You can’t throw a brick without hitting a blogger who has an opinion on CBC’s new show, Little Mosque On the Prairie. Previous to tonight’s premiere episode, Torontoist’s sole opinion on Little Mosque was that it made a great excuse for the CBC to give away lots of shawarma. (In the presence of camels, of course. Because you can’t spell “shawarma” without “camels.”)
Of course, the media shitstorm that’s been building up to the premiere of Little Mosque was inevitable. On the one hand, there’s been no shortage of (usually American) right-wing bloggers decrying Little Mosque as the end of civilization or jihadist propaganda or both. On the other hand, you’ve got the folks at liberal outposts like My Blahg saying “watch Little Mosque to make the righties cry.” And somewhere in the middle of all of this, the question of whether or not the show is actually any good got lost as it became yet another political football.
So, is it any good?
The best word to describe the pilot episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie is “clunky.” It’s not unfunny, but this is definitely a show finding its footing.
The show’s biggest letdown is that it treats the obvious ethnic conflict between “average white Canadians” and Muslim-Canadians so very, very badly. It’s played for laughs – which is good because it’s a comedy – but the jokes aren’t funny because the Dumb White Folks are so clownish and buffoonish you feel like you’re being told to laugh, or worse, lectured on tolerance and diversity. (It doesn’t help that Neil Crone’s boring Rush Limbaugh parody and Sitara Hewitt’s gratingly self-righteous young Muslim woman make one want to put on a blindfold and earmuffs until they go off the screen.)
On the bright side, however, the show picks up very nicely on another conflict – the fact that Torontonians and Albertans hate each other. (Torontoist is biased, as we are located in the greatest city in the world and not in a province full of tar-sand-loving rednecks.) There’s a lot of promise here as an additional theme, not least because Zaib Shaikh plays Amaar, the new imam from Toronto, as a total city boy who knows what’s best in life – like low-fat cappucinos.
And the cast is talented. They’re all still playing stock characters at the moment (Carlo Rota is playing the Slightly Sleazy But Good-Hearted Businessman, Manoj Sood is playing the Old Stick In The Mud Who Thinks He Knows Best Even Though He’s An Idiot, Arlene Duncan is playing the Tough Lady Who Doesn’t Take Any Crap From You, and so forth), but most of the stock characters are funny enough and there’s room for growth. Corner Gas started off with much the same array of cliches and just gradually stepped back and let them grow into full-fledged comic entities (and so did Friends, for that matter), so this is as good a starting place as any.
Ultimately, though, the show is hit-and-miss at the moment. For every excellent joke (and there are quite a few) and spirited bit of interplay between the various Muslim characters (there’s a brilliant gag about Saudi Arabia halfway through that will make you spit up whatever you’re drinking), there’s a Stupid White Folks joke that just sits there like a big stinking turd, demanding your approval or at least your respectful tolerance.
So, to sum up: less stupid white people, and bring on the funny Muslims!
Image from the CBC.