"You Are Literally Talking About a True Story," Reza Aslan Responds to Critics

Is 'United States of Al' based on a true story? The new sitcom on CBS explores an ex-Marine's friendship with an Afghan interpreter. Read on for more.

Leila Kozma - Author

Apr. 1 2021, Published 5:33 p.m. ET

Adhir Kalyan in 'United States of Al'
Source: CBS

CBS's latest offering, United States of Al, became the subject of heated debate on social media before it even premiered. Created by Chuck Lorre, and written and executive produced by Maria Ferrari and David Goetsch, the new sitcom puts the closely knit friendship between an ex-Marine, Riley (Parker Young), and an Afghan interpreter, Al (Adhir Kalyan) in the spotlight. 

Is the show based on a true story? Plus, why is half of Twitter fuming? 

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'United States of Al' tells the story of an ex-Marine and an Afghan interpreter.

The fish-out-of-water story aims to capture the experiences of Al, an Afghan interpreter who decides to join his old friend, Riley, in Ohio. Once there, he has a few culture shocks, which he expertly downplays with witty commentary. Al's friend, Riley, has to undergo similarly novel life events, only he lacks Al's enthusiasm. So, is United States of Al based on a true story? 

united states of al true story
Source: CBS
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"You are literally talking about a true story," executive producer Reza Aslan clapped back at a critic denouncing the show for its biased portrayal of the relationship between a U.S. soldier and an Afghan interpreter. 

"There are dozens and dozens of Afghan interpreters living with U.S. soldiers. We know cause we actually spoke to them. This is literally their story," Reza added. 

As Reza argued in the tweet, the show offers a glimpse into one particular relationship dynamic inspired by that of many others. But as many social media users claim, the show fails to critically engage with its subject choice — delivering an overly idealistic portrayal that doesn't acknowledge the harsh realities of the Afghanistan War.

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Source: Twitter

Some social media users ventured so far as to deem the show propagandistic as soon as the trailer came out. 

"I would simply like to have a chat with the Afghan writers of United States of Al on CBS ... What were y'all thinking? Allowing this white savior plotline and providing military propaganda? Glorifying the war and U.S./Afghan relations? Y’all really gave into the system!" tweeted @sunscriptedly.

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Some had hoped 'United States of Al' would create a more in-depth portrayal of the protagonist.

The framing wasn't the only issue prospective viewers and Twitter users had with United States of Al. Some argued that the show grants more weight to characters like Riley, his sister, Lizzie (Elizabeth Alderfer), or Riley's snarky dad, Art (Dean Norris). Al, it is believed, stays in the background for the most part. 

"In United States of Al, I really wanted to see Awalmir's story and personality and character fleshed out but instead, we mostly get to see how he facilitates the life of his white best friend (and his family). It's an easy way out while waving the representation flag," tweeted @saloni_g.

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Source: Twitter

'United States of Al' spurred casting-related concerns as well.

Casting Adhir Kalyan, a South Africa-born actor, in Al's role was ill-advised, some social media users argued. 

Reza defended the cast of the show by emphasizing that there are five Afghan characters, four of whom are played by Afghan actors. Likewise, they had several Afghan writers on the show, he wrote in a tweet. 

Catch new episodes of United States of Al every Thursday at 8.30 p.m. EST on CBS. 

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