Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Mixed Emotions / TV O.D. : Aliens in America

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 9, 2007

What’s so funny ’bout peace love and foreign exchaaaaange students

It’s kind of hard to view this new TV season as anything but a disappointment. A lot of it is my own fault, admittedly–following the playoffs forced me to put my TV watching on hold for a few weeks, and consequently, there were some pretty good-ish shows (Life, Dirty Sexy Money, uh, Carpoolers) that I didn’t stick with beyond the first couple weeks, so I’ll never really know if they ended up getting better or anything (and by never, I mean at least not until I marathon ’em at the end of the season). But it wasn’t just me–a lot of the shows advertized as being the brightest of the bunch just didn’t pan out for me. Pushing Daisies had potential but was too largely intolerable to keep up with, Chuck had Adam Baldwin and some nifty production values but not much else, and Reaper just downright sucked. Even Cavemen wasn’t the thought-devoid oasis of unintentional comedy I had hoped.

In fact, the only new TV show I’ve been keeping up with is Aliens in America. While other shows have been falling by the wayside, the new CW comedy about a misfit teen trying to fit in, whose struggle is compounded by the arrival of an even less cool Pakistani exchange studnet as his housemate, has won a relatively safe place in my weekly rotation. Yet despite this vote of Torrenting confidence, my feelings about the show remain extremely conflicted–to the point where I couldn’t even necessarily say with confidence that it’s even that good of a show.

Six episodes in, the key word with Aliens in America is still potential. You can see it, feel it, sense it around the corner with Aliens–the possibility of things to come, the seeds of a great show in the making. It’s in the show’s subtle visual gags, like the high school’s staircase-designated hierarchy (the cool girls at the top, everyone else in descending coolness from there). It’s in the characters of protagonist Justin Tolchuck’s family–the mom who not-so-discreetly tries to vicariously relive her youth through her kids, the more popular younger sister who pretends like Justin isn’t there (quite literally, as she explains in one of the show’s more hilarious bits), and the aloof Dad who is slowly proving himself one of the most endearing TV dads since Sandy Cohen. And it’s even in the film’s narration, which while occasionally weak in content, is at least delivered in a loose, unpretentious manner that stands in stark contrast to the horrifically preachy and/or overbearing narration of most recent TV shows.

But so much of the show still just sucks. The show gets what it feels like to be an outcast pretty well, but when it comes to the popular kids, they don’t seem to have much of a clue, and consequently, almost every character outside of the principal family feels like a caricature. The plots are ridiculous, and to date, have all more or less followed the same plot–Justin does something insensitive to an oversensitive Raja, they fight, Justin realizes that Raja was right about everything, they make up. And the theme song–a mere chorus snippet of some mediocre sounding cover of the Costello/Lowe classic “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding”–is unforgivably pointless.

Worst of all, though, is the show’s still utterly incredulous central premise. Raja is just a really annoying and not terribly funny dude, and the parts of Justin’s plots that involve him just seem to distract from the aspects of the show that are actually funny. The show would be so much better without him, except that without him, there wouldn’t really be mcuh of a show–it’d just be another confessions of a true teenage loser-type TV show, which would last probably even fewer episodes than the show likely will with Raja and that hook of a central premise in it. Frankly, I’m not even sure how to sovle this issue–my only hope is that as Raja gets acclimated to American culture, his character adapts a little, becomes less preachy and less grating, and it just becomes a story of two mismatched kids trying to survive High School, without the whole culture clash aspect.

I’m really hoping it works it out somehow, because even though it’s just potential at the moment, that’s really more than it seems like most shows are able to boast for this season. Also, the show only runs something like 19:40–which should piss me off, but it just makes me like it more for some reason. Frees up more time to watch VH1Classic and catch up on S3 of Philadelphia.

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One Response to “Mixed Emotions / TV O.D. : Aliens in America”

  1. Jason L said

    I just don’t know how you have time to check out premiering shows on the CW, but damn, I enjoy it. Haven’t even heard of this show, but it does sound fairly promising. I, too, am disappointed by the direction of “Pushing Daisies” and am searching for any sort of new show to get into. Hmm, maybe “Big Shots” is still on…

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