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United States of Al tried to capture the "unbelievable sense of waiting" during Afghanistan crisis

  • The CBS comedy had just 22 minutes to portray a week's worth of waiting for information from Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Thursday's Season 2 premiere, which had to be rewritten and reshot after the Afghanistan crisis in August, made sure to show how much time had passed as Adhir Kalyan's titular character tried to find out how his family was doing back in Afghanistan. "The experience that we had was that, day to day, the news changed," says co-creator David Goetsch. "There were these powerful swings, and there was so much uncertainty. A bunch of our staff went on Kabul hours… and weren’t sleeping. So the idea here — to have the Dugan family support Al and stay up, and go through what happens in Act 2, in particular — was to try and create an accurate sense of the rawness that comes from night after night after night of trying to help someone." Fellow co-creator Maria Ferrari adds: "We really wanted to convey the unbelievable sense of waiting that was so much a part of this experience, which is a particularly hard thing to do in a 22-minute show. Like, how can you convey a week’s worth of waiting? Spacing it out over several days helped us do that. Also this staff, because this was their story, they really wanted to tell it as it happened. They wanted the characters to say things like 'I didn’t know that' on that day. They wanted to share their experiences as they experienced them." Ferrari and Goetsch say they were given extra time to make sure the premiere was distinctive from other episodes. "There’s more fourth wall, more movement… Our normal production schedule is to shoot for three days, and we were fortunate enough to get five days, so we had extra time for extra setups," says Goetsch, adding: "We’re lucky to have four cameras, to have scenes that are this dramatic and not have to turn one around and match a performance. You can be on multiple actors, like when they’re all staring at the phone, worried. That was a tremendous advantage for us. Because our actors are so talented, in most scenes, they would give us a range of a performance, because we weren’t sure how it was all going to fit together. You could imagine a scene that felt right (as you were shooting it), but then you put it together and that’s not the right thing, tonally. They really gave us some fantastic choices when we got into editing." United States of Al won't give up tackling the aftermath of the Afghanistan crisis. "Our tone last season was a mixture of very dramatic moments and very comedic moments, so going forward I think we’ll be able to do that," says Goetsch. "But Chuck (Lorre) has also been very supportive in saying, 'Look, if there is another important story to tell, in the way that we needed to tell this story, then at that time we will consider it.' And that, as creators, is exciting. We hope the situation improves for everyone, obviously, but to be able to have more freedom to tell a story…" Ferrari adds: "It gives us the flexibility we need to be reactive."


    • United States of Al story editor Habib Zahori says juggling the show and the Afghanistan crisis amounted to "the worst week of my life": "And I’ve lived through some horrible periods, through the war in Afghanistan, through the first period of Taliban rule," says Zahori a former Afghan journalist who lives in Ontario, Canada. “(But) I thought it was my ethical responsibility to make sure that this story gets told, and that it gets told as realistically as possible.” Zahori says the Season 2 premiere captures "exactly what I went through to get my sister and family out" of Afghanistan. Zahori with help from Chase Millsap, a U.S. vet and military consultant on the show, managed to evacuate 11 people, including his three siblings. Zahori says, however, that he cannot watch the Season 2 premiere. “I get mentally transported back to those moments when I was helping my siblings to push through the crowd in front of the airport,” he says. “There was a moment when my sisters and my brother were trying to get in, and my sister, my older sister, called me. ‘I just saw a woman get shot in the face,’ she said. ‘She was standing right beside me.’ I was the one that told them to go to that gate. What if it had been my sister instead of that woman?”

    TOPICS: United States of Al, CBS, David Goetsch, Habib Zahori, Maria Ferrari, Afghanistan War