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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2007-2008 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we still want to give you a heads up on what you should - and shouldn't - keep on your radar in the coming months.
And as an added bonus this year, each day we'll also take a look at one of the pilots that didn't make the cut. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
ALIENS IN AMERICA (The CW)
(Mondays at 8:30/7:30c this fall)
The network's description: "Justin Tolchuk (Dan Byrd, "The Hills Have Eyes") is a sensitive, lanky 16-year-old just trying to make it through the social nightmare of high school in Medora, Wisconsin, with the help of his well-meaning mom Franny (Amy Pietz, "Caroline in the City"), aspiring-entrepreneur dad Gary (Patrick Breen, "Kevin Hill"), and his popular sister Claire (Lindsey Shaw, "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide"), who is sweetly unaware of how good-looking she is. When Franny signs up for the school's international exchange student program, she pictures an athletic, brilliant Nordic teen who will bestow instant coolness on her outsider son. However, when the Tolchuk's exchange student arrives, he turns out to be Raja Musharaff (Adhir Kalyan, "Fair City"), a 16-year-old Pakistani Muslim. Despite the cultural chasm between them, Justin and Raja quickly develop an unlikely friendship that just might allow them to navigate the minefield that is contemporary high school. It's going to be a very interesting year for Raja, Justin, his family and the entire population of Medora. ALIENS IN AMERICA is from CBS Paramount Network Television Inc. and Warner Bros. Television with executive producers Tim Doyle ("Jake in Progress"), Moses Port ("Just Shoot Me," "Mad About You") and David Guarascio ("Just Shoot Me," "Mad About You"). Luke Greenfield ("The Girl Next Door") directed the pilot."
What did they leave out: That about covers it.
The plot in a nutshell: Narration by the crackly-voiced Justin Tolchuk (a likeable Dan Byrd) informs us that if a teenage alien was ever stranded in his small town of Medora, Wisconsin, it would feel a lot like him - ostracized, mocked and alone - except in the alien's case, there were others of its kind out there looking for it. Justin on the other hand is a breed all his own. Much to his surprise however, the first day of school this year didn't go as bad as it usually does - the local bullies seemed more interest in his newly blossomed sister Claire (Lindsey Shaw), his longtime crush Amy Greenblatt (Marcella Lentz-Pope) noticed his braces were off and the guys in gym class made room for him in the daily "talk about which girls you banged" circle. Yes, life was on the up and up for young Justin. That is until the seniors' annual list of the "10 Most Bangable Girls" comes out, one of which is always some sad sack underclassman. Unfortunately as you might have guessed, Justin receives this year's honor. Horrified, he refuses to back to school, leading his doting mother Franny (Amy Pietz) to go the class counselor for advice. His solution: sign up for the school's exchange student program, that way Justin is at least guaranteed one friend. And so it's not long before the Tolchuks arrive at the airport to pick up their foreign visitor however instead of a Nordic stud like in the brochure, it's Raja Musharaff (Adhir Kalyan), a Pakistani Muslim. Thinking it's a mix up, Franny frantically tries to return Raja while Justin fears his pariah status has actually found a way to get even worse. On the flip side, Justin's dad Gary (an amusing Patrick Breen) finds himself warming up to Raja's industrious nature ("I've never seen a teenager work before," he muses while Raja washes the dinner dishes), not to mention the $500 stipend they get for housing him. And sure enough, each family member begins to realize that Raja is just a normal, sweet kid - Justin finds a fellow outcast to share experiences with, Claire finds an unwitting object for her affection and Franny discovers that he's just a boy who needs a mom.
What works: There's an honest, good-natured quality show that's hard to resist. It's also surprisingly not politically correct - Franny initially thinks Raja's a terrorist while the kids at school blame him for 9/11. This all leads to several surprisingly "I can't believe I'm laughing" moments - whether it be Franny catching Raja and Justin praying to Mecca together or a school teacher leading a "why do you hate Raja?" discussion. Leading the charge then are the amusingly awkward Dan Byrd and the pitch perfect Adhir Kalyan. Both genuinely look and feel like teenagers (instead of being written as mini-adults, even if Byrd is almost 22 in real life) while the supporting cast members all transition from one to multi-dimensional over the course of the pilot. Overall, it's about as enjoyable as a half-hour you could ask for and about as perfect of a time slot companion to "Everybody Hates Chris" The CW could want.
What doesn't: It's certainly not a show where you're going to call your friends and demand they watch, but it is something that if you stumble upon you might find yourself seeking it out on a regular basis.
The bottom line: The CW's freshman class - which includes fellow newcomers "Reaper" and "Gossip Girl" - is shaping up to be quite strong.