Little in life is more alienating than being shunned in high school, as Justin Tolchuck knows all too well.
Years later, the ostracized often become successes, reaping sweet revenge. But while being named "one of the 10 most bangable girls" in the school, Justin only feels pain on The CW's amusing "Aliens in America," premiering Monday, Oct. 1.
Justin (Dan Byrd, "Any Day Now") is a sweet, gawky guy with bad hair, a sexy kid sister, a money-scheming dad and a determined mom. Franny (Amy Pietz, "Caroline in the City") desperately wants her son to be accepted, so she quits her post as PTA president to concentrate on him.
Using a voice-over to narrate the story, the action in the pilot unfolds in the home, the high school and an airport.
The school guidance counselor in Medora, Wis., talks Franny into opening her family's home to a foreign exchange student. This sounds like a winning proposition on all fronts. Justin should get an instant buddy; dad Gary (Scott Patterson, "The Gilmore Girls") receives $500 a month to cover expenses; and sister Claire (Lindsey Shaw, "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide") doesn't care as long as he leaves her alone and she can go on the pill.
As the family waits at the airport expecting a blond student athlete who will ease Justin's problems, Raja (Adhir Kalyan) greets them. Wearing traditional Pakistani garb of a skullcap and a long, flowing shirt over slacks, he loudly thanks Allah for the Tolchucks. In the middle of the small airport.
As far as the family is concerned, he might as well have sprouted wings and flown. And he just gets weirder. He is a gracious, well-mannered, religious boy; a teenager who cleans. What is wrong with this kid?
The Tolchucks are beyond uncomfortable. Franny wants to return him as if he were uncomfortable shoes.
Justin feigns illness on Raja's first day of school, which as expected, is disastrous. Even the teachers torture him, as one leads a class discussion on why everyone hates him for the terrorist attacks. Raja's denials do no good.
But when Raja returns to the home, something happens. He and Justin bond. Justin opens up to this exotic teen, telling him how he pretends his pillow is a girl he has a crush on, and he demonstrates how he kisses it.
"They chose a rather modified version because he was molesting the pillow," Kalyan says, recalling how that scene was shot repeatedly because the actors kept breaking into laughter.
"I was going much further than what they ended up showing," Byrd admits, grinning. "It was one of those days that had been a long day, and we were stuffed into a hot little room with a bunch of dudes. It smelled of man sweat. It was a fun montage moment."
The pilot's script is funny and sweet, which appealed to Patterson as soon as he read it. He had a deal with The CW and was looking for a half-hour show.
"I was a little shocked that they were going to broach this topic," Patterson says. "I was a little shocked someone had the stones to hit if off. I'm getting into developing film and television, and why didn't I think of it?"
Among the reasons the show works is Pietz's spot-on turn as the mom, from her abject worry to her broad accent. Pietz says she's drawing completely from her own mother, who lives in a Milwaukee suburb. Laughing about her perfect Wisconsin accent, Pietz says, "I spent $40,000 to get rid of it."