Apple TV+’s original series have been a mixed bag, but Little America may be the platform’s best offering yet. (I see you, Dickinson fans, but it took me a few episodes to feel like I wanted to stay with that series—Little America did it in one!) The episodic anthology, which comes from a long list of executive producers including The Big Sick’s Emily V. Gordon, and Kumail Nanjiani, is based off of a true stories collection of the same name originally featured in Epic Magazine. Each of the eight gorgeously crafted half-hour episodes tells the story of immigrants to the United States (mostly people of color) over the last few decades. Some are documented, some aren’t. Some are thriving, others are not. But every story is genuinely emotional, sweet, awkward, and funny, and explores these experiences in honest, essential, important ways.
Though the series is branded as a comedy, it’s really not. Most of the episodes are humorous in different ways, but there is so much emotion born out of the struggles and perseverance and acceptance these stories contain. As such, I cried at nearly every episode just because of the pure heart. Every episode is worthwhile, even the ones I didn’t fully sob while watching (including at the end when the credits reveal the real person behind the story and a few notes on their lives after we meet them), so this isn’t really a viewing order. It’s more a caution and a preview; this show will make you teary, and that’s a good thing. In a time of such division, it has really been wonderful to see what our country can be when we are at our best and most diverse.
A final note: I keep things mostly spoiler-free, except in a few cases where I needed to more fully explain the source of my sobs. If you haven’t caught up with Little America yet, which is currently streaming on Apple TV+ (all episodes are available now), do so now and then come back and see if you cried like I did:
Tear Level: A Shaky Inhalation
Interestingly enough, I did not cry at the one episode written by three of show’s high-profile EPs: Lee Eisenberg, Emily V. Gordon, and Kumail Nanjiani. “The Rock” is a great episode, as are all episodes of Little America, but renaissance man Faraz’s (Shaun Toub) plans to blow up a giant rock on property he bought played more for laughs than anything (even though it was actually incredibly heartbreaking!) Still, the ultimate support of both his wife and his son was incredibly sweet, and Faraz’s never-ending dedication to his dreams was inspiring.
Tear Level: Starting to Choke Up, but Keeping It Under Control
This was the episode that I was the most skeptical about at the start. I couldn’t figure out how this story connected to the overall theme (which isn’t revealed until the final moments), and it’s a bit of a strange one even besides. “The Silence” is also an episode that plays heavily into the inherent humor of a guru-led silent retreat, which the expressive Melanie Laurent is perfect for as a woman looking for clarity but finding rebellion and, ultimately, love. Like a lot of episodes of Little America, not much is explained about her personal context at this retreat, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. Though there is more absurdity and surrealism to this episode than any of the others, “The Silence” caught me emotionally during a montage close to the end that gives a vision of the future. Whether or not it became real or not who knows, but it was a truly beautifully distilled version of both the idealism and reality of relationships.
Tear Level: A Lot of Sniffles
“The Manager” starts out with a tearful scene in which 12-year-old Kabir (Ishan Gandhi / Suraj Sharma) must say goodbye to his parents when they are deported, but promise him they’ll be back soon. You know, immediately, that the family friend who is meant to look after him is an a-hole, and Kabir is going to be fending for himself. To see a child put in that position—of not only running a motel by himself, but going to school and excelling in spelling bees up to the national level—is heartbreaking. But it’s even more so when Kabir’s parents finally come back, and he’s still not sure what he wants from his life. This one both starts and ends in a tough place, and is the only Little America episode that doesn’t have a triumphant conclusion.
Tear Level: A Strong Welling of Tears
Of all of Little America’s narrative-packed episodes, The Son is the only one that really felt like it needed to be longer. We’re always thrown into the world of our protagonists in this series in a way that leaves us a little disoriented while figuring out the tone and context of the story, but “The Son” felt particularly rushed and disjointed to start. It’s also the only episode of Little America to take place mostly outside of America, although the cathartic arrival at the end is what (thanks to a Kelly Clarkson track) really sealed the deal on its emotional payoff. Haaz Sleiman, playing a gay Syrian refugee, absolutely destroys in quiet scenes where he’s missing the family he had to flee from, but doubles-down on that in a final shot where his character can finally be free.
Tear Level: Blinking Back Tears
“The Jaguar” has a classic setup: A disaffected teen who is acting out at school finds meaning in a sport that ends up giving her the discipline and focus she needed. And yet, the fact that Marisol (Jearnest Corchado) ends up playing squash of all sports makes it feel fully fresh and unique. Marisol and her family are also undocumented, something that comes into play regarding her ability to compete. But as the final credits tell us, Marisol was able to use the experience as a springboard to become a citizen and play on the national level, which is really beautiful coda.
Tear Level: “It’s Fine, I Was Just Cutting Onions…!!”
“The Cowboy” may be my favorite episode of Little America just because it is so incredibly unique. Iwegbuna Ikeji (Conphidance) is a Nigerian student who wants to succeed in the U.S. but is told he’s off-putting and doesn’t really fit in. So, in the tradition of the state in which he is getting his higher education (Oklahoma), he becomes a cowboy. There are parts of the episode that are genuinely funny, but there are even more that are just incredibly wholesome and uplifting. “The Cowboy,” in particular, speaks to the very best of not just what America can be, but who we can be when we are open to accepting others.
Tear Level: Many Happy Tears
“The Baker” got me on a couple of levels. Beatrice (Kemiyondo Coutinho) has a lot of pressure on her as the only person from her Ugandan family to go to college. But when we pick up with her again several years after that, she’s a single mother with a crap job who can’t afford to pay rent. Though her mother sees her as a failure for not getting a job with her degree in Marine Biology, Beatrice’s passion and expertise lies in baking. She slowly discovers that by embracing this gift and her Ugandan heritage, she can make a business for herself in her new home of Louisville, Kentucky. It’s not easy, and the grind that Beatrice has to endure to get to the point of success is extraordinary. But like many Little America episodes, the payoff at the end is overwhelming once we learn how incredibly successful Beatrice became on her own terms—even, eventually, winning over her mother.
Tear Level: Full-on Sobs
There are a lot of things that remain unsaid in Little America episodes, and that makes sense given the short runtimes. And while many of those episodes also reveal snippets of character’s lives before coming to America, none back as intense a punch as “The Grand Prize Expo Winners.” Like “The Baker,” Ai (Angela Lin) is a hardworking single mother. But as is revealed through flashbacks, she’s haunted by the circumstances of her own childhood, which slowly reveal not her immigration experience with her parents, but that they gave her away as part of China’s One Child policy after becoming pregnant with a boy. It gives essential context to how tightly she holds onto her own children who, as teenagers now, are fighting to make their own way and keep her at more of a distance (as all teenagers do). Trapped, essentially, on a cruise as her children leave her to do their own things, Ai is forced to learn what might make her happy on her own, and accept that her children do love her even if they are not always right by her side. Her fear of abandonment is so heartbreaking even though it’s never expressly addressed, but even more moving (and uplifting) is discovering that the real Ai’s son (Tze Chun) wrote and directed the episode.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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