Purely by accident, last night I happened to catch the premiers of a new show called Aliens in America on the CW. The show is getting good reviews (here and here) but I thought it kind of stupid, a bit insulting and even a little racist.
The premise of the show involves a family with two high school kids that gets a foreign exchange student. (The mother wants to get the exchange student so her unpopular son has a friend, which is kind of funny.) However, they get not the blue-eyed blond European they had hoped for, but a Pakistani Muslim. And the hilarity begins as everyone initially rejects the kid because he’s, well, a Pakistani Muslim (you know, as in terrorist). The only time this situation is at all funny is when the prejudice goes way over the top, like when everyone in his classroom raises their hand when the teacher asks who is angry with him for 9/11. Otherwise, the bigoted fear of the Americans in the show is subtle and treated as understandable. I kept thinking, no it’s not understandable.
But perhaps the most offensive part of the show didn’t even involve our South Asian friend. In the last scene of the show, it’s revealed that the host family’s high school girl is, gasp, dating (and apparently having, or wanting to have, sex with) an African-American boy. The way the scene was set up, you could tell we were supposed to be surprised or maybe even shocked by this.
I don’t know, maybe the whole point was to force us to confront silly prejudices though humor, but if that was the case, it sure backfired for me.