How Afghanistan Withdrawal Impacted ‘United States of Al’ Writers’ Room

TCA 2021: Co-creator Maria Ferrari hopes staff’s “fear” and “urgency” comes through in Season 2 premiere re-write

United States of Al

Earlier this month, CBS chief Kelly Kahl revealed that the upcoming second-season premiere of Chuck Lorre’s comedy “United States of Al” was re-written to address current events in Afghanistan following the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops. This was an instance of life imitating art, “United States of Al” co-creator and executive producer Maria Ferrari told reporters Tuesday, as many of the show’s writers had families in Afghanistan affected by the situation whom they were trying to help evacuate.

So we had shot one and a half episodes during the week of the fall of Kabul and quickly realized that… we had guessed wrong what was going to happen and that we were going to have to adjust our plans,” Ferrari said on a virtual panel with Warner Bros. TV female producers and writers at the Television Critics Association’s press tour Tuesday. “And, basically, on Aug. 12, when Herat fell, which is the third-biggest city in Afghanistan, which was a very anti-Taliban stronghold, that was when our writers started to feel that something very big was going to change. And they had pressing needs to get their own family members out of Afghanistan. It happens that kind of the Venn diagram of vets and afghans and Afghan Americans that is necessary to write this show is also the one that works as a fairly effective rescue operation.”

“United States of Al” stars Parker Young as Riley, a Marine combat veteran struggling to readjust to civilian life in Ohio, and Adhir Kalyan as the interpreter who served with Riley’s unit in Afghanistan and who has just arrived to start a new life in America. The show’s second season is set to premiere on Oct. 7.

Ferrari says that during the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the writers’ room had to “stick a pin in everything and focused first on our people and on our people that needed help and who needed to get their families out,” resulting in “the wildest week” of her life and something she had “never experienced” before.

While this was going on, Ferrari says “we were realizing that we needed to change everything we had done and we need to do it quickly.”

“And so we chose to tell that story. We chose to tell the story of what we were experiencing and hoping that some of the fear and the urgency that we were feeling in the room would come through in this story, which also happened to map, you know, very tidily onto our characters because the writers and the characters are, by design, from very similar walks of life. So that is the story that we chose to tell in our premiere.”

The show has faced criticism in the past for its representation of Afghanistan and Afghan characters, particularly due to the fact that Kalyan is Indian South African. Executive producer Reza Aslan defended the show on Twitter back in March, citing the show’s other cast members and writers with connections to Afghanistan.

“It’s actually quite fortunate. Because it’s my show I can make sure that it is written and produced by Afghans and Muslims,” he said at the time. “That it uses the format to reframe the perception that people have of both. That it portrays a Muslim Afghan protagonist in a true and honest light.”

Aslan serves as executive producer on the series alongside Chuck Lorre, David Goetsch, Ferrari and Mahyad Tousi. The series hails from Chuck Lorre Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television.