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“United States of Al” got the green light from CBS in 2019 on Veteran’s Day — fitting for a sitcom about an ex-Marine combat vet who brings his wartime Afghan interpreter/best friend to live with him in Ohio.
The series, created by Chuck Lorre, David Goetsch and Maria Ferrari, premieres Thursday (April 1) at 8:30 p.m. and stars Parker Young as Riley and Adhir Kalyan as Awalmir — aka “Al” — who, in the premiere, arrives in the US and moves in with Riley and his family.
It also sparked Internet backlash after CBS dropped a trailer for the series, with criticism leveled at Lorre and executive producer Reza Aslan (“The Leftovers”) for casting Kalyan — who was born and raised in South Africa and is of Indian descent — in a role as an Afghan.
“Maybe learn a little about the show, its creators, its producers, its four Afghan writers, its plot and pretty much everything else before you announce your opinion of it,” Aslan tweeted in response. “You can’t judge a show by a 30 sec trailer. Well, you shouldn’t at least. Still this is Twitter.
“There are five Afghan characters in the show and four of them are played by Afghans. We saw 100 Afghan leads but sitcom is a specialized genre and it’s very tough to play,” he continued. “But we also have four Afghan writers/producers on the show who’ve done a great job helping Adhir.”
“[Al] is lighthearted, with a great sense of humor and a quirky view of the world but someone who lives his life in a very respectful way and is a man of great integrity who feels hugely indebted to Riley,” said Kalyan, 37, who spoke to The Post along with Parker. “He’s excited about this new chapter and is perhaps a little naive to how different he’s going to find the US to Afghanistan.”
Young, 32, said “The United States of Al” hits close to home for several reasons.
“I’ve had a unique experience because some of my best friends are members of the Navy SEAL community,” he said. “I’ve spent thousands of hours with members of the special opps community and I’ve gotten to know guys who are actively in [special opps] teams and guys in the process of transitioning out of teams.
“I’ve witnessed, firsthand, how difficult that can be, not just because of things they’ve seen and done in war, but because of the loss of identity and purpose that comes with trying to assimilate into civilian life.”
For Riley, that means moving into his father’s (Dean Norris) garage while dealing with his on-the-rocks marriage to Vanessa (Kelli Goss) — the mother of their young daughter, Hazel (Farrah Mackenzie) — and with his sister, Lizzie (Elizabeth Alderfer), whose fiancee, a chopper pilot, was killed in Afghanistan.
Riley spent three years trying to get Al into the US; now that he’s finally here, Al, too, finds that adjusting to life in Ohio is different than what he expected.
“He’s an interpreter who served with the US forces in Afghanistan and worked most closely with Riley, who’s gone through an enormous amount of effort to get Al to the US because Al’s life — and the lives of his family members — were, in all likelihood, in danger,” Kalyan said.
“That’s why it’s wonderful he has such a dear friend in Riley. The two of them are, in essence, assisting each other to navigate this next phase of their lives.”
“United States of Al” is, first and foremost, a sitcom; the challenge, for its creators and writing team, is to balance its laughs with a very serious subject.
“On paper [the series] almost doesn’t feel like a sitcom,” Young said. “These are real-world situations that are very serious and sometimes not synonymous with comedy. We’re doing everything we can to understand the gravity of this situation and the story we’re telling.
“We have incredible military advisors and we’re able to make this a fun comedy and still find the moments that are real and genuine and heartfelt,” he said. “We don’t feel the need to push for a laugh in every single line but to tell this story in an honest way — and to find the humor within that story.”
“The show . . . reminds me of other Chuck Lorre comedies, like the way that ‘Mom’ dealt with alcohol addiction and the challenges those characters faced,” said Kalyan. “We have such an inclusive, diverse, really balanced writers room, with four Afghan writers, two veterans, a military spouse, a military consultant . . . trying to find that level of authenticity and comedy that are really at the heart of this show.”
Young said it was “serendipitous” when he first received the “United States of Al” script several years back.
“I’d moved down to Coronado and was surrounded by the SEAL community,” he said. “We had the same interests and I became fast friends with a group of these guys. Riley has the same tattoo that some of my SEAL brothers have and I drive a truck that one of my SEAL pals drives.
“I believe that if I didn’t have these bonds, the job [on ‘United States of Al’] wouldn’t have been mine. It wouldn’t have been for me.”
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