NBC’s newest prospect is a series called The Infidel: a comedy about a devout Muslim (star and executive producer Omid Djalili) who finds out as an adult that he was adopted and is, in fact, Jewish by birth. The premise alone might make you shudder, but there are a few things to consider before immediately casting this project aside.
Comedy is a very good way to approach controversial subject matter. It is often the only means to look at a tense situation without the severity that the real world applies to it. As a result, one might leave a piece of comedic work with a new, more open perspective on the topic at hand. Additionally, comedy might shed light on the inherent silliness in a point of view, or an entire controversy, held with a great deal of gravity by society. All in the Family is television’s poster boy for this, although many other series have attempted, and succeeded, in tackling issues in a humorous way.
But there is a subtle difference between using comedy to illustrate a new or more open perspective on a controversial situation and using comedy to milk a controversial situation for easy jokes. I’m not claiming that this is the intention of The Infidel. In fact, I strongly believe that it is not. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if many see it this way. Often, when people see films and TV series like these, they take the jokes as surface value insults as the individuals or groups being mocked vocally by the characters. This is akin to watching All in the Family and assuming the show is actually promoting Archie Bunker’s views. Of course, it is up to people to try and understand what the series is actually doing. But it is also the responsibility of the show (if it is indeed its intention to open minds rather than close them) to actually present the material in a way that does have this type of value.
The Infidel was originally a British comedy film with the same plot: Djalili’s character struggles with an identity crisis after finding out he is Jewish, and immerses himself in both Muslim and Jewish lifestyles.
Whether the series will attempt to use jokes to smooth the jagged edges of this subject matter, or will simply vie for surface value jokes, is yet to be seen. Either way, this is a risky move—some people will be put off by this. But hopefully it is indeed the show’s motive to get a message through to someone. And hopefully, that message will get through.