Sunday, September 28, 2008

Little Mosque on the Prairie

After I read about this show on Wikipedia, I ran like a bunny to YouTube to look for episodes. I found them all, along with a lot of spirited discussion, and settled down on the weekend to watch.

I found it difficult to think critically about the show at first, because I actually felt nostalgic at the accents, the music, the Arabic words and the brightly colored shalwar khameezes. That wore off after a while, though, and that’s when the show had to stand on its own merits.

And I’m not sure it did.

LMOTP as message/drama

The show tries to eat its cake and have it too when it came to Muslim characters. On the one hand, Muslims are ordinary people, just like anyone else, warm and friendly. On the other hand, Muslims have no major flaws that cause real problems. Even Babar, possibly the funniest character on the show since he’s xenophobic, sexist and has a little anger problem, doesn’t really antagonize any of the white infidels. I understand that issues need to be wrapped up in half an hour, minus commercials, but LMOTP’s approach doesn’t exactly make for meaningful drama.

Some of the other characters came off as walking messages. Rayyan is the “Islamic women can be educated and feminist while wearing the hijab” character, but she was a little too prickly for me. Having a comeback for anything which might be construed as disparaging only works if the comebacks are witty. Amaar is the “Imams can be liberal metrosexual guys” character, but the joke about him not having a beard wore thin after the first few repetitions. Yasir is the “Muslim men treat their wives better than equals” character, but he was so uxorious that he came off like a caricature.

LMOTP as humor

Humor – and realism – comes easier if people have flaws, if they’re allowed to fail in a major way. Nearly all of the LMOTP Muslims are nice and care about each other (despite mild disagreements). They don’t worry about losing jobs (despite slacking off) or financial woes, which produced so much of the humor on Only Fools and Horses.

One episode even revolved around bad hair days, and how Muslim women can somehow sense these even under the hijab. This kind of, er, plot needs plenty of humor to keep me entertained, and even then it’s likely to come off as superficial. The other problem is that short of the expected jokes about Muslims on plane flights, there isn’t much Islam-related humor. Given that the producer is a devout Muslim, I can understand, but at the same time I’ll never forget how my Sunni best friend Nazia laughed when I said to her, “Shi’ite happens.”

I might look for episodes of the next season on YouTube, but I won’t be in a hurry to do so. Finally, I’ve learned as much about Islam from watching this show over one weekend as I have from knowing Nazia for sixteen years. I think that’s one reason she’s my best friend. :)

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