Tonight's episode of "George Lopez" (8:30 p.m., ABC) tackles a serious topic: discrimination against Arab Americans.
But don't be afraid of that often-excruciating sitcom creature, the heavy-handed Very Special Episode. The show retains its usual Cosby-style light touch and ends on a bittersweet, ambiguous note, which makes it all the more compelling.
The episode, written by star Lopez and directed by Andrew Tsao, finds George in a moral dilemma. With his airplane parts company in the running for business from the federal government, his bosses, the Powers brothers, ask George to demote the head inspector, Hosni (guest star Jason Antoon), because of his Egyptian background, which they fear will prevent the firm from winning the contract.
Should George do the right thing and risk his career, along with the jobs of 20 underlings -- or do the practical thing and jeopardize his principles?
The episode pokes pointed fun at the Sept. 11 backlash with plenty of humor.
"It's a great day in America when white people, black people and Latinos can all come together and pick on another minority," George declares. When he learns that Hosni once went to flight school, George deadpans the obvious question: "Did he take all the lessons?"
On a more serious note, George's quandary forces him to question the example he is setting as a father.
When his son, Max (Luis Armand Garcia), meets Hosni, he is surprised to learn that all Arabs don't hate Americans, that there are good and bad people from all cultures. After the family gets to know and like Hosni, Max is even more surprised that his dad might compromise his principles by reassigning his friend rather than standing up for him.
As George wrestles with his conscience, he is more proud of his son than of himself. He offers Max the only advice that makes sense: "Enjoy your childhood."