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‘Zarqa’ Is a Madcap Canadian Comedy

The Canadian sitcom “Little Mosque on the Prairie” premiered in 2007 and centered on a small Muslim community in a fictional Saskatchewan town. It ran for 91 episodes over six seasons, eventually showing around the world (it is streaming on Freevee, the Roku Channel and Tubi). Now its creator, Zarqa Nawaz, has a new short-form comedy with a narrower focus but a similar cartoony vibe.

“Zarqa,” created by and starring Nawaz, is on YouTube and follows a divorced Muslim mother in Regina, Saskatchewan. In the opening moments of the show, she learns on social media that her ex-husband is marrying a younger woman — a white yoga instructor. Zarqa panics and posts that she is dating a white brain surgeon, which she is not, and the shenanigans are afoot.

She begins a contrived romance with a pasty neurosurgeon, Brian (Rob van Meenen), though neither of them can tell if they’re actually interested in each other or just in pulling one over on everyone else. Zarqa wants to show off at her ex’s wedding, and Brian gets a rush from freaking out his tightly-wound, racist parents. Adding to the rom-com of it all, Zarqa is surprised and delighted to learn an old college flame (Rizwan Manji) has been appointed as the new imam at her mosque — and wouldn’t you know, her ex (Anand Rajaram) might be having cold feet.

“Zarqa” has a madcap urgency to it, partly because the episodes are barely 10 minutes long and partly because of Zarqa, who is brusque and driven and tends to stir up drama. Her grown son recoils from some of her antics but reminds himself, “We don’t say ‘crazy’ anymore.” Her parents lament that she is “a double D: divorced and difficult.”

Both “Zarqa” and “Little Mosque on the Prairie” have an exaggerated sitcom style; most characters repeat one behavior and express one idea, which sometimes can make both series feel a little like kids shows with grown-ups in them. On “Mosque,” the central theme was the perceived differences — and lo, the similarities — between Muslims and non-Muslims. On “Zarqa,” the focus is on race. “I sell white people brown-people things,” Zarqa tells Brian.

The jokes and observations in “Zarqa” are pretty mild, but the story is fun, and it is told with endearing warmth and energy. So far all six episodes of Season 1 and some of Season 2 are on the CBC’s YouTube channel, with the rest arriving shortly.


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