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US sitcom showcases American Arab character
A new comedy sitcom on CBS TV showcases an American Arab character played by well known standup comedian Maz Jobrani, and includes some major stars in the comedic entertainment circuit. The show Superior Donuts is getting some strong reviews in its first season
By Ray Hanania
A new comedy sitcom on CBS TV offers American audiences an American Arab character in a humorous series that lampoons the daily adventures of a donut shop owner in a fast gentrifying neighborhood of Chicago.
Superior Donuts brings together a talented cast of comedians including Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Welcome Back Kotter) as Arthur, a gruff, to-the-point Chicagoan who refuses to sell newfangled “cronuts” and “macchiatos” or to renovate his dated shop that hasn’t changed since it first opened in 1969.
That all changes when enterprising go-getter Franco, played by standup comedian Jermaine Fowler, fast-talks his way into Arthur’s life as his new (and only) employee. Franco convinces Arthur that he can bring the shop – and Arthur – into the 21st century.
The series is just plain funny. Although it includes racial and ethnic stereotypes, they are presented in a positive, refreshing style that plays into the comedy and the humor of the show.
The sitcom is hilarious and it is so nice to see an American Arab character on a major television network, especially at a time when the various TV networks have stepped up their ethnic presence in launching several shows including Blackish, Fresh Off the Boat, and The Goldbergs.
Supportive regulars appearing on Superior Donuts include loyal patron Randy (actress Katey Sagal, Married with Children), a cop whose late father was Arthur’s best friend; her overeager rookie partner, James (Darien Sills-Evans); Tush (David Koechner, The Office, Anchorman and Anchorman 2), a colorful customer who uses the shop counter as a makeshift office, where he keeps tabs on a variety of odd jobs via fax machine; Maya (Anna Baryshnikov), a privileged grad-school student working on her Ph. D; and Sweatpants, Franco’s longtime friend who’s willing to dress as a donut to help drum up more business.
Looking to cash in on the urban renewal is Arthur’s over-caffeinated neighbor, aspiring real estate and Arab American capitalist Fawz, played by Iranian American standup comedian Maz Jobrani. Fawz pushes Arthur on a daily basis to sell the building to him. With his business in jeopardy, Arthur grudgingly realizes that he had better embrace the change around him and that Franco could be exactly what he – and the donut shop – need to thrive.
Maz Jobrani is a comedian and actor who has been entertaining audiences for nearly 20 years. He has had three SHOWTIME stand-up comedy specials: “Brown and Friendly,” “I Come In Peace” and, most recently, “I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One on TV.”
Jobrani performs stand-up live around the world, including the Middle East where he performed in front of the King of Jordan. This past spring, he performed at the White House where he had the privilege of introducing Michelle Obama. Also, his stand-up tour took him to the Kennedy Center where he headlined a show as part of their 2016 season.
Jobrani has made more than 50 guest appearances on television series, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “True Blood” and “Shameless.” Also, he was a founding member of “The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour” which includes Egyptian American standup Comedian Ahmed Ahmed and Palestinian American standup comedian Aron Kader.
Jobrani’s film credits include the award-winning indie comedy “Jimmy Vestvood: Amerikan Hero,” which he starred in, co-wrote and co-produced; “The Descendants,” directed by Alexander Payne; “The Interpreter,” directed by Sydney Pollack; and “Friday After Next,” produced by Ice Cube.
Additionally, Jobrani is a regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” and has given two TED talks. His book, “I’m Not a Terrorist, But I’ve Played One on TV,” was published by Simon & Schuster and was a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
The sitcom is based on the play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning writer Tracy Letts.
Hirsch is perhaps best known to television audiences for his Emmy-winning role as Alex Rieger in the classic series “Taxi.” Also, he starred as the title character in “Dear John,” for which he won a Golden Globe. Other notable television credits include the comedy “George and Leo,” co-starring Bob Newhart, and the drama “Numb3rs,” both on the Network, and more recently, “Forever,” opposite Ioan Gruffudd. In 2016 Hirsch guest-starred as Leonard Hofstadter’s father on THE BIG BANG THEORY, on the Network.
Hirsch began his career on the stage playing Murray Burns in Herb Gardner’s “A Thousand Clowns” at the famed Woodstock Playhouse in 1964. Thirty-three years later, he starred in a production of the same play on Broadway. Additional Broadway credits include “Knock, Knock” by Jules Feiffer, “Chapter Two” by Neil Simon, “Talley’s Folly” by Lanford Wilson, “Art,” and “Sixteen Wounded.” For his performances in a pair of Herb Gardner plays, “I’m Not Rappaport” and “Conversations with My Father,” Hirsch won two Tony Awards for Lead Actor. He made his Broadway debut as a replacement for the Telephone Man in Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park.”
Deadline Hollywood writes about Superior Donuts, “The strongest of the three newcomers last night was CBS sitcom Superior Donuts (1.9, 10.6 million), which followed The Big Bang Theory (3.1, 14.6 million). The new comedy starring Jermaine Fowler and Judd Hirsch was even in the demo with the premiere in the same slot of The Great Indoors in the fall, which had a stronger BBT demo lead-in (3.4, 14.3 million).”
The sitcom Superior Donuts is in its sixth week and you can catch up on past episodes if you missed them by clicking here.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and author. He covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and for TheArabDailyNews.com, and TheDailyHookah.com.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com www.arabnews.com/taxonomy/term/10906