With a full beard and brown topi, Mr. Khan seems at first glance an anomaly alongside Peter Capaldi, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the hip judges of The Voice UK who are the faces of highest viewed British television. It is all too often the case that the media in Anglo countries is dominated by white actors, with small concessions to non-white musicians (usually in the genres of hip-hop and rap). One would certainly not expect the conservative head of a non-white family to become a superstar in British entertainment, especially one with such a strongly Pakistani identity.
It has certainly not been an easy journey for those considered to be non-white to get representation on widely broadcast television, let alone top billing. When I Love Lucy was in development, studios involved expressed concern that Desi Arnaz’ slight Hispanic accent would alienate viewers and it was a fight to have the show accepted as it was. Hungarian Eva Gabor didn’t seem to have such problems when participating in Green Acres despite an even stronger accent.
Yet this only seems to be an outlier. When sitting down and actually watching Citizen Khan, we see that for all the accents and Muslim raiment, we have just another sitcom of the same lineage as US and British sitcoms of old. Mr. Khan is conservative and in his silly stubbornness we are reminded of nothing less than Archie Bunker; he is irreverent to those who displease him, bearing more than a passing similarity in this regard to Al Bundy; and he is easily influenced by the women around him (despite charges of purported sexism by some critics of the show from the left), making him not much different from male heads of households in sitcoms of the 90’s.
As a whole, the sitcom takes a style very similar to that of earlier British comedies such as Fawlty Towers. There’s a lot of slapstick and movement. US viewers will also recognize this as a style from a bygone era when American sitcoms were heavily inspired by the British acts. Perfect Strangers is a good western example of this type of sitcom. Aside from that, the characters are mostly one-dimensional archetypes. Amjad Malik is a clod; Alia is an airhead who is easily distracted from the religious and conservative ways of her father; and Mr. Khan himself is a conservative Pakistani immigrant whose every move in life is considered through the lens of his Islamic faith.
This show isn’t anything groundbreaking. There are sometimes novel struggles that are rarely seen on television, such as the reconciliation of an Islamic worldview with the Anglo lifestyle, but most of the show’s issues are old universals: the struggle between the conservative older generation and liberal new, the resolution of family squabbles, and the challenge of balancing ethical responsibilities with selfish desires.
There is nothing too groundbreaking here. It is simple a well-done, if typical sitcom. The rating of 6.1 for the show given on IMDb seems fair with this considered. What has been torrentially important for the show has been the controversy that surrounds it. Upon its release, some groups of Muslims were quick to censure it as offensive to Islam or a mockery of the religion, even going so far as to issue death threats to creator and lead actor Adil Ray. On the left, the PC patrol rants that the depiction of minorities on screen who do not think and act like white people is blasphemous racism. Indeed. How dare they have different opinions from the mainstream? Sometimes, conservative pseudo-patriarch Mr. Khan is attacked by certain liberal groups as a chauvinistic bigot.
Usually this type of bellyaching from the uptight corners of society helps productions gain free publicity. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why #CitizenKhan has remained strong in terms of viewer numbers. At around three million viewers per episode on average since its inception 4 years ago, it performs as well as any prime time show on British television. The show has persisted and it can even be considered a sleeper hit as its environment is not entirely conducive to success. It first aired on a late night time slot and subsequently got a Friday night 9:00 PM schedule, which is not much better. Additionally, a mere 6 or 7 episodes per season are created for it.
Despite the concerted efforts of detractors there are no signs of this show waning into oblivion any time soon. BARB tells us that viewership is as strong as ever in season 5. Against the odds, the show has also been successfully ported abroad even to countries with no significant Muslim presence such as Russia and Bulgaria, demonstrating that one doesn’t have to be Pakistani or Muslim to enjoy the program.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, recently made a guest appearance on the latest season of CK, marking the importance of the show in popular British culture. It’s probable that we’ll be seeing another season for this one and at least a few more after that. Some of the actors are getting older and may grow out of it at some point in the near future, but the ratings and broad appeal are undeniable. Hopefully it will also open the way for more work from Adil Khan and more television shows focusing on truly diverse views and cultures.
If you enjoy #CK and want to know when season 6 is officially announced, sign
Are you keeping up with the Khans in season 5? What has been your favorite scene on the show so far? Do you think Mr. Khan is a good father and husband? Do you think Alia will embrace a more secular lifestyle like Shazia? Give us your comments and opinions down below.