“Dr. Potato” is the best episode of Sunnyside so far, but the series still has a ways to go in regards to its character building and storytelling.
One of the positives of the story was the interaction between the cast as they separated to try to help Drazen not get deported. Garret, Brady, and Hakim went to a store Drazen used to frequent (his wife works there, and has been hiding there), and through these smaller interactions we get to learn more about these characters organically. So far the show has told us more than it has shown has, and has become a little dependent on verbal character gags that aren’t always successful since we don’t know the characters well enough yet. I’ve heard Garret say on several occasions how “One time” he did something, but we need to see some of these moments ourselves before they become so ingrained in his character that the mention of them provides a full visual picture.
In the store, Brady’s love of Bugs Bunny is reinforced and meta-commentated on with him saying it isn’t his only discernible trait. This is proven at the end of the episode when Brady comes back to support Drazen despite his fear of slipping up and being deported himself. Hakim’s constant joy at America’s possibilities and oddities is starting to turn into a genuine character trait instead of just a gag. We are learning that he is overall just a positive man, such as when he talks to Mallory about his hopes that she comes back from surgery with a fungus story, so his positive outlook is definitely starting to take place as a major part of what makes Hakim tick, with his fascination with America being a natural extension of that.
Griselda and the siblings have some moments while waiting in line, with Griselda coming down hard on them like they’ve never seen. They definitely need the strong hand, but I’m hoping eventually the show dives deeper into these two. They are still mostly just “rich” and very spoiled, and I know they can be more complex than that.
These small character moments are an improvement, but Sunnyside is still lacking when it comes to its main conflicts. Drazen’s detainment would be so much more affecting if we actually knew him. Garret’s speech in his defense would have been more believable (how does Garret know he’s a good guy? He barely knows Drazen), and his fate would matter so much more to the audience if we cared about him. As it stands now, this is all just plot with little emotional heft behind it, which is a shame because Sunnyside is talking about a topic that doesn’t get much media exposure and a lot of people can learn from.
This was easily the funniest episode and the humor was mostly used to great effect. Hakim winning a trip to the 1984 Olympics from his bottle cap was not just funny but characterized the store as well as highlighting his positivity. Drazen’s crime of pirating a movie is considered low stakes by the characters until it is revealed that he pirated Spice World, providing a humorous spin while highlighting the ridiculous biases of the system, which was then followed up on with the joke about staving off nightmares of not giving immigrants translators. I hope Sunnyside keeps on this path. (The Knicks joke was also expertly paid off).
The show still needs to find its footing with its characters and how it discusses its main topics, but this was a step in the right direction, especially regarding the humor.
Sunnyside – Too Many Lumpies (1×08)
Sunnyside delivers a solid episode as the cast tries to celebrate Thanksgiving together. Thanksgiving episodes are often great for sitcoms because the holiday forces characters together and allows for that classic Thanksgiving family conflict we are all too familiar with.
Garret and Mal have never felt more like siblings than they do in this episode, seamlessly going back and forth between bickering and working together. Seeing them when they were young is a great way to get a little background on them and it highlights their differences. It also provides a foundation for our understanding of how their parents treated each of them, instead of just having characters tell us.
Garret has had a consistent need to be liked, and the fear put in him by his friends that his parents think low of him is a good launching point for the episode’s main conflict. It’s fun to watch him act super obnoxious, and the lack of reaction from his parents only highlights how awful Garret must have been in the past, which puts his current improvement into better perspective.
Another positive is that the Modi’s are not the stereotypical immigrant parents, as the immigrant group claims they must be. Griselda may throw sandals at kids, but the Modi’s parenting style reflect their own personal views. These are the kinds of stereotypes that Sunnyside is in a position to break from, and the way they still showcase what it means to be an immigrant parent (such as the mocking of American accents) gives us an honest look at this perspective. They bond with Griselda over these shared experiences, and once they leave, Griselda takes their place as the parent. Griselda has been written as the mother of the group for a while now, but here she fulfills the role more naturally because of the absence of a mother figure in the room. That’s good character work.
The B-plots are decent, with Brady’s being my favorite. His decision to not eat until he sees the turkey is a basic sitcom scenario, but the way his situation escalates with him going to the food store and then having his turkey massacred (for a second time) is well crafted and it builds to that moment very well. The twins basically just did their thing this week, and that’s ok! Their storyline may not have been spectacular but it certainly isn’t poor, and it provides a payoff to Brady and Mal’s plots .
This is a good episode of television. Each plot works together to prop the others up, it explores the immigrant experience without resorting to stereotypes, and it has solid character humor and development throughout.
Sunnyside – Pants Full of Sandwiches (1×07)
Sunnyside has the standard sitcom structure of an A story (the main conflict of the week) with a B and sometimes C story (one or two smaller, often unrelated conflicts). So far some of the B and C stories have been stronger than the A story, and tonight’s episode is an example of this.
Brady and the twins B story involves the twins losing their riches and needing to learn how to be poor people. Brady offers to coach them, which naturally leads us to a reveal that Brady is great at putting on different personalities. He goes from realtor to snooty art critic with ease, providing us an insightful look at his personality and a much needed dose of competence to a character who has been the punchline too many times.
The twins are also better defined by the episode’s end, and I can’t just refer to them as “the twins” for the rest of this paragraph because their personalities are becoming distinct enough that they are two separate characters. Mei Lin has secretly been saving money, proving once again that a character has a level of competence we weren’t privy to before. She wants to teach Jun Ho a lesson about the importance of saving, so she allows him to believe they’ve become poor. Jun Ho is excited about having learned a lesson at the end of the episode, implying that he has grown as a person. This is a good storyline and develops all three characters further.
The A story isn’t as effective. Griselda’s partner Michelle is revealed and they are preparing to be interviewed regarding the legitimacy of their relationship so Griselda can get a green card. Their relationship is barely explored before they are put on edge by Garret’s drunken tirade (he has his own relationship problems), and so their rift doesn’t feel as real or raw as it could. Their biggest disagreement comes down to money, but their real problem is Griselda’s refusal to discuss uncomfortable topics. Of course, in the end she does and everyone is happy, but the lesson is imparted to us by smashing a hammer over our heads.
Garret’s relationship drama isn’t a direct parallel to Griselda’s; it’s created for it. Nothing about it feels as real as it should because it is so clearly set up just to give Griselda and Michelle their conflict and happy ending. The lesson Garret learns is spoken to him with an obvious declaration so there is no nuance to the storytelling. Garret can absolutely come to this conclusion on his own. The same issue was present in last week’s episode.
The worst part is that it is completely within what we know about Garret for him to be torn up about his ex. Last week we saw how desperate he is for companionship and a romantic pining is a natural extension of this. But since Garret’s side of this story is so completely written to prop up Griselda and Michelle’s, none of his despair is truly explored, as is none of his acceptance of the fact that it’s over. He gets sad about it and then learns a lesson when he’s told to. The plot points are there, but there is no deeper connection to the character.
Jun Ho’s lesson is explicitly stated to him as well, so it isn’t like the B story is any less heavy handed. The difference is that we see the depths of Jun Ho’s struggle and the conniving nature of Mei Lin. We see how these events are affecting them, and we smile when Jun Ho smiles at having learned his lesson and grown as a person. It’s a personal journey for these particular characters. No one else on the show could produce this storyline. Anyone could be sad over their breakup and moan about the injustices of love. What did that mean to Garret, though?
Sunnyside needs to be widely relatable because its main topic of gaining citizenship is something that affects a lot of us in this country. However, the show has spread that relatability into blandness by putting its characters into situations that require little from their personalities. The show needs to put more focus on the unique traits of its characters and explore the kind of situations only they would get into. The best mix of the two worlds came from “Scnorf Town,” when Griselda was being interviewed about affording her rent while dressed up in flashy clothes provided by Mei Lin and Jun Ho. It was character specific while covering a relatable topic, so I know the show can do it. I just hope it finds a way to hit that sweet spot more often.
Sunnyside – Skirt-Skirt (1×06)
Social situations like parties are always a great way to push your characters into new situations, and the Halloween party on this week’s Sunnyside pays off in spades.
The script is still a little heavy handed, such as when Garret flat out asks his “friends” if they’d even hang with him if he didn’t get them into clubs. We definitely could have seen Garret come to that conclusion on his own and it probably would have made it a little more powerful, but still, this is growth we see in action and not just in words. Hakim’s kind words to Garret that he means something to them as a friend is affective because we saw with our own eyes what friendship really means to Garret by watching him attempt to regain these old connections and we see his desperation for friendship as he befriends the young boy down the hall in Mallory’s apartment building.
The twins fight was also a success. We got to see their individual personalities a bit more by having them be separated, and watching them reconcile through action instead of words is exactly what visual media does best.
Unfortunately this episode was the episode that has the least to do with the immigrants gaining citizenship, which suggests that the series still has a ways to go in mixing the character work with its premise. Tonight’s episode was a step forward character wise so hopefully the mix will come more naturally going forward.
- Never give out raisins for Halloween.
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