As soon as the CBS sitcom, “United States of Al,” premiered on April 1, 2021, it got viewers and critics talking. One of the talking points was that the show has an Afghan immigrant, “Al,” as its central character, which could be an attempt by the producers to give people of color more representation on network TV.
This comedy TV show tells the story of a relationship that blossoms between an American Marine combat veteran, Riley (played by Parker Young), and an Afghan military interpreter who served in the same unit during their time in Afghanistan, Al (played by Adhir Kalyan).
This article discusses all the essential information you need to know about the “United States of Al.”
Where Can You Watch “United States of Al?”
Catch episodes of “United States of Al” on CBS every Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET.
You can also stream the show when you rent or purchase it on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu.
What is “United States of Al” About?
“United States of Al” is an American comedy series that revolves around two friends — marine combat veteran Riley and Afghan interpreter, Awalmir (“Al”) — who serve together in Afghanistan. During the operation in Afghanistan, Al saves Riley’s life. Beyond the mission, the two become very close friends. Riley even helps Al secure a Special Immigrant Visa so that Al can move to Ohio and start a new life.
In Ohio, Al moves in with Riley — who lives in his father’s garage — as both men try to adjust to civilian life. For Riley, it’s dealing with post-war wounds and traumas — such as sharing custody of his daughter, Hazel, with his estranged wife, Vanessa. On the other hand, like a fish out of water, Al (who has lived his entire life in Afghanistan) has to navigate the culture shock of living in his new home, America.
The show is primarily written and co-created by Big Bang Theory alums David Goetsch and Maria Ferrari. It’s produced by Chuck Lorre Productions, who also created Young Sheldon, in conjunction with Warner Bros Television Studios.
The executive producer, Reza Aslan, stated the following about why the show was created.
“The dream for us has always been to get a Muslim protagonist on network television, someone who could really reframe the perceptions of so many Americans about Muslims or people from this broad region. We knew that Dave and Maria would be the perfect shepherds for this and that Chuck would be the kind of person who could take very heavy topics like immigration xenophobia and transform them into something entertaining and palatable, but without necessarily taking the edge away.”
Is “United States of Al” Based on a True Story?
It’s characteristic of sitcoms to tell stories that arise in day-to-day, real-life situations. While the CBS comedy show “United States of Al” may not have been written based on a true story, the premise of the show seems to accurately portray the life-and-death ordeals of the soldiers posted in Afghanistan — and the friendships such missions bring their way after the war.
Hakimi Qudratullah, a former Afghan translator, and Ty Edwards, a marine veteran, shared their experience in and after Afghanistan with Military Times. Their story and that of Riley and Al are alike in many ways.
Similarly, the show’s second season seems to have been impacted by the news of the fall of Kabul — when Taliban militants took over the Afghanistan government on August 15, 2021.
Season 2 Premiere
Prior to the event, the season 2 premiere, titled “Promises/Wadaha,” had been slated for October 7, 2021. “We understood that, with the American withdrawal, things were going to get bad,” said one of the executive producers of the show, Reza Aslan. “We had already written scripts, already shot scripts that had that in the background.”
However, as the events in Afghanistan unfolded, and with several team members embroiled in an attempt to get their families out of the troubled region, the storyline had to be reconsidered.
Story editor Ursula Taherian, who also has family impacted in Afghanistan, stated, “Those first few days, that first week, well it was like a situation room, a war room.”
“I was hesitant because the most important thing happening was that our staff was super traumatized,” Ferrari added. “You’d never ask someone who had just lost a loved one to help you write a script about what it was like to lose a loved one.”
Another executive producer, Mahyad Tousi, stated, “We had a call on Thursday to say: ‘Let’s meet on Monday and figure out how we want to respond to this.’ By Monday, the city had already fallen. It forced us, the writers and the rest of the staff, to figure out, ‘All right, how do we do this? How do we respond?’”
A story editor for the show, Habib Zahori, had this to add about his experience during the turmoil. “It was the worst week of my life. And I’ve lived through some horrible periods, through the war in Afghanistan, through the first period of Taliban rule. I thought it was my ethical responsibility to make sure that this story gets told, and that it gets told as realistically as possible.”
Consequently, the show producers decided to weave the second season around the evacuation story.
About the Cast of “United States of Al”
There’s been a lot of controversy around the casting of a non-Afghani actor, Adhir Kalyan, as Al. Critics have brought a ton of attention to the fact that Kalyan is of Indian South African descent — but portrays an Afghan character on the show. However, Al is just one of many fantastic cast members in “United States of Al.”
Here’s a quick highlight of the key cast members of the show:
Adhir Kalyan as Al:
Adhir Kalyan is renowned for his role as Timmy in the CBS series “Rules of Engagement.” The actor plays the major character, Al (who starts a new life in America), in “United States of Al.”
Parker Young as Riley:
Parker Young is an American actor and model. He plays the role of Riley Dugan, the former marine combat veteran struggling to adjust to civilian life. Prior to “United States of Al,” Parker has featured in shows like “Suburgatory,” “Enlisted,” and “Imposters.”
Kelli Goss as Vanessa:
American actress Kelli Amanda Goss began her career playing recurring roles in “Big Time Rush,” a Nickelodeon comedy series. She would later feature in other series like “The Young and the Restless” and “The Ranch.” She is Riley’s estranged wife in “United States of Al.”
Elizabeth Alderfer as Lizzie:
American actress Elizabeth Alderfer is popularly known for her role in “Disjointed,” a Netflix comedy television series where she starred as Olivia. She also played the character “Lynette” in “A.P. Bio,” an NBC/Peacock comedy series. She is Riley’s younger sister in “United States of Al.”
Dean Norris as Art:
American actor Dean Norris is undoubtedly a popular face on network television. Since beginning his career more than three decades ago, Norris has featured in several movies and TV shows. He is renowned for his role as Hank Schrader in the AMC series “Breaking Bad” and other shows like “Under the Dome” and “Claws.” He is Art Dugan, Riley and Lizzie’s father in “United States of Al.”
Farrah Mackenzie as Hazel:
This young American actress began acting at age 5. She is best known for her appearance in Dolly Parton’s films “Coat of Many Colors” and “Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love.” She is Hazel Dugan, Riley and Vanessa’s daughter.
Sitara Attaie as Hassina:
Afghan-born Hollywood actress Sitara Attaie is a key figure in season 2. She plays the role of Hassina, Al’s sister whom Al attempts to rescue from Kabul. Before appearing in “United States of Al,” Sitara was best known for her role as Samira Noori in the series “Homeland.”
Will There be a Season 3 of “United States of Al?”
Speculations suggest that the good show may be canceled due to recent events in Afghanistan. Also, the show’s rating has dropped from an average of 0.50 in its first season to 0.48 for season two. The drop in ratings further suggests the show’s chances of returning for a third season are bleak — unless the numbers improve.
Sadly, CBS officially decided to cancel the show, so season 2 will be the last.
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(images courtesy of CBS)