Monday, June 11, 2007

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Broaden your world, I guess. This Canadian pop television comedy series has completed its first season and will apparently be aired for another.

I'm not a television person but this series is worth knowing about from a social/cultural standpoint. According to an NPR blurb it is intended to put the "fun" into fundamentalism. Uh, that would be Muslim, not Christian fundamentlism. My guess is that just watching a few minutes would make most Christian fundamentalists a bit squirmy.

I came across the YouTube link on a UAE blog while surfing randomly among the scores of links at UAE Community Blog, a group on my aggregator. I recall hearing about the show last year when it first aired but thought little about it since we all know Muslims are all terrorists and Mosques are nothing but hiding places for sleeper cells.

From a release last year by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp...

It hasn't even aired yet, but CBC's "Little Mosque on the Prairie" is getting the type of advance buzz most publicity departments would kill for.

The show, a comedy about Muslims trying to interact with their small-town neighbours in a fictional Canadian prairie town called Mercy, has been written up in the New York Times and the Houston Chronicle, with CNN and Stephen Colbert, the fake late-night talk-show host, also taking notice.

All this despite the fact that "Little Mosque" doesn't premiere on CBC-TV until Tuesday, Jan. 9. The show will then air on Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET, repeating on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. ET.

The advance attention is gratifying to the show's creator, Zarqa Nawaz, who huddled on-set recently in a full-length Muslim head scarf while noshing on shepherd's pie. After all, Nawaz says, she's writing about what she knows and the issues and characters she holds dear.

"I grew up in a mosque, I got married in a mosque, I spend a lot of time in a mosque - mosque is a really important part of my life," she says, warming up inside a heated minivan on a chilly autumn day of shooting in the far reaches of Toronto's west end, currently filling in for the Prairies due to the show's suddenly compressed shooting schedule.

The CBC is so pumped by the attention the show started getting - largely on the strength of its title and premise - that it decided to take advantage of the buzz and premiere the show in January instead of waiting until next fall. That meant the show's production crew had to move into overdrive to get the initial episodes ready for broadcast.

The temporary change in location from Saskatchewan to Toronto has meant Nawaz, a 39-year-old mother of four children ranging in age from six to 12, is frequently separated from her family.

"It's very hard," Nawaz says, sounding like any other working mother and not the brains behind what is arguably one of the most talked-about Canadian TV shows in years.

"I haven't seen them in a month; my husband's doing everything. But he's good that way. He has more patience with them, and they actually listen to him and do what he says. When I came back home, he had them all making their own lunches, and I'm talking the six-year-old. A six-year-old, making his own lunch!" she says with a laugh.

Nawaz, who was born in England, grew up in Toronto and moved to Saskatchewan 10 years ago, is witty, good-natured and clearly adored by everyone on the set, from the actors to the production assistants constantly popping by to make sure she's warm and well fed.
Her primary goal for "Little Mosque on the Prairie," Nawaz says, is that people laugh when they watch it.

"I don't know what it is about me, but the more serious and outrageous the situation, the funnier it becomes to me and I end up spinning it comedically," she says, pointing to her short film "BBQ Muslims."

The short got big laughs when it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1996. She wrote it following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, when Muslims were initially blamed before Timothy McVeigh - decidedly not a Muslim - was finally charged.

"When that happened, it was so outrageous. They obviously had no evidence, yet they were pulling Muslims off planes and then suddenly they arrested this white guy, Timothy McVeigh. And I just thought right away, wouldn't it be funny to make a film about that?"

And so "BBQ Muslims" was born, starring Nawaz's friends and relations in a story about two Muslim brothers sound asleep one night when their gas barbecue blows up. They are immediately suspected of being Middle Eastern terrorists, although neither of them have ever set foot in the Middle East.

"I didn't realize at the time that . . . it was kind of ground-breaking, but it was," says Nawaz, a former CBC Radio reporter who was quickly bored by journalism and decided to study film.

"It screened at the Toronto film festival and people really laughed, and that's when I realized 'Wow, I can do this and I can make people laugh.' It was weird to discover this new thing in me that I didn't know about. I was good at creating really funny scenarios, and that's what I'm really hoping for with this show."

Wikipedia link.

Official Website.

I'm not interested in watching the series, but what I have linked is the second YouTube clip of the first episode, complete with commercial ads which I find as interesting as the content of the program. I'm always interested to know what audience the ads are aimed at.

I see McDonalds is one of the sponsors. Hmm. That's interesting. If they think it's worth ad space it must be harmless. But you never know. After all the Chinese are trying to kill our pets.


Anonymous said...

Hoots, the show looks hilarious, even to one who thinks we shouldn't take North American Islam lightly. I hope it makes a network here.

The star, whose name I don't remember, is terrific on 24. He was one of my favorites the moment he first opened his mouth. Glad to see him starring in something.

Thanks for chasing this down!

Mars said...

wow...i'm surprised i got linked here. but thanks. and yes, the show is amazing and as a muslim, there's no way in hell i find it offensive...although here are a few missing kinks here and there. but a great start to proving that muslims do have a sense of humor :)

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