The television industry is slowly catching up to South Asian-Americans, Y’all. In this year’s pilot season, we’ve seen several actors cast in TV pilots over the last couple of months. From well-known stars like “New Girl” actress Hannah Simone and Aasif Mandvi to newcomers like Kapil Talwalkar and everything in-between, these talented actors are demonstrating the importance of accurate representation on-screen.
To briefly summarize, pilots are essentially the first episodes of any TV show. Pilot season, usually taking place between January-March, is when every major network hands out pilot orders to a few chosen scripts out of many. It’s high pressured because out of these few, only the standout ones get picked and go to series. We, the audience, see the final results of the shows during the fall. Now, during pilot season is also when most casting announcements are made for shows.
2018 saw an insurgence of South Asian actors being cast in several shows, hailing from notable producers and writers. To keep track of these achievements, we created a handy guide for you to sort through this year’s pilots that feature desi actors. We’ve stuck to the big 4 (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX). The CW, unfortunately, hasn’t cast a single South Asian or South Asian-American actor yet this year.
We hope all or most of these get picked up by the networks come May so we can see their work unfold on-screen.
1. “False Profits,” ABC
Starring: Kosha Patel, Kapil Talwalkar, Bellamy Young, Vanessa Williams, Marcus Coloma, Ben Lawson, Mark L. Young, Shelley Hennig
Plotline: The dramedy follows a team of suburban Arizona women who are struggling to rise up in the cutthroat world of marketing in the cosmetics business. Patel is tapped as a lead. She’ll play Parvun Chattoraj, a soft-spoken but smart employee who is good with computers and works at a TJ Maxx store. Parvun agrees to become the third Musketeer in Laura’s (Young) trio of multi-level marketers. Talkwalkar will play Ramesh, a student at Arizona State University who also works at a Courtyard Marriott.
The Pros: The story itself sounds unique, with three talented and diverse woman carving their niche. Patel, who has appeared in “Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce,” “Mary + Jane,” among others, joins big TV names like “Scandal” star Bellamy Young and “Ugly Betty” actress Vanessa Williams. This project is even more special for Talwalkar, who’s a relative newcomer to the industry.
2. “The Mission (fka Safe Harbor),” ABC
Starring: Aasif Mandvi, Lynn Collins, Kris Lofton, Josh Randall, Vanessa Vasquez
Plotline: This drama follows the complicated lives of cops on and off beat, with their situations being a mix of emotional and humorous. Mandvi plays one of the cops, the likable Stanley Mudd. He is partnered with Charlie Scooderro, played by Randall.
The Pros: It may seem like there are one too many cop shows on TV already but this one looks promising enough to give it a go. Plus, it will be good to see Mandvi on primetime screen again, with his last roles being on Hulu’s “Shut Eye” and of course, as a correspondent of “The Daily Show.”
3. “The Fix,” ABC
Starring: Mouzam Makkar, Scott Cohen, Robin Tunney, Adam Rayner, Scott Cohen, Breckin Meyer, Merrin Dungey, Marc Blucas
Plotline: A former prosecutor, Maya Travis (Tunney) returns to Los Angeles from rural Oregon eight years after losing the biggest case of her career in hopes of catching a dangerous killer who has resurfaced in the city. Makkar joins the cast as the Deputy District Attorney Loni Cho, the lead lawyer of the murder.
The Pros: It’s written by Marcia Clark, who we can all agree is somewhat of an expert in the law field. This part-thriller, part-revenge fantasy will make for perfect late night viewing. Makkar has been on a role in the past few years. After appearing on “The Vampire Diaries” and “Law and Order: SVU,” the actress bagged a regular role on the Mindy Kaling comedy “Champions.” With “The Fix,” she continues to up her game, joining TV vets like Tunney and Dungey in a coveted project.
4. Untitled Bellevue Hospital Drama, NBC
Starring: Anupam Kher, Freema Agyeman, Janet Montgomery, Ryan Eggold, Jocko Simms
Plotline: This medical drama follows the doctors of Manhattan’s prestigious Bellevue Hospital, one of the few that capable of treating everything from Ebola patients to prisoners from Rikers Island and the President of the United States. A new director, Max Hollander’s (Eggold) maverick approach promises to change things up. He clashes with Kher’s character, Dr. Anil Kapoor, one of the oldest doctors at the hospital who isn’t very open to change.
The Pros: Kher’s casting adds to the list of Bollywood celebrities being cast in American shows. While it isn’t new for the actor, who has appeared on “Sense8” and “The Indian Detective” on Netflix, this is the first time he will be doing a series regular role. It doesn’t hurt that his character will be called Anil Kapoor. Medical dramas are all the rage right now, so here’s hoping this one brings something new to the table.
5. “The Enemy Within,” NBC
Starring: Raza Jaffrey, Cassandra Freeman, Jennifer Carpenter, Morris Chestnut, Kelli Garner
Plotline: An all-out thriller, this show is about Erica Wolfe (Carpenter), the most notorious traitor in modern history who is brought out of a federal supermax prison by the FBI to help stop some of the most dangerous acts of espionage threatening the country. Jaffrey plays FBI agent Ali Ziai, who specializes in interrogation but his methods are more empathetic and less violent.
The Pros: A good portrayal of a Muslim FBI agent is not seen often but that has been changing now, including with “Quantico.” Jaffrey’s TV credits include “Homeland” and “Code Black,” making him quite the choice for this fast-paced drama.
6. “Manifest,” NBC
Starring: Parveen Kaur, Josh Dallas, Luna Blaise, Athena Karkanis, J.R. Ramirez, Melissa Roxburgh
Plotline: The setting of this drama takes inspiration from the Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which went missing in 2014. In the show, a plane that disappeared from the radar returns five years later with no logical explanation. For those on the flight, no time has passed but for their loved ones at home, five years have gone by. Kaur will play Saanvi, a brilliant graduate student and medical researcher who was a passenger on the plane. She returns home to learn that her work has led to startling medical breakthroughs.
The Pros: If the plotline is giving you “Lost” flashbacks, you are not alone. However, its bringing back a beloved genre with its own twist, which so far looks very interesting. A character-driven drama like this one usually gives its actors a chance to shine. For Kaur, whose previous credits include “Beyond” and “Saving Hope,” this is a first series regular role.
7. “Murder,” CBS
Starring: Pallavi Sharda, Luna Laurez Velez, Michael Chiklis, Teyonah Parris, Leonard Roberts, Andrea Demetriades, Jennifer Mudge
Plotline: Shot like a true crime documentary, the show follows the emotional journey of an investigation through the eyes of the killer, the victim, the witnesses, and the friends and families involved. It will allow the audiences to discern the suspects’ guilt or innocence themselves. Sharda plays forensic pathologist Dr. Parvati Agrawal, who considers herself as the final doctor for each homicide victim. She is compassionate and over-involved in her work, knowing it can lead to dangerous territories.
The Pros: TV doesn’t lack crime procedurals, especially CBS, who already have “Criminal Minds,” “NCIS,” “Elementary,” and more going for them. Yet, the documentary-style viewing of this one sets it apart and might just do the trick. It helps that they have a diverse cast, something the network is sorely lacking in almost all its shows.
8. “Red Line,” CBS
Starring: Vinny Chhibber, Noah Wyle, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Noel Fisher, Michael Patrick Thornton, Howard Charles, Elizabeth Laidlaw, Aliyah Royale
Plotline: This drama is ready to pack a punch with a poignant theme. After a white cop accidentally shoots and kills a black doctor in Chicago, we follow the emotional journey of everything that happens next. Chibber plays the witty, openly gay high school teacher Liam. His approach to emotionally support is appreciated by Daniel (Wyle), the husband of the deceased doctor and their daughter Jire (Royale)
The Pros: Firstly, this is such an important subject, it needs to be handled perfectly. Secondly, the cast sure looks like they can deliver. Finally, Chhibber is playing an openly gay character, not something we see portrayed by South Asian actors too often. The drama has lots going for it.
9. “The Greatest American Hero,” ABC
Starring: Hannah Simone, Gia Sandhu, Zenobia Shroff, George Wendt, Shoniqua Shandai, Dennis Andres, Humphrey Ker, Ellie Reed
Plotline: This reboot of the 80s drama comes with a twist. Simone plays Meera, a 30-year-old Indian-American woman who doesn’t take life seriously, much to the chagrin of her sophisticated, snobby mother Leena (Shroff). However, once aliens entrust Meera with a super suit full of powers, her life starts changing as she figures out how to best use her new skills. Sandhu plays Mona, Meera’s sister with a type A personality.
The Pros: The very first woman of color superhero in a live-action comedy on primetime? Sold. Simone will bring to life a character that will create history. It’s an updated and modern take on an old-school comedy that brings together aspects of a South Asian family in ways we haven’t seen before. Plus, its brought to us by desi writer and producer Rachna Fruchbom, whose work in “Fresh off the Boat” proves why she can handle an immigrant story like a pro.
10. “So Close,” NBC
Starring: Punam Patel, Sasheer Zamata, Sean Kleier, Sabrina Carpenter, Dan Bucatinsky
Plotline: This romantic-comedy of sorts is about two people, Riley (Zamata) and Kyle (Kleier), who are close to settling with the wrong partner but are also at a crossroads in their separate lives, unaware that they live only blocks apart and might be each other’s soul mates. Patel joins the cast as Dhara, an Indian-American who is torn between her dual identities because she loves her strict parents and her culture but wants to experience other things, as well.
The Pros: I’m afraid that Patel’s Dhara sounds slightly stereotyped but at the same time, we haven’t seen a desi character who is trying to figure out what it means to be Indian and American. Secondly, I’m curious to see how her background and story will tie in with that of the central couple.
11. Untitled Comedy by Aseem Batra, NBC
Starring: Sarayu Blue, Paul Adelstein, James Buckley, Zack Cherry,
Plotline: Based on the book “I Feel Bad: All Day. Every Day. About Everything,” this comedy is about Emet (Blue) and her hilarious unfiltered take on the side effects of trying to have it all as a working mother who is a storyboard artist at a video game startup. Her husband David (Adelstein) works in the customer complaint department at an airline and despite being raised as a ‘man’s man,’ he’s being fully supportive of his wife’s choices and career.
The Pros: Written by desi scribe and co-executive producer Aseem Batra, who has worked on “Scrubs” and “The Cleveland Show,” this comedy can be the perfect vehicle for Blue and also portray a great interracial relationship featuring a South Asian character, too.
12. “God Friended Me,” CBS
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Brandon Michael Hall, Joe Morton, Javicia Leslie, Violet Beane
Plotline: This comedic procedural has set out to explore the connection between faith and science. Miles (Hall) is an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he is “friended” by God on Facebook. I know, stay with me. Unwittingly, he becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him. Sharma will play his best friend and co-manager Rakesh Sehgal, a video game enthusiast and (obviously) a coder and hacker, who helps Miles figure out all this God stuff.
The Pros: The plot is complicated but quite different in a way that can be hit or miss, but we’re betting on hit. I’ll be curious to see how the Rakesh character, as a desi, fits into the whole conversation about religion, science, and faith. Sharma’s background in comedy, as seen in Bollywood’s “Phillauri” proves he can handle this. His previous Hollywood credits are “Homeland“ and “The Life of Pi.”
13. “Pandas in New York,” CBS
Starring: Nishi Munshi, Hina Abdullah, Gita Reddy, Dan O’Brien, Bernard White
Plotline: Set entirely around an Indian family of surgeons settled in Manhattan, this comedy gives us a glimpse into that Indian-American lifestyle we have never seen before on TV. The Panda family runs a successful practice in the city and when they learn that the youngest child doesn’t want to carry on the family legacy, they embark on a mission to change his mind.
The Pros: I repeat: a show that’s entirely focused on a desi family. It’s never really been done before and with the success of primetime comedies like “Blackish” and “Fresh off the Boat,” it can really be a success if done well and avoids cliches. I’m only hoping that CBS, the network that gave us Rajesh Koothrapalli, does a good job with this comedy.
14. “History of Them,” CBS
Starring: Amit Shah, Ana Villafañe, Lisa Vidal, Felix Solis, Caitlin McGee, Chris Powell, Brett Dier
Plotline: A multi-cultural ensemble comedy, this one revolves around two friends, Luna Reyes (Villafañe) and Adam (Dier), and how they fell in love using the couple’s social media as a guide. A romantic comedy for the modern age, I suppose. Shah plays Luna’s best friend Vikram Johar, a doctor who basically has been adopted by the Reyes family after his family moved in next-door to them in high school.
The Pros: This show could create waves like “How I Met Your Mother,” which is pretty much what it sounds like but only a version of it that’s kept up with current times. Shah, who has racked up quite the number of TV credits like “Crashing,” “Lilyhammer,” and “Hospital People” among others, will be a series regular for the first time.
15. Unknown Erin Foster Comedy, FOX
Starring: Janina Gavankar, Erin Foster, Don Johnson, Jane Leeves, Christine Woods
Plotline: Loosely based on the life of creator-actor Foster, this comedy is about Andi (played by Foster), who refuses to settle down. She’s very close to her father Roman (Johnson), who is a playboy. Things take a turn when she finds out that her dad is in love with her best friend Sasha, played by Gavankar.
The Pros: This comedy could be the very chill, very funny show you’ve been waiting for. Gavankar is clearly talented, appearing in shows like “Mysteries of Laura,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Arrow.” Her upcoming movie “Blindspotting” created quite a stir at Sundance earlier this year.