Where do I even begin? So. Chad is the brainchild of SNL alum Nasim Pedrad. The half hour coming-of-age cringe dramedy follows 14-year-old Chad (Pedrad) on his ceaseless mission to hang with the popular boys. Yes. You read that correctly. Pedrad herself plays the adolescent boy. Fun fact: Google’s top autofill when you type “Nasim Pedrad Chad” is “Nasim Pedrad Chad why.” Why indeed.
(FYI, this review is spoiler-lite.)
Chad had a long road to air. It was originally greenlit at Fox back in 2016. But the network eventually passed on it. In case you also can’t math, that’s a whopping five years ago. I only kinda wonder why it took so long for the show to find a home. A) Racism and B) the things I’m gonna discuss in this article. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m offended by the show. Though I do think some people might be. No … more than anything I feel anger toward the series. If there wasn’t so much to enjoy in the show, I don’t think I’d care to even criticize it.
When we ignore that Pedrad is playing Chad, the show is good. It navigates tough stuff poignantly and with humor. Chad is at war with his Persian identity, at times outright rejecting it because he wants to be “American.” In other ways, he understands his heritage provides him a certain cultural cache which he exploits. Chad is, like most children, a social vampire. It’s bold to have an unlikable teenage protagonist. Yet we still sympathize with Chad because he’s a child and we can recognize growing pains. He’s got a lot going on.
Unfortunately, we can’t ignore that Pedrad is playing Chad. That fact is completely distracting, confusing and at times, uncomfortable. Creepy, even. It’s not even that she does a bad job, per se. It’s that this single-camera dramedy plays it completely straight. This isn’t a screwball comedy, it isn’t SNL, it isn’t live theatre. Pedrad has surrounded herself with actors who are taking everything completely seriously, which allows the comedy to be excruciating and effective. But that’s what makes this casting choice wholly inappropriate.
For example, Chad’s attachment to his mom’s boyfriend isn’t just cringe because it’s sad. It’s borderline creepy because Pedrad is feeling up a grown-ass man, you know? The d*ck jokes (and there are plenty) pulled me right out of the show. Cause like, haha Pedrad (presumably) doesn’t have one. (Also, do teens even make d*ck jokes anymore?)
Mind you, I am not saying that someone needs a penis to be a man or that an actor needs to be a cisman with a penis in order to play one. But there is something incredibly off-putting about a 39-year-old (presumably) ciswoman playing a teen boy. For instance, it’s clear that Pedrad is binding her chest to look more “masculine.” Obviously, this is my personal response, but as a nonbinary person with chest dysphoria, I had a really visceral reaction. It’s easy for Pedrad to bind to play a role, but this is a reality so many trans and nonbinary people live with.
Public art does not exist in a vacuum. As a writer of multiple minorities, I can tell you from personal experience that it’s exhausting and no, it’s not fair. But it’s reality. And it can be liberating. Nor can we forget that we put our art out into the world. Chad centers on an Iranian-American Muslim family. An average, American family dealing with problems all Americans face, plus the problems specific to their reality. That has the power to be revolutionary. A fact, which, for her part, Pedrad seems to be aware of. Why complicate matters with what ends up being nothing more than an inane, and potentially problematic, gimmick?
It’s rare to see Middle Eastern people on TV period. It’s even rarer to see them being the good guys. There were so many moments I hardcore related to. All these little attentions to detail. Persians hating swimming pools (Turks do too!)! Chad and I even picked our “American” names the exact same way. It’s clear so much love went into this show.
So, I want to give Pedrad and co. the benefit of the doubt. Casting her in the lead role comes off as a vanity stunt, but I want to think it wasn’t. I can’t really understand the total lapse in judgment. However, I want to believe that’s what it was: a giant oversight. As much criticism as I have about the casting decision, it is worth noting that I binged all eight episodes in one day. It’s just that the whole time I kept wondering why Pedrad wasn’t playing the role of the mother. Surely they could have found an only slightly too old actor of the male gender to play Chad?
Chad premieres April 6 at 10:30 PM on TBS.
This article was originally published on 4/2/21