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Dan Byrd, Aliens In America

Sergei Bachlakov/The CW

Aliens in America isn’t one of the big ratings hits of the new fall season, but it should be. If you fell in love with The Wonder Years two decades ago, give Aliens a shot, as there are similarities, even if this show dreams up precarious situations that Kevin Arnold never had to navigate.

See, the growing pains of 16-year-old Justin Tolchuck, played brilliantly by Dan Byrd, include a little more humiliation—and some serious laughs. We hunted the dude down in the hopes of getting to know him a little better. 

So, how much fun is it playing Justin?
It's been really great so far. Part of what defines Justin is that he's so undefined. Like most kids his age, he's still a shell of a person trying to figure out who he is and what he is. And for me, the main challenge has been to not just play a middle-of-the-road nerdy guy but to try and find the person in there.

This is sort of an ensemble show, but you're in almost every scene, so you're probably living and breathing him.
Oh yeah, I'm pretty much here five days a week for, like, 13 hours a day, on average. It's all I do. And then on the weekends, I just sleep and buy DVDs. But, you know, since it is such an intense schedule, I'm glad that we're doing the type of show we are. Like, if I were on a procedural drama, I'd probably kill myself [having to] spout out statistics or medical terminology or whatever. I just feel like my experience would be so much emptier.

Your show is painfully funny at times. Maybe the funniest thing the CW—or the WB, for that matter—has ever had on?
Well, they did have Reba...

 Hey, are you knocking Reba?!
[Laughs.] No, no. I know there a lot of Reba-ites, if that’s what you’d call them, out there. I would never do that. I don't think I've ever even seen an episode of Reba.

So, do you ever get embarrassed by some of the things they have Justin do? Like getting caught reading Womanhood magazine on the can?
I'm fine with most of those scenes. I think the more embarrassing it feels, hopefully, the funnier it will resonate. I just try to think about the humor in the moment and not really focus on the fact that I'm sitting on the toilet with my pants around my ankles while 20 strangers are watching me. You have to give yourself over to it.

You're a little bit older than Justin is, but can you relate to any of his angst? Or were you a total pimp in high school?
There are definitely some similarities. I was not the high school quarterback by any means. But my high school experience was very [unconventional], because I was already working. I was in and out. So, I've been doing a lot of vicarious living through Justin in some of these episodes.

What's it like working with your costar Adhir Kalyan?
I could not have asked for a better companion, both on and off set. There's something that seems to really work well between us, chemistry-wise. It's a good complement, because we're very different in a lot of ways, but there are a lot of similarities, too.

We are big Gilmore Girls fans and were excited when Scott Patterson got cast as Gary, so we have to ask you about his Minnesota-Wisconsin-ish accent. Do you ever chat about it?
[Laughs).] I haven't had many discussions with Scott about his accent. I don't know if it's something he decided to incorporate when he initially signed on, or if he got there and noticed that [his TV wife] Amy [Pietz] had the accent. Amy's actually from Wisconsin in real life, but I think both of the parents supposedly grew up there, so he probably felt that he should have a bit of a twang.

Can you tease to anything that's coming up on the show?
The next episode is called "Metamorphosis," and it’s about this girl whom Justin had a crush on when he was six years old. They palled around like they were boyfriend and girlfriend until she pushed him off the playground. Since then, she's become this über-cool girl who “torture flirts” with a lot of guys, just because she can, for the amusement of her and her posse. Basically, Raja gets mixed up in her games, and Justin tries to warn him about her. But we both end up having a bit of a thing for her and that causes some tension between us. Also, Franny’s going to turn Gary into one of her projects, giving him a whole makeover. It’s a really good one."

Aliens in America airs tonight at 8:30 on the CW. See what you've been missing!

—Reporting by Korbi Ghosh