The CW's "Aliens in America" is a perfect example of how a sitcom should work. Take a simple premise -- a typical small-town Wisconsin family takes in a Pakistani Muslim exchange student -- and draw on human nature, good writing, competent actors and a healthy dose of irreverence/borderline offensiveness to create a passport to comedy.
Justin Tolchuck (Dan Byrd) is the teenage protagonist whose lack of popularity at school is exacerbated by Raja (Adhir Kalyan), the foreign exchange student who has come to stay with his family. The folks of Medora, Wisconsin aren't sure what to make of Raja, whom they confuse with terrorists. Somehow, Justin and Raja's outsider status bond them together in a surprisingly easy friendship.
Although the show has a few rough spots trying to negotiate the world of political correctness and balance the reality of intolerance with comedy's tendency to exaggerate, the humor has a good-natured undertone ... although sometimes the payoff is delayed. The pilot may initially anger Wisconsinites with the portrayal of its narrow-minded citizens, but we must ask ourselves, "How inaccurate is it?" Frankly, the attitude is far too familiar, even if we'd like to believe that everyone is far more enlightened today.
This is not to say the show is negative. Instead, its very existence is a hopeful sign not only for tolerance, but also for sitcoms because the show doesn't just make a point and offer insights. It's pretty darn funny as well. No joke is too insensitive, raunchy or taboo. In the first two episodes, the kids at Justin's school reference incest and gay sex (rather graphically), one girl breaks up with her boyfriend by text message, and one student is reprimanded by a teacher for not fitting in.
Byrd and Kalyan are well cast as normal-looking, yet charismatic teens who are sympathetically earnest. Amy Pietz ("Caroline in the City") plays a rather overbearing mother who means well, but is blinded by dreams of her kids' popularity. It's still an adjustment to see Scott Patterson throw off his curmudgeonly ways from "Gilmore Girls" and embrace the role of the goofy dad who's looking for ways to make an easy buck or pinch pennies. Both parents are played for laughs, but exhibit moments of kindness.
Although some content is rather racy, there's also a random goofiness that shouldn't be overlooked. With "Everybody Hates Chris" as a lead-in, "Aliens in America" offers The CW a solid hour of fun, family programming that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other big networks' sitcoms in terms of quality.