NOC Review: ‘Chad’ is Good, but Revels in Cringe

Being a Middle Eastern kid in an American high school can be an awkward experience. You may struggle to fit in and have an unclear sense of your identity, making friends and relationships as a result. With the new show Chad on TBS, in which she plays the titular 14-year old character, Nasim Pedrad seeks to encompass that experience through reveling in the awkwardness that being an insecure MENA teenager can often entail. And it works for the most part, though the humor sometimes falls flat, especially when it leans too much into the awkwardness.

Chad (whose birth name is Fereydoon before he decided to change it) is a wildly insecure teen. It’s likely that Pedrad is drawing from her own experiences growing up in the US in this performance that is simultaneously empathetic and annoying. Looking back at how I may have acted at times as an insecure MENA teenager, it felt relatable both in cringe factor while being sympathetic to Chad’s struggles to fit in. But it’s certainly exaggerated, resulting in very cringeworthy moments that may not land with all audiences.

What is almost consistently great is the Iranian representation in the show. With Persian actors like Saba Homayoon as Chad’s mom Naz and Paul Chahidi as Uncle Hamid, the show does well on this front. Naz is a divorced working mom of two who has the support of her brother Hamid, and is a consistently loving and understanding mother to her two kids, even when Chad’s antics get too much at times. They’re nominally Muslim but not actively practicing, just like many people in the US of any religious denomination. Just a normal American family! They talk about their history of coming to the US after the Iranian revolution, which is an experience shared by many in the Iranian diaspora, giving another layer of relatability. With Chad’s family, the pilot sets a strong foundation for the show going forward.

Nasim Pedrad and Jake Ryan in Chad (2021)

Even though his family is clearly wonderful and loving, Chad still wants to break out of the perceived confines of his cultural identity. This desire again is borne out of his intense insecurity. Sometimes this works, and sometimes it really doesn’t, especially when juxtaposed against how relatively great his home life is. Perhaps there will be more to explore with the series as it goes on with this front, but in the pilot it felt dissonant, and perhaps a bit outdated with the more nuanced struggles that MENA kids go through today.

Which brings us to another point, that of the 39-year old Pedrad playing the 14-year old Chad. She has stated in multiple interviews that she felt she could convey so much of her own experience growing up through the lens of this character, exaggerating the awkwardness of being a teenage boy as much as she could. I understand the intention, but I’m honestly unsure after watching the first episode if this entirely works.

We as the audience still know that we’re watching an adult in her late thirties playing a teenage boy engaging in adolescent explorations that feel uncomfortable and clunky, particularly when they involve other teenage characters. I don’t know if there’s meant to be explicit humor in the fact of a woman playing a teenager of another gender, but if there is, that would be transphobic, especially when that’s been a worn-out trope in past programs that Pedrad has been a part of, like SNL. It would be constructive if she and the other producers addressed that directly to assuage concerns.

Overall, the pilot of Chad is a good start to a potentially great series that has plenty of room to grow. While perhaps over-relying on the awkwardness at first, the episode delves into more nuanced and genuinely funny and affecting territory that serves it much better. Hopefully it continues that to give audiences a potentially fantastic look at Iranian American representation in comedy through that better storytelling, and provide more opportunities for MENA people in comedy going forward.

You can watch new episodes of Chad Tuesdays at 10:30pm on TBS.