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Sunnyside

Sunnyside – Pants Full of Sandwiches (1×07)

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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.


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Sunnyside

Sunnyside – Multicultural Tube of Meat (1×11)

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Garret leaves his friends to run for office, and the group fumbles without him on Sunnyside. I’m not exactly sure why there is so much distress amongst the group when he leaves because Garret hasn’t been a very good teacher. In fact, he’s been a pretty poor teacher, with many lessons ending early or being about topics that have little to do with gaining citizenship.

Garret has absolutely become a better person, and the fact that he cares so much about these people does prove that he is their friend, but there is no tension between his choices here. I don’t believe he’s made enough strides to actually be a good fit for office, and I know the immigrants will be fine without him since he hasn’t been a good teacher.

Drazen’s release is a cause for celebration in theory, but considering we barely knew him when he went away and spent no time with him since, there isn’t much celebration for the viewers. He leaves again at the end of the episode, which just clarifies his position as a plot device instead of a character.

There is a moment where the immigrants express the fact that there is no guarantee that they ever achieve citizenship, and it’s a pretty raw moment. We’ve seen enough of the difficulties along the pathway to citizenship that this moment hits properly.

However, we haven’t seen enough of what makes America great to make the ending land. The episode ends with the immigrants all deciding to continue fighting for citizenship, with Garret proclaiming America is great because it is a place where all types of people can come together. This is true, and it’s true that this group came together this way, but over the season the messy system that has impeded a lot of attempts for citizenship has been highlighted much more than the benefits to becoming an American have, and I’m not sure seeing the success of some immigrants would make our entire group instantly become positive again.

America is a complicated place. “Multicultural Tube of Meat” is a somewhat accurate depiction of the dichotomy of America, highlighting the melting pot nature of the country and the American’s first nature of the same country. But that isn’t explored so much as “America is worth it” is. I’m not sure where that leaves us with Sunnyside.

I liked the hot dog analogy, though.


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Sunnyside

Sunnyside – I Don’t Know Her (1×10)

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Sunnyside finally has some real consequences for Garret…almost. The show undermines itself by making everything work out so incredibly well that it doesn’t come off as a lesson so much as a lecture.

We see Garret get humiliated by the Staten Island crew when his meddling destroys the bill, and their speech about his reputation and who he is actually hits home pretty hard. I believe that Garret takes a look at himself, but his immediate decision to go block an intersection to give his speech feels contrived and unearned for a few reasons.

First off, we don’t see much of Garret’s reflection. We only see him moping about and feeling sorry for himself, which is a normal and in character reaction for Garret, and we see the moment a lightbulb goes off in his head. But we have no idea exactly why this lightbulb went off. For an episode that hinges on Garret’s relationship with the immigrants he spends way too much time away from them. Through the show we’ve seen in moments how the immigrants have affected Garret, and I believe he would defend them on a whim, but Garret has also been heavily selfish, despite his improvements. His introspection could have used some input from the immigrants, since they are the ones providing his new perspective.

Secondly, blocking the intersection where he ruined his political career seems like it was intended to bring the story full circle but had none of the nuance to make it feel like much more than a contrivance. I can’t imagine that this is the best environment for Garret to speak out and unintentionally relaunch his political career, and even within the rules of Sunnyside’s world, I don’t believe he would get enough attention to have anyone seeking him out to run for office, especially due to him massively inconveniencing tons of people driving on the intersection.

Maybe there is an argument to be made that sometimes we do need to inconvenience people to get them to listen, and if the B-story had propped that idea up, that could have worked. But as it stands, it doesn’t feel natural or believable that this event pushed Garret’s life in such a positive direction.

And that’s the final complaint I have for the episode; the incredibly convenient outcome for Garret. He feels bad for a couple of hours and is back on top by the end with minimal effort. It doesn’t take much to go out and scream on the road, especially for someone like Garret. He hasn’t earned this, and neither has the show.

The lesson Sunnyside is trying to impart is a positive one, though, so I hope those watching do take the lesson to heart. Democracy doesn’t work when the citizens don’t care, and immigrants aren’t asking for special rights, but equal ones. I just wish it was delivered in a more affective package.


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Sunnyside

Sunnyside – Sigma Triangle Squiggly Thing (1×09)

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Sunnyside/NBC

Sunnyside mixes its premise with its characters very well this week. Brady takes center stage and provides us with a real look into the complications of being an immigrant who grew up American. He doesn’t want to be viewed as an immigrant, nor does he want the responsibility of accepting his place in the charge to spread awareness of the issues. He just wants to get back to how his life was before he knew the truth.

Garret and Hakim playing the devil and angel on his shoulder suited both of them well. Hakim is proud of who he is, and Garret, while sporting confidence, really isn’t. The debate over whether to lie or tell the truth ends up siding with the truth as the right way to go, but the episode lends legitimate credence to Garret’s method of lying with Brady’s desire to keep his life the same, highlighting the complications of the situation.

In the end, though, we are shown how when people like Brady do tell the truth and trust the people around them to understand,  positive change can happen. His frat bros would have never even thought about immigration if not for him, and Garret makes a great point when he tells Brady that people are more likely to incite change when an issue is affecting people in their lives.

The B-story involves the twins trying to force Griselda to relax. Griselda’s inability to relax is right in character, and the twins have been set up as the perfect duo to help Griselda chill. Again, this story presents both sides of the issue with weight. Griselda has a real reason to want to work as hard as she does, and while it would be easy to dismiss the twins desire to get her to relax to be because they are so aloof and know nothing else, they make it clear that Griselda shouldn’t stop working hard. She just needs to take care of herself along with taking care of everyone else, which is a lesson a lot of people need to learn.

All in all, this is the strongest episode of the show regarding its premise and characters mixing together. The ending of bring Cabo to Brady involves all of the friends working together to make one happy, and each of their personalities comes through in the few moments. Garret’s talent for partying, the twins’ ability to create a setting and theme, Hakim’s desire for fun with safety, and Griselda there to happily clean up the mess. Good stuff.


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