The CW’s new comedy Aliens in America is fated to be summed up as ”the show about the dorky Wisconsin kid whose mom tries to import a cool Euro friend for him — but their exchange student turns out to be a Muslim from Pakistan!” That’s why I resisted watching Aliens: It seemed likely to be nose-wrinklingly broad or gag-inducingly sweet. As it turns out, Aliens is, in fact, quite broad — a fair amount of the comedy comes from foreign-born Raja (Adhir Kalyan) and his stilted English. But it’s not offensively so. It’s more like this: ”I accept your challenge,” Raja says when his new host-friend Justin (Clubhouse‘s Dan Byrd) declares a thumb war. So, small-broad. But every character endures his share of ribbing here. Just as often the jokes come from the extreme self-consciousness with which Justin is afflicted — on his first day of classes, the new junior thinks he may no longer be the high school pariah, only to find the seniors listed him as one of the ”10 Most Bangable Girls” (a few notches below his sister).
And now for the cute part: Justin starts to bloom under Raja’s patient, unjudgmental influence. But again, not eck-cute. Justin — who narrates the comedy, Wonder Years-style — talks about how he finds himself opening up to Raja, confessing ”stuff I wouldn’t even tell the guys from chorus.” Admit it: cute. It helps when you see Kalyan and Byrd together. They are two likable, unaffected actors (or at least as unaffected as Aliens‘ heightened reality allows them to be; this show would be a mess in lesser hands). Along with the fellows of Chuck and Reaper, they are guys who just seem kinda…nice. It’s a pleasure.
Aliens is wisely paired with Everybody Hates Chris on The CW’s Monday night, and the two shows share both an aesthetic (slightly staged, smartly shabby) and a central family that’s crazy but loving. Justin’s mom (Amy Pietz, funnier here than she ever was on Caroline in the City) is blindly doting, helping Justin brush his hair like Ashton Kutcher’s and debating whether she should take him to Milwaukee for modeling classes. His father (Gilmore Girls‘ Scott Patterson) is an extreme tightwad who raises alpacas in the suburban backyard for extra cash. His aforementioned younger sister (Lindsey Shaw) grew breasts over the summer, and got popular. The high school scenes manage to balance their lunacy (bullying brothers who ask whether Justin is gay because he’s not ”tapping” his hot sister; a guidance counselor who is literally part used-car salesman) with a basic understanding of teenage politics. There’s a great moment when the sister is trying to avoid uncool Justin, who’s trying to avoid even uncooler Raja, who’s trailed by his new friend, Small Paul, the school’s 11-year-old genius outcast. You gotta love an underdog, and Aliens has them to spare. B+