How Will a Comedy About Military Interpreters Deal With the Real-Life Crisis in Afghanistan?

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United States of Al Adhir Kalyan
Adhir Kalyan talks to his sister in Afghanistan on the season two premiere of "United States of Al." (CBS)

The CBS series “United States of Al” was designed as a lighthearted fish-out-of-water comedy about an Afghan interpreter who was starting a new life in Ohio with the family of a Marine whose life he saved in combat.

When the show premiered in the spring of 2021, there was some pushback from those in the military community who thought this wasn’t an appropriate topic for a show that was supposed to make the audience laugh. These people were either too young to remember “M*A*S*H” or conveniently forgot how that show mixed comedy with the reality of war.

Adhir Kalyan as the interpreter Awalmir (aka “Al”) and Parker Young as the Marine vet Riley have a great comic chemistry, and the strong supporting cast features Dean Norris (Hank from “Breaking Bad”) as Riley’s dad and Elizabeth Alderfer as his sister, Lizzie.

CBS liked the show enough to pick it up for season two, and then President Joe Biden ended the war in Afghanistan, a decision that led to a faster-than-expected Taliban takeover in the country and an immediate crisis for thousands of interpreters who hoped to immigrate to the United States.

Related: How a 2021 TV Comedy Predicted the Afghanistan Translator Crisis

As the show’s creators, Maria Ferrari and David Goetsch, told us earlier this year, they always hoped the show would help create some urgency around the subject and make it easier for Afghan translators to leave the country.

Related: Afghan Translators Stranded as Passports Become Casualty of US Embassy Capture

What happens to a show that’s beginning production on a new season when the entire premise of the comedy has become a very public tragedy? A new trailer for season two suggests that you deal with the crisis in the most direct way possible.

As the season opens, Al’s sister, Hassina, is trapped in Afghanistan as Al and Riley try to devise a way to get her out of the country. Will they succeed and bring Al’s sister to Ohio, or will her fate in Afghanistan be a recurring theme of the new season?

“United States of Al” returns to CBS on Thursday, Oct. 7, at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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