It’s 4:30 AM on a Tuesday morning. I’m wide awake but my girlfriend is fast asleep and my dog is too lazy to go for a walk at this hour. Let me turn on the TV and catch up on one of the many sitcoms that I enjoy watching throughout the week. About 15 minutes in to watching the latest Big Bang Theory episode it occurs to me that there is a huge cultural diversity in sitcom programming right now.
Currently airing on a regular basis, there’s a sitcom about a Black Family (Black-ish), an Asian Family (Fresh Off the Boat), A Jewish Family (The Goldbergs), a Family with a Homosexual family member (The Real Oneals and Modern Family), a boy with Cerebal Palsy (Speechless) and that’s only on ABC! There’s shows with female ensembles like Two Broke Girls or Mom and shows that feature an Asian-Indian lead like the Mindy Project and Master of None.
You know what there isn’t a sitcom about? Islam.
Inexplicably nobody has felt the need to create a sitcom with Muslim characters. I say inexplicably because there are roughly 3.3 million Muslims living in the US which equates to about 1% of the population. If you’d like to make the case that it’s just not a large enough demographic, there are half a million LESS Asian-Indians in America and I named two shows with leads and there are plenty others that feature characters.
Even before there were shows with diversity in the central premise of the show it still existed in the main characters. There were Jewish main characters on Big Bang Theory, Friends, and the Wonder Years. There were Black characters on Baywatch, Boy Meets World, and Saved by the Bell. Even cartoons like The Simpsons and Family Guy feature an Asian-Indian and Jewish character in Apu and Mort Goldman respectively. Still no show featuring a Muslim character.
I’m not the only one to notice this missing demographic. Earlier this year while visiting a Mosque in Baltimore, President Obama called for television shows to “have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security” and he’s not wrong. I kept specifying earlier in the article about sitcoms because there are Muslim portrayals in television but it’s programming like Homeland or Quantico. Iranian-American talk show host and author Reza Aslan astutely pointed out,
“Muslims are never going to feel like a part of the American family until people start to make fun of them on TV, that’s how minds have always changed in this country.”
At the time of this publication there are two shows that I’d like to make note of. One is “Chad” a program in development by FOX that follows a teenage boy, played by Iranian actress and SNL Alum Nasim Pedrad, as he becomes man of the house with none of the perks of being an adult. An April 2016 article discusses the show being pushed back from A fall start to a midseason start due to filming issues but according to IMDB the show is listed as a TV movie instead of a series. I feel obliged to note the irony that of all networks FOX was the one to actually give the go ahead for a Muslim sitcom and equally obliged that they couldn’t find the time to actually film it while they managed to successfully air seven episodes of the half animated half live action atrocity that is “Son of Zorn”. The other program that I feel is worth mentioning is “Halal in the Family” a 2015 spoof of 70’s sitcom “All in the Family” which follows the adventures of former daily show correspondent Aasif Mandvi and his faux family. Upside, it is indeed a sitcom about a Muslim family. Downside, it was a web series that only lasted four episodes. With almost a quarter of the world population being members of Islam, that is downright pathetic.
Being Jewish I always took pride as a child seeing the Chanukah and Passover specials from Rugrats and Lamb chop while other shows ran their Christmas and Easter specials. It’s time to give Muslims a show to be proud of their portrayal in. Honestly, in the past ten years we’ve had fish out of water comedies about cavemen (yes a TV based on the Geico insurance ads), A call center (Outsourced), and aliens who land in suburban New Jersey (The Neighbors) it’s definitely time for someone to greenlight a show about the fastest growing religion in the world.