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Sunnyside

Sunnyside – The Ethiopian Executioner (1×02)

Sunnyside/NBC John P. Fleenor

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The Ethiopian Execution does more to establish the immigrants as real characters than the pilot did. Unfortunately, these strokes are still pretty broad with some heavy handed lessons handed out along the way.

One thing this episode does is sort of justify the lack of display of Garret’s smooth talking skills last week – as it turns out, he is pretty bad at it. He gets swindled easily in this episode and Hakim is the one who comes in and saves the day. That put a few more shades onto Hakim, showing that he doesn’t want to be swindled, but in some ways that’s less interesting than his “forgiveness” front. No one wants to be swindled, and I believe that most people would have tried to catch the guy if they were given the opportunity, whereas forgiveness is rarer in these types of situations. It did start to breach the “wise foreigner” trope, so it may be good that they moved away from it, but there is still little complexity in Hakim outside the (likely unintentional) dichotomy of being so easily scammed and then so easily one upping the scammer.

Brady and Jun Ho and Mei Lin don’t fare much better. They paint a few colors outside of “rich” and “poor,” but not too many. There is potential in this pairing for an interesting friendship where both sides can learn from each other, and I hope we see more of it in the future.

Griselda gets the best showcase by far in regards to character work, despite half of her time being dedicated to telling Brady he’s being a jerk. Her interest in true crime isn’t just talked about. Having her follow Hakim and record her thoughts for a podcast shows us how this interest impacts her and makes up a part of her personality. It tells us she seeks adventure and perhaps some danger without slamming it in our faces, unlike how we are straight told that Garret must care for Hakim instead of being allowed to piece that together through his actions.

But this episode criticized Americans tendency to wear outside shoes inside so that’s a huge boost in its favor.

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Sunnyside

Sunnyside – Dr. Potato (1×03)

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“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.

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Sunnyside

Sunnyside – Pilot (1×01)

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Sunnyside-Pilot

Pilots are notoriously difficult due to the immense amount of information that needs to be provided to the audience – the what, where, when, who and why, to be exact. Let’s break it down.

The What: A group of immigrants want to obtain American citizenship and they call upon a disgraced councilman to help them. A very timely premise for a show.

The Where: Sunnyside – a neighborhood in Queens, New York. Where else but New York?

The When: 2019 (with a look at a campaign video from 2004 in the mix) See the “timely” comment above.

The Who: Garret Modi – Disgraced councilman who is called upon by a group of immigrants to help them obtain citizenship. He’s sort of the worst, but has a heart. Brady (Moldovan) – He didn’t know he was an immigrant until recently. Griselda (Dominican) – She works multiple jobs to stay afloat. She’s probably working where you are right now. Jun Ho and Mei Lin (It’s a secret) – Super rich. Hakim (Ethiopian) – He used to be a surgeon but now drives a cab, but that’s ok because he loves America’s opportunity. Drazen (Moldovan) – Dude loves to disco. Unfortunately I’ve included almost all the information about the immigrants in these descriptions. They were not fleshed out. Sunnyside has potential for growth once these characters become more complex, but as of the pilot their introductions are weak. Garret also has a sister Mal (doctor) and ex-colleague Diana (councilwoman).

The Why: The why for the immigrants is obvious – they don’t want to be deported. The why for Garret is a bit more complicated. At first he just wants to help the immigrants so that he can have some good PR for when he runs for office, but he has a change of heart as he learns about the group and genuinely wants to help them at the end. I have no idea why he only had this change of heart in the pilot and not in the 15 years he was in office.

Sunnyside started, and that’s about as much as I can say about it. It set its premise up. The pilot didn’t dive deep into the characters and the humor was clever, but I know it can cut deeper into the trials of gaining citizenship for some even better jokes. I hope it will. On the positive side it definitely cast a light on the difficult process that immigrants have to go through, and I think more than a couple viewers will discover they don’t know as much about America as the immigrants are expected to (myself included, I personally couldn’t have recited the 3rd Amendment word for word). I think everything pre-2019 Garret could have been axed and more time could have been spent getting to know the rest of the cast. Another major positive to Sunnyside is that it has real stakes. The threat of ICE is real, and this can provide for some tension you don’t normally get in a comedy.

Hopefully the show is as full of potential as Hakim believes America is.

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