This week we close out the eight-episode first season of Chad, a TBS episodic created and starring Nasim Pedrad as an awkward 14-year-old Persian boy. A thirty-something woman playing a boy half her age could have gone wrong in many ways. The cross-dressing could have been too trope-y and the pretending to act like a child could have been too campy. Fort what it’s worth, those were not where the show went wrong. Pedrad’s character acting is solid and the script is carefully constructed, but the experience of watching Chad is like pulling at a stubborn splinter out of your big toe.
Each episode takes us through the life of a boy who wants nothing more than to be popular and to shed his heritage, unless it can give him social capitol. The show plays with of themes such as anti-Blackness, capitalism, an absent father, and sexual awakening in the most self-hating way. I knew I was triggered when the in first scene in the pilot, Chad is upset that his divorcee mother is newly dating a Muslim man.
Chad: You’re dating a Muslim guy.
Mom: Chad, you do realize we’re technically Muslim
Chad: We’re Muslim enough. We don’t need people thinking that’s our whole thing.
Mom: What is your problem with our heritage?
Chad: I’m embarrassed by it and I’d like to fit in.
At least Chad is upfront with his cringe-worthiness.
As a Muslim woman, this scene was enough to turn me off from the series. Did we really need to see another self-hating Muslim male on the screen? It seems like when it comes to Muslim-ish narratives, these are the only stories that get green lit — but that’s where this show works. We are not supposed to be rooting for him the Brown Muslim boy – we are supposed to dislike his petulance and arrogant behavior and root for him despite that. At least we don’t dislike him for being a Muslim terrorist.
As far as I can tell, Pedrad, who was born in Iran to a Muslim family and immigrated to the U.S. at a young age, is the first Muslim-ish woman to have a lead role in a television show. Even then, she had to play a boy to be given this opportunity. We have seen generic Brown girl sidekick stories on The Bold Type, Degrassi, Good Girls, Ramy, and Master of None. Even Pedrad herself was a supporting character in the last two seasons of The New Girl. But the Muslim-ish Brown-ish woman narrative is consistently hitting a glass ceiling when it comes to leading their own story.
In the past decade as islamophobia rhetoric in politics increased, Hollywood has slowly stuttered its way into including Muslim characters to meet the diversity in their shows. Most ensemble casts have a periodic token Muslim cast and there is at least a B storyline at least once each season on most episodic TV shows.
Hollywood responded to the push back from Brown actors to not be cast as terrorists, but to also play the everyday man. The theory being, if in entertainment Muslims are humanized, then they will be humanized in society as a whole and thus, less hate crimes in these community. Ramy Youssef, Hasan Minhaj, Aziz Ansari, Riz Ahmed, Kumail Nunjiani are now household names because of this shift to make Muslims likeable.
All this to say, maybe my discomfort with Chad was in seeing a Muslim boy portrayed in such a horrendously unlikable way. If we want for all Muslim-ish characters on television to be humanized, shouldn’t we tell narratives where Muslim-ish characters are likeable and unlikeable, as long as they are not caricatures and stereotypes? Don’t we deserve to see Muslim-ish women in these roles? This is where I see Chad as a groundbreaking piece of art. Don’t we deserve to see this cringe-worthy Muslim boy character where he doesn’t play a stereotype but is just not likeable?
I am not deterred. I will indeed watch the season finale of Chad this week not only because I want continue to support the work of Muslim Brown women in comedy, but because I still want to see if there is an inkling of character growth for Chad by the season’s end. Surely he’ll realize that he doesn’t need to hate himself as much as he does, right?
The season finale of Chad aired on TBS on May 25. The comedy was renewed for a second season.