NEW YORK (CNS) — Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, who co-wrote the popular and awarding-winning 2017 romantic comedy "The Big Sick" — in which Nanjiani also starred — are among the numerous writers and executive producers of the engaging anthology "Little America."
An affirmation of the value of immigrants and refugees to American society, the show streams on Apple TV+ in eight half-hour episodes. It's adapted from a series of real-life stories that first appeared in Epic magazine. Viewers will encounter a richly diverse range of people from Asia, the Middle East, Central America and Europe.
"Little America" confounds audience expectations as it portrays its characters in unlikely settings doing seemingly improbable things. The miscellany of tales also emphasizes the commendable industry, resourcefulness and creativity of the newcomers it depicts.
Nigerian-born economy student Iwegbuna Ikeji (Conphidance), for example, is first seen in 1981 Norman, Oklahoma, where he sports the cowboy hat and boots of a true Sooner. According to the postscript with which his episode ends, Ikeji's real-life counterpart went on to become an academic dean in Louisiana.
Similarly, Ugandan transplant Beatrice (Kemiyondo Coutinho), a single mother in 1970s Louisville, Kentucky, is shown overcoming government bureaucracy and financial struggles to become a successful, popular entrepreneur known for her homemade cookies. But it's the story of Iran native Faraz (Shaun Toub) that may resonate most with viewers.
The middle-aged parking lot attendant initially shares an apartment in Brooklyn with his wife, Yasmin (Shila Vosough Ommi), and his young-adult son, Behran (Justin Ahdoot). Tired of a mouse that boldly roams their living room, however, Faraz determines to find his family a better home.
Ronni (Anne L. Nathan), a white real estate agent, guides the immigrant through this process. But an exchange they have underscores how misperceptions about newly minted Americans frustrates their capacity to be treated with the same dignity and respect as others.
When Ronni suggests she'll find a dwelling for Faraz that will be better than what he knew in his homeland, he corrects her. "I had a good life in Iran, a great life," he says. "I came to America to provide my family new and excellent opportunities. That was my choice so please don't feel sorry for me."
Failing to find anything in Faraz's price range, Ronni eventually shows him a lot with an 8,000-square-foot rock in its midst. Unfazed, Faraz hastens to sign a contract. "You see a rock," he says, "I see an opportunity." He thus embodies the no-challenge-too-great spirit "Little America" celebrates.
The series is not for youngsters, given that coarse language occasionally crops up, illicit drug use is shown, and some sensuality is included. Most of the installments are suitable for grown-ups and mature teens. The final episode, however, focuses on a homosexual Syrian refugee and involves not only a candid depiction of his lifestyle but a portrayal of torture as well.
In strictly aesthetic terms, "Little America," with its appealing, sympathetic performances and eclectic, lively soundtrack, is a cut above many other television productions.
Without shying away from the profound trauma some of its characters face, the show successfully inspires hope. It also avoids shrill polemics and explicit politics, simply reminding viewers instead that good things happen when strangers are made to feel welcome in a new land.