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LAist Watches: Sleeper Cell

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Okay, so nobody has Showtime so you probably haven't seen Sleeper Cell, the premium channel's newest show burning through all it's episodes this month with the second round of episodes starting tonight. LAist had the show stored on it's tivo and blew through the first 4 hours this morning alternating between being completely enthralled and terrified by the characters and situations playing out on-screen. See, Michael Ealy plays a practicing American muslim FBI agent in deep cover with a terrorist cell run by Oded Fehr's Faris Al-Fark who also owns a security company and pretends to be Jewish. Now, that would all be fine and dandy and the potential for great television all on it's own except for one thing - the series is based in LA.

There is not much LAist likes more than sitting down with our Sunday danish and juice and watching terrorists, fictional though they may be, riding around on the 10 discussing taking PCH up and down the coast to California's two nuclear plants or hitting the Rose Bowl or the blond, blue-eyed American operative excitedly offering up UCLA's campus as a potential target. Or watching as the characters case the Northridge Mall for an anthrax attack and how easily it would be to, assuming one could get weapons grade anthrax, infect thousands.

Much like Syriana, Sleeper Cell is part of a growing number of artistic endeavors that seek to take away the political rhetoric and bluster and simplification of the news channel talking heads and give the problems of the middle east, of religious extremism and of terrorism a more true to life context. These "evil terrorists" have families and wives and parents and real problems and compelling reasons for their efforts. Sleeper Cell never shies away from that. But it also doesn't apologize for the crimes they commit. Michael Ealy's Darwin calls the men he must spend so much time with sociopaths. His FBI handler wonders how he can be undercover for 6 months with these men and not have questions about his faith. Darwyn explains that what these terrorists do has nothing to do with his religion.

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That answer made us think of Dennis Prager's lunk-headed editorial from the Times a month ago: Five questions non-Muslims want answered. Why should all muslims have to answer for the actions of some. Why do people want to simplify such a complex situation and blame someone's faith? Why can't we do our due diligence in battling terrorist threats without terrorizing and marginalizing a whole group of people? LAist thinks we can. Sleeper Cell, as a show, might just argue that our view on things is just as naive as Prager's.

We're just glad it's willing to show us.

Our Take: We don't know if the FBI has men like Darwyn Al-Sayeed working for it but we hope so. Not only because having true muslims working to battle extremist muslim terrorism makes so much sense but because we hope that there are people in the bureau who can see through the cloud of chatter about Jihads and Fatwas and look at this world with reasoned eyes. Meanwhile, we'll stay home and watch more Sleeper Cell so that we're not out on the streets of LA trying to decide whether you're a terrorist or not.