Parents' Guide to

United States of Al

By Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Drinking, innuendo in bland fish-out-of-water series.

TV CBS Comedy 2021
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Its heart may be in the right place, but this throwback sitcom tries so hard to be inoffensive that it winds up bland and does a disservice to its titular character. Viewers will appreciate that in The United States of Al the person with the darkest skin or heaviest accent isn't always the butt of the joke, but in trying to create a lovable everyman to anchor this series, all of Al's edges got rubbed away. He's unfailingly loving, respectful, honorable, and kind, a model minority who's also rendered servile and without agency. Al's drama is all centered on its white characters: Riley's tour of duty damage is evidenced by his frayed relationship with his wife; Lizzie drowns her grief over her KIA husband in booze and partying. Meanwhile, Al putters around alternately exclaiming over America's many wonders and trying to solve other people's problems.

The result is a fish-out-water-comedy with a decidedly un-fresh air that has a lot in common with hoary series like Perfect Strangers and The Beverly Hillbillies, up to and including a deafening laugh track. With stalwart Chuck Lorre as executive producer, Al isn't as bad as it could be -- at least Al is a likable character instead of a Muslim stereotype, and the joke writing is occasionally on point, like in an early scene in which Al equates Riley's description of Burning Man ("Americans pitch tents, run around like crazy, then leave") with his memories of war-torn Afghanistan ("Are you trying to make me homesick?"). But turning Al into an agency-free best-friend helpmate whose most passionate wish is to fix everyone else's problems is an old-fashioned approach, less about true diversity than tokenism. What a shame.

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