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Television

Review: ‘Little America’ is the crown jewel of TV’s immigration wave

“Little America” on Apple TV+
Shaun Toub and Shila Vosough Ommi in the eight-part “Little America” on Apple TV+.
(Apple)

Dreamers, doers, underdogs and outcasts populate “Little America,” Apple TV+’s vibrant and moving anthology series dedicated to the immigrant experience — not the politics of immigration.

No two journeys are alike in the smart, nuanced eight-part drama, one of television’s best takes on modern migrant culture. Each self-contained half-hour episode in the Apple original, which premieres Friday, draws from the true story of a new arrival to the U.S., whether it’s the Nigerian economics grad student in Oklahoma who finds his footing in the cowboy lore of the Old West; the Indian spelling-bee whiz who’s left to run his parents’ Utah motel when they’re locked out of the country due to visa issues; or the daughter of a Mexican housekeeper who taps her inner jaguar to compete in an elite sports world, reaching previously unimaginable levels for a girl from her background.

Together these vignettes paint a larger picture — the story of Big America, of course, a nation built on the individual goals, successes and failures of folks who came here from someplace else. The show is adapted from Epic Magazine’s series of the same name.

The beauty of this production is that it never has to make that point with pro- or anti-immigration rhetoric, or with heavy-handed narratives that pit the huddled masses against a cruel, intolerant establishment. The stories breathe on their own, thanks in part to the inclusion of actors and directors who often share the same county of origin with the characters they bring to life on screen. Each episode opens with music from the protagonist’s homeland, and an “inspired by a true story” tagline in their native tongue, be it Spanish, Farsi, Arabic ...

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“Little America” is co-written and created by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (“The Big Sick”) and Lee Eisenberg (“The Office”). The show, which also has “Master of None’s” Alan Yang as an executive producer, has already been renewed for a second season. It’s one of many new arrivals focused on personal immigration stories and culture as opposed to the heated political debate surrounding undocumented workers, travel bans and caravans.

Garcia, left, and Emily Tosta in “Party of Five” on Freeform.
Garcia, left, and Emily Tosta in “Party of Five” on Freeform.
(Tony Rivetti / Freeform)

“Party of Five,” Freeform’s reboot of the ’90s-era Fox series of the same name, tweaks the original premise about the Salinger siblings, who must fend for themselves when their parents are killed by a drunk driver. The new version of the show, which airs Wednesdays, features the Acosta family of Los Angeles, brothers and sisters who are left to raise themselves when their undocumented parents are deported to Mexico. The series, which premiered last week, is structured like a traditional family drama.

The PBS docuseries “No Passport Required With Marcus Samuelsson” returns next week with a premiere episode that brings viewers into L.A.'s Armenian community as part of the show’s larger mission to explore immigrant culture and food in different regions around the U.S.

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And the forthcoming Comedy Central series “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens” (also out next week) brings audiences into the Queens, N.Y., apartment of three generations of Chinese and Korean immigrants. It centers on Nora’s journey as she tries to find focus while stoned, broke and living at home with her dad and grandma.

“Little America” is the crown jewel in the current wave of TV shows steeped in the idea of immigration as a quintessentially modern American story. Its fish-out-of-water narratives are painful and uplifting, funny and heartbreaking. But above all, each story is unique to the individual at its core.

The real-life inspirations for these tales are shown at the close of each episode, which seals the deal in terms of the show’s authenticity, and speaks to the aspirational spirit of a nation built on the dreams of Nigerian cowboys, Mexican squash champions and young Indian entrepreneurs.

‘Little America’

Where: Apple TV+
When: Any time, starting Friday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)


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