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United States of Al Review: Chuck Lorre's Comedy Misinterprets the Immigrant Experience

A well-intentioned buddy comedy misses the mark

Diane Gordon

The newest CBS comedy from Chuck Lorre's powerhouse production company is another multi-camera series looking to be about more than just jokes and laugh tracks. United States of Al follows Riley (Enlisted's Parker Young), a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life in Ohio as he tries to save his marriage to his estranged wife, Vanessa (Kelli Goss), so he can spend more time with their daughter, Hazel. He's also living with the Afghan interpreter he worked with overseas; Awalmir (Adhir Kalyan) -- who goes by Al -- has now started a new life in America, hoping to bring more of his family to the States.

At first, the show seems to be about a friendship forged in wartime that's now finding its footing as Al acclimates to the American way of life. But after introductions to Riley's dad (Breaking Bad's Dean Norris) and younger sister Lizzie (Elizabeth Alderfer) -- who is dealing with her own issues with grief and loss -- the low-hanging fruit gets picked first. We watch Al fall victim to predictable stereotypes as he gets used to American idioms, customs, and even clothes. There's a cringe-worthy episode that focuses on shorts; Al is rendered speechless when he sees American women with exposed legs, and they prove to be an insurmountable distraction when he tries to get his driver's license. Things don't get much funnier from there.

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United States of Al already has generated controversy due to its casting of Kalyan, who is Indian-South African, not Afghan like his character. Critics on social media also accused the show of romanticizing relationships created during wartime occupations. Reza Aslan, one of the show's executive producers, shot back at the criticism, asserting that the Afghan and Muslim writers and producers on the show's staff are dedicated to ensuring its authenticity, and noting that the creative team met with former Afghan interpreters and the U.S. service members they live with as part of their research for the show.

The premise does possess the potential for growth; later episodes could tackle the weightier issues that immigrants and veterans face — racism, Islamophobia, post-war PTSD and depression — without reducing these struggles to an easy punchline. Like Lorre's other immigrant series, Bob Hearts Abishola, the show's heart appears to be in the right place. But in its early episodes, United States of Al's humor feels cheap and half-hearted, and its attempts at being a feel-good buddy comedy miss the mark. 

TV Guide rating: 2/5

Adhir Kalyan and Parker Young, United States of Al

Adhir Kalyan and Parker Young, United States of Al

Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment