Monday, October 25, 2021

Sitcoms To The Rescue

From CNN via Balloon Juice:

The Biden administration is taking an unprecedented step to resettle the 55,600 Afghan evacuees from the US military bases where they’ve been living for weeks and into permanent homes, an official leading the effort told CNN.

The move marks the biggest change to the resettlement program since 1980, when the modern-day infrastructure for admitting refugees was put in place.
The resettlement challenge has dogged the administration since the frenzied evacuation from Afghanistan in August: resettling tens of thousands of people — many of whom worked with or on behalf of the US — within only weeks or months. The abrupt arrival of evacuees strained already-overwhelmed refugee resettlement agencies and left both the administration and organizations scrambling to find permanent homes in a housing crunch.

Now, to increase options to evacuees, the Biden administration is launching a program that would allow veterans with ties to Afghans, as well as others, the opportunity to bring them to their cities and serve as a support network as they get their lives started in the US, former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell told CNN.

Last spring, CBS launched a series called “United States of Al.” It’s your standard cookie-cutter formula half-hour sitcom with all of the elements that go back generations: a suburban family takes in a visitor from another place and the laughs come from the newbie adjusting to life. However, this time the visitor is not ALF from the planet Melmac or Mork from Ork, or even the distant cousin from Europe (“Perfect Strangers”). The situation, as IMDb explains, is about “[t]he friendship between Riley, a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life in Ohio, and Awalmir, the Afghan interpreter who served with his unit and has just arrived to start a new life in America.” It has all the requisite characters: the grumpy dad, the cute daughter, the ex-wife and her ditzy boyfriend, and, in one episode, an adorable dog.  Just another in a long line of shows that come and go.

Except this time it’s a little different.  Riley, played by Parker Young, isn’t adjusting so well to civilian life.  He has bouts of PTSD, his relationship with his family shows genuine tension and the side effects such as excessive drinking, and early on the series addressed head-on the issue of the Afghan interpreters left behind to the point that at the end of several episodes, the cast broke the fourth wall and put up a link to agencies that were assisting the emigration of the interpreters.  Meanwhile, Awalmir, known as Al, played by Adhir Kaylan, has his own issues about adjusting his strict Muslim upbringing and customs to life in suburban Ohio.

It became all the more urgent in August when the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban swept into power, putting the lives of Afghanis who had aided the American forces at risk, as well as their families.  This brought some urgency to the situation for the TV series, and they dealt with it with the seriousness that it deserved.  The season premiere episode, done without a laugh track, followed the escape of Al’s sister from Kabul, bringing a level of reality that isn’t usually seen in half-hour shows, much less a sitcom.

It also brings an arguably political story line to a venue that is normally devoid of such issues.  More importantly, it’s bringing it to people who may not be paying much attention to CNN or the coverage of the plight of the interpreters and other refugees whose lives are at risk.  And while it has yet to be shown that a half-hour sitcom has directly reflected current events — at least not since the days of “All In the Family” or “Murphy Brown” — perhaps something good can come from a TV show that once in a while breaks the cookie cutter.


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