Apple TV has had a few high-profile programs since their launch late last year, including the star-studded “The Morning Show” and the clever “Servant,” but their best so far is this week’s “Little America,” executive produced by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani of “The Big Sick” and Alan Yang of “Master of None.” Just as those projects succeeded by feeling genuine, it is the delicate truth of the storytelling here that makes this anthology series stand out. It is moving without ever manipulative, a show that finds narrative power through being honest. Based on true stories, sometimes told by the people who lived them, there’s a cultural specificity here that can’t be faked. At its best, “Little America” reminded me of “The Farewell,” another project about cultural differences that gains its strength by being so powerfully pure.
Based on a series of articles from Epic Magazine, “Little America” is eight individual stories of the immigrant experience in the United States. It varies tonally from comedy to moving drama, illustrating the array of storytelling available within this construct. A story about a spelling prodigy left to run his parents’ motel can sit alongside the tale of a mother who wins passage on a luxury cruise only to watch her two children have a good time without her. Parenting is a main theme of “Little America,” often used to illustrate the difference between immigrants and the first generation born in the United States, and that fact alone could have led to melodrama about “us & them” but instead it serves as a reminder about how most immigrants are striving to create better lives for their offspring.
“Little America” can be incredibly powerful (the aforementioned cruise episode wrecked me) but it’s also willing to be quirky and eccentric, like with the episode about a Nigerian who adopts cowboy culture or the one about an all-silent retreat that becomes a silent comedy of errors. The variety of storytelling in these eight episodes—each have different writers and directors—allows for the awareness that if one chapter doesn’t work for you than the next one might be better, but this is the rare anthology series in which every single chapter has something worthwhile. Credit to the entire team behind the project for not just maintaining consistency across it but doing so in such a way that makes these individual stories feel like a part of a greater overall piece. It’s more like a collection of short stories by the same storyteller, in that each stands alone but they have a cumulative emotional impact as they seem to build and comment on each other.
Themes in “Little America” feel like they emerge organically through the truth of the storytelling. The story of the squash prodigy (featuring a wonderful performance by John Ortiz) may seem to have nothing in common with the story of the Iranian who bought a property with a giant rock on it to build his dream house, but they both reflect perseverance that is often common in people who have had to fight a little harder for stability, don’t they? “Little America” is smart, nuanced television that thinks you’re smart enough to draw those connections on your own without hammering home messages about the state of the immigrant experience in this country. Its creators know that the most powerful story is often just the truest one.
Whole season screened for review.