‘Chad’: Nasim Pedrad Goes Back To High School for Hilariously Cringy Laughs
Adolescence has a universal way of giving us all great and terrible memories. It’s just part of the human experience to smile and cringe at our adolescence. “Chad” brings a fresh diversity to this theme on American television through the experiences of a Persian-American 14-year-old. Created by and starring Nasim Pedrad, this new sitcom combines the zest of a teen comedy with a broader take on what it’s like to grow up in suburbia from an immigrant background. There’s a growing range of inclusivity now in film and television, but “Chad” is one of the most entertaining recent offerings that busts old stereotypes of Middle Eastern characters. Pedrad captures how being a kid is never easy, but it gets more complicated when the WASPs can’t pronounce your name.
Pedrad plays Chad, whose real name is Ferydoon Amani. The shortened version makes it easier to maneuver high school, where Chad would rather forget he comes from an Iranian family. He’s infinitely more focused on fitting in with the “cool” kids and spin fibs about finally having sex during summer break. In an all-American, meaning largely white neighborhood, Chad lives with divorced mom Naz (Saba Homayoon) and sibling Niki (Ella Mika). Also living with the three is Uncle Hamid (Paul Chahidi), who regales Chad to death with tales from his adventures in pre and post-revolutionary Iran. At school Chad’s closest friend is Peter (Jake Ryan), who is quite level-headed and can only look bewildered at how far Chad is willing to go to fit in. And Chad is willing to go far, whether it’s to lie about sex or bringing a priceless family sword to show off on campus, only to give it away to some popular kid. When Naz starts dating Ikrimah (Phillip Mullings Jr.), who happens to be Black, Chad begs him to drive him to school to show him off.
While “Chad” is attempting to help in making television much more diverse, it also doesn’t water down its material. Like Hulu’s “Ramy,” it isn’t afraid to take its characters so seriously on a human level that they can be absurdly, sometimes tragically flawed. Pedrad playing Chad is a hilarious experiment that also works in doing two things: It makes it easier to digest the things Chad does, because we’re watching them as if through an older person’s memories, and it creates an effect similar to “PEN15,” where Maya Erksine and Anna Konkle also play teens, in commenting how past experiences shape who we are. For Pedrad being a high school freshman comes with a double-edged truth when you’re from an immigrant home: You want to fit in generally as a teenager experiencing those hormone and insecurity trials, but because you come from an immigrant home the challenges come with extra hurdles. Chad doesn’t want everyone to see him as Iranian, even if he’s so Americanized no one would notice much, yet his name gives it away. When his dad in Iran sends him an heirloom sword, Chad takes it to school and forgets to mention the family connection, he just wants to show it off. Chad can come off as annoyingly narcissistic, but it’s because he thinks shedding identity helps attain a better one through popularity. When friends discuss going to Asian Appreciation Club he scoffs and reduces it to getting credit to eat snacks and watch Chinese action movies. Of course it has little to do with being Persian, since all of us as teenagers believe we know everything and can’t appreciate certain things staring us in the face.
If Predad is seeking to achieve a real breakdown of invisible barriers she achieves it with “Chad” by not over-emphasizing its goals. Meaning, it’s not a “Persian show,” it’s literally about a Persian kid going to high school. All the things Gen Z obsesses over or grapples with are here, including Chad suddenly becoming a K-Pop fanatic or the way everyone obsesses over Instagram likes. When Chad lets some popular kid take his sword he begs him to be tagged on the social media post. Everyone has lived through his clumsy slip-ups and embarrassments with sexual experimentation, trying drugs or dealing with clueless parents. It’s just that some of us went back home to speak Spanish around the dinner table or hear about our relatives living abroad in places like Iran, Colombia or Japan. Chad once “Chad” defies the idea of “the other” by poking fun at how if you go to high school in the U.S., the tortures are the same no matter what your last name is. It’s a basic universal law that teenagers are moody and prone to being forced into hard life lessons.
Yet there is much of “Chad” that does celebrate Persian diaspora culture with heart and eye-rolling chortles. Hamid offers to buy Chad some expensive sneakers by remembering a beautiful robe he once had in Iran, telling him, “it’s important for a young Persian man to peacock!” Some white guys in line at the store think it’s so awesome that Hamid shares about smoking hookah all day in his youth. And the hookah bar is of course where one goes to find a way to get the new Lebron sneakers (“ah, Lamborghini quality”). While this humor is instantly recognizable to communities in L.A.’s Persian District in Westwood, other moments have a universal impact for anyone who grew up with a non-Anglo American name or has frugal relatives. We learn in one episode that Chad chose his name when he realized none of those keychain license plates at the souvenir shop had his name. When driving with Uncle Hamid and his squad you also cannot pass up a free mini-fridge found along the way.
Over the years Nasim Pedrad has proven to be a versatile actor capable of dramatic depths but of course, fantastic comedy. What she has picked up while working on shows like “Saturday Night Live” is a wonderful sense of satire mingled with biography. “Chad” achieves both with a tone that balances being heartfelt with brutal honesty. If you ever shudder when an old high school memory bombards your psyche, then “Chad” may provoke some PTSD. Pedrad takes no prisoners when looking back. Yet one could say that’s essential when breaking down barriers in media representation. Yes, many of us come from families from different countries, which has always been the case of how the United States works. But it’s not always the “American Dream” that brings us together, but instead our shared warts. Hormones and adolescence are a hassle no matter what your last name is.
“Chad” season one premieres April 6 and airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on TBS.