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Even Ripley Would Love These 'Aliens'
E.T. -- Egad, a Terrorist -- call home!
And just pray he doesn't use a cell phone.
Such is the explosive life -- and fight -- of Raja, the radiant, if radioactive, exchange student from Pakistan who's exchanged a reserved life in the Middle East for a riotous existence in Middle America in "Aliens in America," the new CW Monday-night comedy series that unmuzzles Muslim fears in this country and gives them a laugh track to go with it.
Stranger in a strange land? What could be stranger -- and more stress-inducing -- than seeing a Pakistani packed in native gear arriving in a U.S. airport and exclaiming his gratitude to Allah? Allah? Oy vey!
And "Aliens in America," does it its vey, making the third rock from the sun a rock resort of introspection, all in a comical manner that marks this "Aliens" passport with permanent residency status, if audiences show up in big enough numbers.
Putting out the welcome mat for the Muslim student -- not knowing he'd use it to pray to Mecca -- is a Wisconsin family who thought their modest home would serve as a mecca for a nice Swedish sexpot of a student who would keep their own reclusive son from shopping with his unlimited credit card at Nerds 'R Us.
What they get instead: A picked-on Pakistani, put down at school, patted down at airports, where the question, "And what's in your wallet?" is a capital way of asking, "Is that a gun in your pocket or are ya just angry to see me?"
And why is it, when Raja takes to the dance floor, they replace the recording of "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" with "Where Were You on 9/11?"
Questions to be answered by Moses Port, the "outsider" from the outback of Altoona, Pa., who, with co-creator/Penn pal, David Guarascio, has conjured a sacred cow of a subject and made it fit for filet mignon.
Altoona as altered state? Exactly, says Port of the storm of ideas that he and his producing partner first had of having Raja reside in his hometown, home of the Altoona Curves baseball team. Then he was thrown a curveball. "But David said -- and he was right -- that Altoona" -- population 50,000 -- "wasn't small enough."
Instead, mythical Medora was created for Raja's MySpace ship to land, greeted by cheeseheads who don't know the difference between cheddar and cheder.
But Port does. Indeed, "being one of only three Jewish kids in a school of 900, I felt like an outsider myself," says the 38-year-old, now in L.A. "In my class, I always had the sense of being different."
And the Christmas/Chanukah clash? Ho-ho-oy! "Every year at the holiday assembly, after the Christmas songs were sung, they always made this big deal of 'Now we'll do some Chanukah songs for our Jewish students.' "
So, if it was "Jingle Bells," not "Shtetele Belz" that made Rudolph's nose turn red, Port dreamt of a wide Christmas -- one that allowed him to know he was Jewish, nevertheless.
And that he found at home.
"My parents were always vigilant about making sure we knew about our heritage," he says. "We kept a kosher home, and for camp, I went to Ramah in the Poconos."
Nevertheless, some Altoonians got their nose out of joint. "I know what it's like to be the first Jewish person people meet."
Ragged on like Raja? No, he concedes, he didn't face much anti-Semitism, but he knows, like Raja, he had an innate responsibility "debunking preconceived notions."
Did he play horn in the orchestra ... or just wear one?
And if that's a skullcap, but no kipah Raja is wearing, this "Alien," too, must face the fact that ignorance isn't bliss -- it's a bombshell. After all, how to respond when his teacher welcomes him to class, advising other students that Raja wasn't personally responsible for Sept. 11? Ground zero for zero tolerance?
But a Jew and a gentile -- co-creator Guarascio is Catholic -- messing with Muslim perspectives? No complaints there, allows Port. So many in the Muslim community are grateful, for once, that he's comedic and not catastrophic, one whose plotting is funny and not funereal.
Port believes that audiences will be mad about him -- as in enthusiastic. Producers certainly have been about Port, part of whose bio notes that he wrote for the hit series, "Mad About You."
What is maddening, as the comedy shows, is how bias buys time for the ignorant, and how membership in a school rocket club also almost buys Raja jail time.
But this very funny show is not ramming Ramadan down anyone's throat -- or, stereotype of stereotypes, slitting it, either.
"Note that the title of 'Aliens' is plural," says Port, whose parents, Stephen and Phyllis, always taught him how following the golden rule would help him measure the mettle of life and that, "in some ways, we are all aliens in life."
As for guidance with "Aliens," Moses isn't looking for any burning brush with controversy: "A Muslim public-affairs council is working as a consultant with us, giving us feedback."
Having a Muslim writer on staff also feeds into the thoroughness of the script's quality; even Ripley would relish "Aliens."
But is there too much rah-rah about Raja? "Some have felt that he's too angelic," but even angels, says Moses, run into clouds occasionally.
After a decade in the business, is "Aliens" the promised land for Moses? He is more than a peer amid many other writers in Hollywood; this one just may have the name to work some magic.
Oh, Moses, Moses, Moses ... "I feel privileged to have my name."