-overs.
Not that Raja fares much better. At school, his pleasant but misguided teacher asks: "Raja, you are so different from us. How does that feel?"
The point of "Aliens" is that you can't judge an exchange student by his covering. Raja, clad in native garb, is as unflappable as he is naive. By the end of the pilot, Justin finally has the friend he longed for, though it takes a while to realize it.
The "Aliens" pilot has some of the funniest writing on TV this fall. Its single-camera format makes it earn each laugh, which it does repeatedly. A second episode, also supplied to reviewers, dials back the humor considerably but loses none of the warmth and heart that makes this show so irresistible.
Byrd's awkwardness and Kalyan's earnestness play off each other beautifully. These two have breakout potential. The show also gets a big boost from an outstanding supporting cast, starting with Pietz. Her Franny operates with a moral compass that nearly always points to the most expedient course of action.
Gary (Scott Patterson) is more removed from the action, but his penchant for money-making schemes is likely to provide many story ideas. Then there's Justin's younger and infinitely more popular sister, Claire (Lindsey Shaw), whose budding adolescence raises an entirely new set of family issues.
In its first two seasons, ratings for "Everybody Hates Chris" have been disappointing. Maybe, with "Aliens" as a companion, CW finally will register the Monday night numbers it deserves.
ALIENS IN AMERICA
CBS Paramount Network Television Inc.
Executive producers/teleplay: Moses Port, David Guarascio
Producer: Michael Pendell
Director: Luke Greenfield
Director of photography: Jamie Barber
Production designer: Aaron Osborne
Editor: Michael Jablow
Music: Adam Gorgoni
Set designer: Jennifer Gentile
Justin Tolchuck: Dan Byrd
Raja Musharaff: Adhir Kalyan
Franny Tolchuck: Amy Pietz
Claire Tolchuck: Lindsey Shaw
Gary Tolchuck: Scott Patterson
Mr. Matthews: Christopher B. Duncan
Mrs. Mirante: Alex Alexander