Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 April 2020

'Restrained but deeply affecting': Why 'Little America' is Apple TV+’s best show yet

Oscar-nominated writing duo Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon avoid sensationalism and dive beyond the headlines, without ever being preachy

Shaun Toub and Shila Vosough Ommi star in season 1, episode 8. Courtesy Apple TV+.
Shaun Toub and Shila Vosough Ommi star in season 1, episode 8. Courtesy Apple TV+.

In the current political and social climate, with nationalism on the rise and racists feeling emboldened to openly declare their bigotry, it is obvious why a show like Little America is so important.

But there’s a difference between being important and actually being good. Fortunately, Little America manages to be both, as it presents a restrained, but still deeply affecting look at the lives of immigrants in the United States that is more powerful because of how piercingly realistic it is.

Over the course of the anthology series’ eight episode-long first season, each of which are based on real events that have been slightly altered for the smallscreen, Little America delivers a variety of distinctive and seldom seen stories that are either funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring or unexpected. What they all have in common, though, is that they avoid any semblance of sensationalism and dive beyond the headlines, without ever being preachy.

Husband and wife and award-winning writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon penned the series. Getty Images
Husband and wife and award-winning writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon penned the series. Getty Images

Based on Epic Magazine’s collection of stories, Little America is spearheaded by The Office’s Lee Eisenberg, Master Of None’s Alan Yang, and the Academy Award-nominated writing duo behind The Big Sick, Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon.

But while this means that the writing for Little America benefits from the experience and know-how of its esteemed scribes, those who lead each of the episodes are actually relatively unknown. Rather than wilting in front of the camera, the likes of Jearnest Corchado, who in The Jaguar plays Marisol, an undocumented Mexican teenager navigating the world of competitive squash, thrive.

The same can be said of both Eshan Inamdar and Suraj Sharma, who portray the younger and older versions of Kunal Sah in The Manager, with all three of them bringing an honesty, nuance, and integrity to their installments that immediately makes them profound. Each episode becomes even more impactful at their conclusion, too, with their epilogues showing photos and videos of the real people that inspired each installment.

As the first episode of Little America, The Manager ­perfectly encapsulates what makes the show so special. Set in a motel in Utah that’s run by an Indian couple, at first it ­focuses on their 12-year-old son Kunal’s fascination with the dictionary, which becomes so passionate that he learns how to spell even the most ­complicated of words.

However, when his parents are deported, Kunal turns his attention to running the motel on his own, especially since the man tasked with being his guardian proves to be unreliable. Rather than them being away for a couple of months, though, Kunal’s parents aren’t allowed back into the country for several years, while their repeated letters to the government seeking assistance on the matter are ignored.

When Kunal learns that the winners of the national spelling bee are given a sit-down meeting with First Lady Laura Bush, he decides to dust off his dictionary so he can tell her directly about his plight.

The show delivers a variety of distinctive and seldom seen stories that are either funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring or unexpected. Courtesy Apple TV+
The show delivers a variety of distinctive and seldom seen stories that are either funny, romantic, heartfelt, inspiring or unexpected. Courtesy Apple TV+

What makes The Manager, and every other episode of Little America for that matter, even more of an attractive and digestible is that they’re all 35 minutes long or under. But rather than being inconsequential because of their shorter running times, the episodes are so adeptly constructed that they still manage to pack an emotional and even thought-provoking punch. Obviously the key to this is the show’s choice of directors, with Deepa Mehta’s smart and subtle use of transitions to move through several years in an instant in The Manager – a perfect example of how the show smoothly streamlines its stories in a concise fashion without losing its substance.

One constant through each of the episodes, is the filmmakers’ use of real, even mundane aspects of life to evoke a deeper resonance. In The Manager and The Jaguar alone, a dictionary, order of Pepsi, pair of shoes and a fridge all have wider meanings that, refreshingly, aren’t spoon-fed to the audiences.

Not every episode works, but they’re all so original, dramatic and complex, without being convoluted, that they end up at least delivering some kind of intrigue. As well as The Manager and The Jaguar, Conphidance’s stirring attempts to become a cowboy in The Cowboy, Melanie Laurent in the mostly silent rom-com The Silence, and Haaz Sleiman’s pursuit of a queer paradise in the season finale, The Son, are also highlights.

Every episode of Little America is worth your time, though. In fact, with its timely, diverse, and mix of heartwarming and harrowing stories, it epitomises Apple’s entire ethos. Making such informative and thought-provoking shows is exactly why they got into the streaming wars in the first place, and with Little America, they haven’t just made their best show to debut on Apple TV+ yet, they might even help to change some hearts and minds, too.

Updated: January 19, 2020 06:38 PM

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