Canadian TV is often overshadowed by something bigger – i.e. its American counterpart (have you heard of that beast before?) which is unfortunate because we have some great prime time stuff to watch (and for once, I’m not talking about hockey).
It seems quite normal for Canada, with its (still) lovely reputation, to come up with a show dealing with serious issues such as integration and prejudice with a humorous, non-threatening, realistic and non-demeaning twist. Little Mosque on the Prairie, set in the fictional town of Mercy (in Saskatchewan), follows the sometimes hilarious lives of its Muslim townspeople, as well as their interactions with non-Muslims whose opinions are often heavily influenced by mainstream media. One of the show’s promotional taglines, “Small town Canada with a little Muslim twist”, says it all. The show neither glorifies nor debases the Muslim community it depicts, choosing instead to show them as the normal human beings they are, with strengths and weaknesses, who grieve, love, get angry and get sad – all without forgetting a dash of delightfully Canadian humour.
Who would have thought that Muslims are – gasp – normal? (Sarcasm, anyone?)
Maybe this is why the show has such high ratings in over 80 countries; as the Globe and Mail explains, its “respectful, realistic, honest look at the life of Muslims as outsiders in a small prairie town” doesn’t insult anyone without over or under playing typical prejudices. The considerate, respectful use of humour in a voice from a country known worldwide for its openness might be what is needed in a post-9/11 world – because the effects of that terrible event are still omnipresent.
While the religious angle is always present in the show, it doesn’t take away from the standard sitcom themes – friends, family, work, disagreements, misunderstanding etc. The characters are delightfully colourful, as Little Mosque on the Prairie seeks to represent all those who would live in such a setting: the paranoid Christians, the open-minded and understanding Christians, the good Christians, the Christians who don’t quite care if they are good or not, the conservative Muslims, the liberal Muslims, the good Muslims and the not so good ones. In typical sitcom fashion, the misunderstood minority, i.e. the Muslims, get into situations amongst themselves as well as with ‘the others’; the two types of clashes make for some good (realistic) laughs. Using such a variety of characters protects the show from insulting stereotypes, painting instead a real picture of how people of the same community – geographical, religious or otherwise – can be so different.
I like the fact that the show doesn’t try to make political statements, and yet doesn’t ignore the reality of the world it is set in. In one episode, Baber can’t fly into the US because he is on the ‘no-fly’ list; to make to an important conference, he has to drive there. Rather than put the emphasis on the politics of the ‘no-fly’ list, the show chooses to focus on the hilarious consequences of poor, helpless Baber trying to con his friends into driving him down to the States and all the funny things that happen on the way.
Another thing that I like is the fact that the show doesn’t shy away from humorous Islamic conundrums. Its characters try to practice Islam in a Christian world, which makes such conundrums a reality not only for them, but for many other minorities. One episode asked if a gay man can see a Muslim woman without her hijab on. As a Bahá’í I can relate to these conundrums, which can be quite hilarious and yet are still a real part of minorities in Canada (hello, kirpan in schools debate in Quebec of 2006?).
Whatever the case, we are quite lucky in that the episodes are, for now at least, on Youtube, so do give this show a try. The official website is also worth checking out. Enjoy!