“Aliens in America” debuted last night on the CW. It’s a sitcom about a Midwestern family that takes in an exchange student hoping for a cool, popular (European) boy to elevate the social standing of their geeky son. Instead, Raja shows up, a charming Pakistani boy with skullcap and robe-like clothes. The family is horrified–they even try “returning” him–and cultural discussions in the classroom consist of the teacher asking who is angry at Raja because of Sept. 11. Still, it’s a sweet show, and of course, by the end of the first episode the family has come to see Raja as the nice, friendly boy he is. What amazed me the most is that the producers didn’t shy away from depicting Raja’s Muslim practice. In a moment of stress we hear him recite–in Arabic–the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith, after which he explains that reciting this line calms him down. When Raja is praying and the host-family mom interrupts, her son shushes her and says that Raja is doing salat, one of his five daily prayers. The show manages to avoid cheap stereotypes and obvious Muslim jokes, while skewering the prejudices and fears of its American characters.Watch a preview:

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