How the actual fall of Kabul invaded the writers’ room on CBS TV show
The writers and producers of the CBS comedy âUnited States of Al,â a show about an Afghan military translator who immigrated to Ohio to live with his veteran Marine BFF, faced a daunting challenge when Kabul is dropped while they were in production in Season 2.
Several episodes in the writing of the new season, the producers (who are from the same Chuck Lorre production team that gave us “Two and a Half Men”, “The Big Bang Theory” and “Mike & Molly”) were faced with the reality that they should incorporate this tragedy into the comedy series they were making. Reality required a pivot.
The team behind the show includes both US military veterans and Afghan emigrants, all of whom had a deeply personal connection to the crisis caused by the US withdrawal. The show’s writers were trying to help their friends and family leave Kabul at the same time as they wrote a new episode about Awalmir (aka Al) and marine vet Riley scrambling to get Al’s sister out, Hassina, from Afghanistan.
The season 2 premiere of “United States of Al” is more of a drama than a comedy, as the stakes for Hassina are very real and the actors, screenwriters, directors and producers experience real life events as they go. make it a spectacle. . The episode is scheduled to air on CBS on October 7, 2021 at 8:30 p.m. ET / PT, with airing the next day on Paramount +.
Marine Corps veteran Chase Millsap and Afghan war performer Habib Zahori are the show’s writers. They spoke to Military.com about how they bring their background to a really fun show about characters who have gone through incredibly serious war experiences.
Millsap is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who completed three combat missions with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province. He then served five years in the military as a Green Beret, doing counterterrorism work in Southwest Asia. You’ve probably seen his writing on WeAreTheMighty.com and here on Military.com.
Zahori grew up in Afghanistan the last time he was ruled by the Taliban. As an adult, he became a journalist and wrote for the New York Times blog At War. He also worked as an interpreter and fixer for foreign journalists covering the war. While studying in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship, he decided the risks for someone like him were too great at home and accepted refugee status from Canada. He now lives in Ottawa.
Millsap has been at the forefront of this immigration situation for years, experiences that inspired him to sign on to work on this show. He devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to assisting an Iraqi soldier he served with as he attempted to immigrate to the United States. âI often banged my head against the wall trying to help him,â says Millsap. âFortunately, he’s alive, but he never made it to the United States. These experiences have marked me. I realized that thousands of other veterans, Iraqis and Afghans have had similar experiences.
When it became clear that Kabul was about to fall into the hands of the Taliban, the writers were already at three episodes of the new season of “United States of Al” and realized they had to face reality. of the situation in Afghanistan.
“We decided it would be doing people like Al a disservice who has family at home or people who haven’t yet arrived in the United States if we don’t tell this story,” Zahori said. . âThen the question was: how are we going to reconcile things if we are writing about the tragedy, but in a sitcom format? We all agreed that maybe we should at least write this first episode as a drama, rather than a sitcom episode. We decided, ‘It’s going to be a drama. No laughs and no jokes.
As Al and Riley try to keep their heads and emotions in check while trying to help Hassina out of Afghanistan, the episode begins to feel remarkably raw and real. There is a reason for this. Much of the show’s dialogue and action is based on the real-life experiences Millsap and Zahori had in real time as the writers tried to complete the script for this episode.
âThis story was basically inspired by what Chase and I did for a day, as I was trying to get three of my siblings, two sisters and a brother, into the Kabul airport,â said Zahori. âWe had a friend of Chase waiting for them at a door. Every detail of the show was exactly what Chase and I went through during that eight to ten hour shift.
Chase said, âAs we worked on these issues, the Writers’ Room was like a war room for me. We really are were doing real world stuff and trying to work in Hollywood at the same time, which I think no one has done for a long time.
Things turned out for Zahori’s family, but not quite the way they do on the show. âI tried to get them into the airport, but we failed because there was too much chaos,â Zahori said. âWe tried the east gate, then the north gate. This is where Al’s sister ultimately ends up on the show.
âEven after an hour of pushing, my siblings couldn’t get through that door, then I got this very angry phone call from one of my sisters who told me that they had just seen a woman who was standing next to them getting shot in the face, “he continued. âThey said, ‘We are going home because we might die here in a stampede, or a bullet might hit us.’ I contacted my parents and my uncle, who are the elders of my house. And I said to them, ‘I think it’s impossible for them to get through the crowd, so we’re sending them home.’ I texted Chase and said, “I think my siblings couldn’t do it.” But I found a safer way to get them into the airport thanks to my contacts with the journalists. But our friend and colleague Miriam [Arghandiwal], who is our assistant writer, worked with Chase to get her family members into the airport.
On the show, Al’s sister Hassina believes the United States is pulling out as people like her made strides in establishing a more inclusive culture in Afghanistan. This is not a position on the recent decision to leave, but an example of one viewpoint heard in a diverse writers’ room.
Millsap noted, âOur writers’ room is full of Afghans and Americans with all different backgrounds, men and women of all ages represented. What was really evident when we went through that was the number of different perspectives people had on what was going on, which was a real challenge to put into under 30 minutes of TV.
âOne of the dominant themes was just sadness. We had to face this, and knowing that, literally months ago, there seemed to be a future, a hope and an opportunity. It was gone, and seeing it on people’s faces was a difficult thing. “
Zahori noted, âThese lines are personal because they are my own sister’s lines. I’m not here to justify or criticize anything, because I don’t want to get into politics. We are not a political show, but there were so many women who lost out on opportunities. Yes, they were women who lived in the big cities, not in the countryside. The women who were in the countryside had a totally different point of view.
âBut women like my sisters who lived in cities, they had lives, they had jobs, they had opportunities. There were women who worked in the government, who were judges and all those things that Hassina talks about. It disappeared within a few weeks. Even before the Taliban entered Kabul, my sister was told that there was no work for her and that she just had to go home. There is a lot of truth in these lines of the series.
All in all, it is argued that people like Chase Millsap and Habib Zahori should have been hired to work with Congress or the Pentagon to develop a sane policy for dealing with visas for men and women. Afghan and Iraqi women who aided our war efforts.
The point is, no one in power listened to the people who really understood the situation. So these guys brought their expertise to Hollywood and add some truth to a fun show about two guys supporting each other, even when they don’t get along or their cultures clash.
âUnited States of Alâ may not be your first choice as a platform for a lucid examination of our two decades of war, but there are people behind the series who have a lot to offer on the subject. Try “United States of Al”.
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