He and his team did a skit called ‘The Qu’osby Show’ that was aired in front of a live audience and put up on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show website. This skit was a parody of the Cosby Show. Years later, Mandvi was approached to take that small skit from 2010 seriously and all the way. The idea behind it was to imitate, to hope that what the Cosby Show did for the African Americans in the 80s, this show might do for the American Muslims today.
Hence, Halal in the Family was born.
Aasif Mandvi describes his show as, “A new web-series to challenge stereotypes and misinformation about Muslims and communities associated with Muslims. It’s a sitcom parody about an all-American Muslim family that aims to expose a broad audience to some of the realities of being an American Muslim.”
The team has already made and uploaded four episodes that, “Focus on different challenges faced by American Muslims and communities perceived to be Muslim including surveillance and spying in Muslim communities; online bullying and hate networks; and media bias.”
The all-American Muslim family at the center of this web sitcom is the Qu’osby family with Aasif Mandvi playing the father Aasif Qu’osby, his wife Fatima, daughter Whitney and son Bobby Qu’osby.
The first episode I watched was the one with Bobby Qu’osby running for class president (or was it school?). I confess I was hoping to see something like Little Mosque on the Prairie or better (but of course much better!) because this was Aasif Mandvi’s brainchild. I was expecting similar fireworks as he let off at The Daily Show but that didn’t happen. The humor wasn’t as pungent as we’d normally associate with Aasif Mandvi and the premise of the 5-minute skit was more preachy than sarcastic in spite of a guest appearance from Samantha Bee (and Mandvi! Hello!). Also, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by Mr. Qu’osby’s choice for his favorite dish: pork chops. Really? Muslim family, here! Even the non-Muslims know it’s a total no-no for us.
It was baffling. And a little disappointing. However, I wasn’t one to lose faith just by watching one episode. No, it would take all four of them.
Really, I am. By the time, I watched my fourth one in which Aasif Qu’osby coaches his daughter’s white friend on how to properly stereotype minorities so she could bully them accurately – I was well on my way to becoming a fan of the show.
Halal in the Family is new. It’s just four episodes old with a huge task to perform that’s never been done before. It’s not even as affluently financed as the actual Cosby Show or Little Mosque on the Prairie probably were. I mean – proper primetime sitcom on one hand and a web-series of 5-minute skits on the other – do the math.
Then, there’s this criticism that I do understand and respect.
“This family does not look or behave Islamically...we'd prefer a more Muslim family to represent because women get stereotyped for hijab and I don't see any of that here...this is just appeasing white America,” one Facebook user posted to the show’s page.
The reason I mentioned Little Mosque on the Prairie was just this. That show covered it all: the hijabis, the non-hijabis, the converts, the born-intos, the modern, the conservative, the desis, the non-desis; you name it and the sitcom showcased it. But that was a bigger budget, bigger scale and perhaps also done with a different slant.
Halal in the Family shows an American Muslim family that is trying too damn hard to be more American than all the other kinds of Americans just to fight the stereotypes against them and yet end up coming under fire. That’s the comedic part. That’s how Mandvi hopes to expose the bigotry that plagues the American Muslims every day.
If the totally American Muslims (the pork-eating, mini-dress wearing, white boy dating kind) don’t stand a chance to be accepted in the American society as American enough then what chance do the other Muslims (the praying, hijab-wearing, beard-growing, fasting kind) have in this country that vows to give equal treatment and freedom for ALL? And of course, it doesn’t matter for how many generations these families have lived in America. The bigots and the ignorant don’t and won’t care until you smack them in the face with something like this show.
The purpose of this show at this point is to start a conversation. Bring out the talk that we all talk in our living rooms – the browns, the whites, the blacks, the orange and alien green – and put it up on center-stage for discussion. You think Muslims are something to fear – let’s talk. You think it’s funny to bully Muslims – let’s talk. You think Muslims aren’t American enough even when bred and born here – let’s damn talk!
Aasif Mandvi says, "Obviously the show is absurd. The show is not presenting a real family. It’s presenting a kind of caricature of a family. But in that absurdity, it also points out the absurdity of the bigotry and the fear."
I’d just like the humor element upped a notch or twenty, be more edgy, more Mandvi-like and yes, I can see it getting there already. Surely, the time, when this one of a kind sitcom with an all-American Muslim family at its center becomes just as popular as any great sitcom with a non-Muslim family at its center, isn’t too far off into the future.
So join in. And be Halal in the Family!
PS: This piece first appeared in The Nation.