Everything now has to speak to our times and sitcoms are usually pretty good at it. Through comedy they can explore the various interpersonal relationships of people in a way folks can relate to, using humor and shared experiences to bring us together rather than tear us apart. Yeah, remember when we were about coming together instead of being put into individual groups? I don’t but it seems worse today. My Transformers are less divided than the human race right now and I separate them by series and sometimes size.
United States Of Al is a sitcom that debuted on CBS last week and I’m only now able to discuss due to last week being…well, last week. The show follows an interpreter during the war in Afghanistan who is able to come to America and live with the Marine he befriended. While the show doesn’t seem to be inspired by any particular event I did find that this actually happens, and there is an act called the “Afghan Allies Protection Act”, which was designed to rescue these interpreters and their families given that they are often targeted by remaining Taliban supporters. Can you make comedy out of a serious situation like this?
The show specifically follows Awalmir (I don’t think a last name is given in the episode), an interpreter who befriended Marine Reilly (were ANY last names given because I can’t find them on via the usual sources), the two actually saving each other during the war. After two tours Reilly came home and three years later was able to get “Al” out of Afghanistan. They hope to get his family out as well, but Reilly has his own family issues. Unable to cope with civilian life led to a falling out and upcoming divorce from his wife Vanessa and he now lives in his father’s garage. Also in the cast is Reilly’s father Art and sister Lizzie, while his daughter Hazel wasn’t in the pilot but is mentioned. As Reilly tries to get Al’s family out Al in turn vows to restore Reilly and Vanessa’s marriage.
I think the elephant in the room could be seen in the trailer. Adhir Kalyan, who plays Al, isn’t of Afghani decent. He’s from South Africa and appears to be of Indian descent. That’s fine as he can physically pull it off but it’s his lack of accent that has annoyed some people. You can hear a more British accent out of him, and he did start acting in London. I also couldn’t tell you how well the writers know about Afghani Muslim culture (though apparently four Afghans are among the writers) but that’s for someone who does to further comment on. Kalyan does play the role very well otherwise, as an optimist (I mean, the dude survived a war and didn’t get to leave for a few months during it) who is prepared to love everything about America and is sure he can save his friend’s marriage. Whether or not he can we’ll have to see.
There is a bit of burden on Parker Young as apparently his character Reilly is suffering from PTSD and hasn’t sought therapy. I know someone works with PTSD sufferers and was one himself so I know the help is out there to adjust to civilian life, but Reilly has been hurt by his time there and seems to have had trouble going to therapy. This seems to be where the rift with his wife started, and now Reilly lives in his dad’s garage. (When did we change the basement cliche into garages? Does Hollywood not have basements anymore?) It will be interesting to see where his life goes from here since addressing this might be important to Al’s goal of restoring the marriage as well as Reilly’s relationship with his daughter.
Sadly the daughter wasn’t in the pilot so we know little about Hazel or Farrah Mackenzie’s performance. I don’t think she was even named in the pilot. Art (played by Dean Norris) seems to be a loving father who will have to learn to adjust to Al’s culture like his not drinking or eating pork (the gags in this episode) but he seems like a nice enough guy. Elizabeth Alderfer’s Lizzie lost her fiance in the same war and both of them are grateful that Al was there for Reilly. So at least both of our main characters have Reilly’s family. Kelli Gross’ Vanessa is actually a nice person as well, just frustrated that Reilly refuses to get help because of his pride and the riff that causes in their marriage. She may still love him but just couldn’t deal with what Reilly refuses to deal with. It is nice that she’s not the bitch ex-wife and you kind of hope Al is successful.
Overall I don’t know if I’ll continue watching but only because my TV and movie backlog is almost as long as my YouTube backlog, but it is a show I see with some decent potential and I hope it lives up to it. We’ll see in the later episodes but it is worth checking out. I even laughed a few times and me and sitcoms are usually more a case of amusement than outright laughter. I do better with stand-up.