The United States of Al follows the relationship between a combat veteran and the interpreter he used during his time in Afghanistan

By Naledi Ushe
March 22, 2021 06:38 PM
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united states of al
United States of Al
| Credit: Erik Voake/WBTV

CBS is under fire for their upcoming sitcom United States of Al.

The series follows the friendship between Riley (Parker Young), a Marine veteran who just returned home from serving in Afghanistan, and Awalmir "Al" (Adhir Kalyan), the Afghan interpreter who assisted Riley.

Al moves in with Riley in Ohio on the Special Immigrant Visa for serving as his interpreter. 

Following the release of the trailer earlier this month, social media users criticized the show for casting Adhir Kalyan, an Indian South African actor, in an Afghan role and for "romanticizing" the relationship between soldiers and interpreters.

Executive producers Reza Aslan and Mahyad Tousi responded to the reactions to the trailer over the weekend.

"You can't judge a show by a 30 sec trailer. Well, you shouldn't, at least," Aslan responded to one critic. 

He similarly told another person, "Maybe you out to give it a chance before you judge it. The only way you will no longer be underrepresented on TV is if people like me try to do something about it. And people like you support it."

"You should most definitely see the show and not judge the material based on a 1-minute trailer," Tousi similarly said

Emmett Smith
Credit: Getty Images

Another person questioned why the show wasn't "authentically cast," to which he said, "There are five Afghan characters in the show and four of them are played by Afghans. We saw 100 Afghan leads but sitcom is a specialized genre and it's very tough to play. But we also have four Afghan writers/producers on the show who've done a great job helping Adhir."

"It's my show, I can make sure that it is written and produced by Afghans and Muslims. That it uses the format to reframe the perception that people have of both. That it portrays a Muslim Afghan protagonist in a true and honest light," Aslan told another critic.

Tousi added, "From Chuck Lorre, two brown Muslim EP's (myself included), a writer's room with four Afghans, one of which worked as an interpreter and came over to the US on a Fullbright. I get it we are all traumatized but sometimes It's best not to shoot first and ask questions later."

In response to a critic who tweeted, "gotta love sitcoms romanticizing occupation forces and the relationships they build along the way," Aslan said, "Good thing that's pretty much the opposite of what this is but by all means assume away."

He told another person, "The show works hand in hand with two organizations - No One Left Behind and International Refugee Assistance Project - to make sure we aren't just talking about SIV program and the plight of Afghan interpreters. We are trying to do something about it. Actually changing policy."

Tousi also addressed the military plot of the show, writing, "What if the show isn't military propaganda, but rather using these characters and their stories –mined from deep research and interviews with dozens of folks who have walked in these shoes – in order to make nuanced commentary on how war affects people?" 

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In the show's defense, one person tweeted, "Looking at the trailer, I understand some people's bad reaction. But I also can see past the fact that a trailer is not the show. I hope you get to develop these characters, show them in a deeper lens, and that we all can have a better conversation about this in a year from now."

"That's the plan at least," Aslan responded.

CBS did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request to comment. 

United States of Al premieres on Thursday, Apr. 1 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.