TLC's new series subverts reality TV cliches as it focuses on the everyday lives of Muslim families in Michigan
The producers and stars of TLC's All-American Muslim, which premieres this Sunday at 10, are taking great pains to insist that their show is nothing unusual. "It's just a natural fit for us," says Alon Ornstein, TLC's vice president of production and development. "We're always all about telling compelling stories about real families." Nawal Auode, one of the cast members insists that the show is more about what Muslims and non-Muslims have in common with each other than what they don't: "You'll relate to me being a new mom and dealing with post-partum, and you'll relate to [her husband] Nader being a loving husband." All-American Muslim certainly follows in the tradition of programs like The Cosby Show and The George Lopez Show in debunking myths about minority families. But there's nothing ordinary about how excellent All-American Muslim is, or how skillfully and sensitively it builds drama out of questions of faith and religious practice.
One of the most important things that distinguishes All-American Muslim from its reality-show peers is simply that the cast is uniformly likable and engaging. Hatefests like Bravo's Real Housewives franchise and villain-focused competition show formats have been wildly successful, but it can be spiritually draining to watch wildly privileged people savage each other on television. And attempts to adopt a kinder tone can also fall flat: TLC made tried unsuccessfully to humanize controversial figures like Sarah Palin, whose reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, was cancelled after a single season, or to tell a heartwarming family business story in DC Cupcakes, whose baking sisters seemed more sickly sweet than sympathetic.