As the student body has been vanishing by stages every day this week, the newspaper delivery has stopped, and I'm stuck with my Times emails (and, of course, the fake news circuit) to keep me informed.
The hour has come to close some tabs, as I myself take off this afternoon :)
I'd watch this sitcom:Sitcom's Precarious Premise: Being Muslim Over Here
By NEIL MACFARQUHAR
Published: December 7, 2006
The handsome, clean-cut young man of evidently Pakistani or Indian origin is standing in an airport line, gesticulating emphatically as he says into his cellphone, ''If Dad thinks that's suicide, so be it,'' adding after a pause, ''This is Allah's plan for me.''
As might be expected, a cop materializes almost instantly and drags the man off, telling him that his appointment in paradise will have to wait, even though the suicide he is referring to is of the career kind; he's giving up the law to pursue a more spiritual occupation.
The scene unrolls early in the pilot of a new Canadian comedy series called ''Little Mosque on the Prairie.''
Yet that fictional moment is an all-too-possible occurrence, as witnessed when six imams were hauled off a US Airways plane in Minnesota in November after apparently spooking at least one fellow passenger by murmuring prayers that included the word Allah.
''Little Mosque on the Prairie'' ventures into new and perhaps treacherous terrain: trying to explore the funny side of being a Muslim and adapting to life in post 9/11 North America. Its creators admit to uneasiness as to whether Canadians and Americans can laugh about the daily travails of those who many consider a looming menace.
''It's a question we ask ourselves all the time,'' said Mary Darling, one of the show's three executive producers and an American who has lived in Canada for the last decade. ''If 9/11 is still too raw, it might not work,'' she said.
There is the other side of that coin too -- what will Muslims think? -- which the show's creators usually summarize in one long sentence that mentions the uproar prompted by Salman Rushdie as well as the Danish cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.
This concern stems from the almost automatic presumption that ''to look at Muslims in an entertaining way is going to be controversial because they will riot in the streets,'' said Al Rae, one of the show's writers, who noted that he does research by bouncing potential scenarios off cab drivers here. Or as Amaar, the young man detained in the opening airport scene, puts it sardonically, ''Muslims all over the world are known for their sense of humor.''
The strongest insurance against outrage from the faithful is that ''Little Mosque'' is the brainchild of Zarqa Nawaz, a Canadian Muslim of Pakistani origin whose own assimilation, particularly after she left Toronto for Regina, Saskatchewan, 10 years ago, provides much of the comic fodder.
''It rests on my shoulders to get the balance right between entertainment and representing the community in a reasonable way,'' Ms. Nawaz, a 39-year-old mother of four, said in an interview here. ''You have to push the boundaries so you can grow and evolve as a community.''
During one recent episode being filmed at a neighborhood swimming pool, two Muslim characters who are normally veiled leave the changing room to discover that a man has replaced their usual female instructor. The horrified women lunge for bath towels to use as temporary hijabs, or veils, to cover their hair.
Ms. Nawaz, veiled since she was in ninth grade, coached both actresses to be less relaxed. ''I didn't feel that they were panicked enough,'' she said. ''It's a big deal for a hijab-wearing woman to be seen without one.''
Ultimately the solution is found when, as the script describes, ''Fatima comes out dressed in the Haz-Mat Islamic swimsuit.'' The costume designer unearthed a swimsuit on the Internet from Jordan that covers her from scalp to ankle and had it shipped to Canada.
The struggle over what constitutes modest dress is central to the show. When a Muslim girl flounces into her immigrant father's presence with her navel showing, he recoils in horror, saying, ''You look like a Protestant.''
She counters, ''Dad, you mean a prostitute?''
He responds, ''No, I meant a Protestant.''
Ms. Nawaz's humor also emerges in the pool episode. Johnny, the male water aerobics instructor, is gay, and he pointedly says that the sight of the women's hair would not be the least bit arousing.
''I always try to start these debates in my community like: Does gay count? Do you have to cover your hair in front of a gay man?'' Ms. Nawaz said with a chuckle. (It is not the kind of question that arises in Muslim countries, where being openly gay is virtually out of the question; such behavior is punishable by a death sentence in some places.)
Fellow Muslims often dismiss her thoughts and questions as too outrageous, she admitted. ''But now I have a whole series to express them.''
Amaar, for example, is abandoning a law career to become the new imam, or prayer leader, in the small town of Mercy. His predecessor as imam preaches sermons like, ''First there was 'American Idol,' and now there is 'Canadian Idol.' All idols must be smashed.''
Ms. Nawaz wanted the show to look at how a native-born imam, exceedingly rare at the moment, might deal with issues differently from the standard imported imams. The actor who plays the young imam, Zaib Shaikh, is the only Muslim in the cast, although the creators said they had hoped more would audition.
Another episode focuses on the anguished debate among strict Muslim families about allowing their children to dress up and collect candy on Halloween, a Christian affair built atop a pagan festival. Most North American Muslims eventually compromise because the day has been drained of religion. ''Little Mosque on the Prairie'' turns it into ''Halal-oween,'' halal being the Arabic word for anything religiously permissible.
The sitcom grew out of the battle in Ms. Nawaz's mosque in Regina over whether women had to pray behind a partition, a heated controversy across the United States and Canada. She vehemently opposed the idea, ultimately making a documentary released this year called ''Me and the Mosque'' about the tug-of-war with her own imam as well as similar segregation battles in Chicago and West Virginia.
The documentary sparked her idea that all manner of tension between moderate and conservative Muslims -- one episode focuses on the partition issue -- would make both Muslims and non-Muslims laugh. There were 600,000 Muslims in Canada in the 2001 census, with the number now estimated around 800,000. Estimates for the American population are around six million.
In an earnest manner not atypical of Canadians, one goal of the show is to explain Muslim behavior, or at least make Muslims seem less peculiar, much as humor about Jews, Italians or gays helped those groups assimilate.
''On the news all you ever hear are voices from the extreme end of the spectrum,'' Ms. Darling said. ''This gives voice to ordinary people who look just like other ordinary people.''
With its small-town setting and affable cast of characters -- even a talk radio host who labels Muslims as terrorists comes across as rather lighthearted -- the show unrolls a bit like ''Mary Tyler Moore'' or some other 1970s sitcom. It is scheduled to start on CBC on Jan. 9, with eight episodes. More are under negotiation. Pitches will be made to networks in the United States in December, so at first only Americans in border states will be likeley to have access to it.
Test audiences have been somewhat divided, the producers said. Younger viewers, especially Muslims, tend to laugh openly with recognition. Others, particularly the older generation -- whether Muslim or not -- hesitate.
''Nobody has done a comedy about Muslims before, so they are not sure how to take it,'' Ms. Nawaz said. ''Some non-Muslims wonder, 'Are we allowed to laugh?' ''
(Alas, it's Canadian.) I'm not so sure about this movie
, though, despite the crop of TDS associates in the cast. (Riggle, Rob, and the ever-entertaining Lewis Black.)
In the real world, Muslims are having actual, unfunny difficulties: charities being frozen without conviction and sometimes without charge
. Faith-based initiatives, anyone?
Conan O'Brien appears to be taking a page out of Colbert's book in terms of audience interaction. It's not as intense, but rather than snap up a name mentioned on the show (such as DibsRegistry.com) and let it sit idle, his staff had not only grabbed HornyManatee.com, but was having fanart posted
. Conan/manatee, OTP?Hillary Clinton has a cool adviser.
Sexy, smart, and savvy, but stays out of the spotlight. Shame.The Onion is sharp today. Biting. I like it.
One last lol: Maureen Dowd's latest column is not as snazzy as the last, but the title - a play on a classic film
- is worth sharing: "Will Hilzilla Crush Obambi?"