Photo Credit: Apple
In the opening frames of Little America — the new Apple TV+ anthology series, out next Friday — Asha Bhosle's eighties disco hit “Udi Baba” plays over the opening credits. The song has nothing to do with what we're about to see, but it sets the stage for the first episode. Titled “The Manager”, written by Rajiv Joseph (Draft Day) and directed by Deepa Mehta (Elements trilogy), it follows a first-generation Indian immigrant named Kabir Jha — played by Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) as an adult — whose life is torn apart after his parents are deported back to India in the early 2000s.
Bhosle's instantly-recognisable voice is one of several Indian — and Pakistani — links in the Little America premiere, alongside Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's “My Heart, My Life”, Arif Lohar & Meesha Shafi's Coke Studio hit “Alif Allah Chambey Di Booty”, and an anachronistic appearance for “Kajra Re” from Bunty Aur Babli. Kabir's mother Seema Jha (Priyanka Bose) watches Indian soap operas, and the father Krishan Jha (Ravi Kapoor) namechecks Sachin Tendulkar when the family plays cricket. They are all things only those from a South Asian origin will understand.
And in a way, that's what Little America is about. Inspired by the true stories featured in Epic Magazine, the Apple TV+ series celebrates immigrants. Their culture, their values, their hopes, their fears, their dreams, their perseverance, their way of life, their search for an identity. Little America is diverse behind the scenes too, with immigrant writers and directors from the very regions handling the stories at times, and aided by a creative team that has the Pakistan-born Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), and Alan Yang (Master of None) of Taiwanese origin.
The eight half-hour episodes in total — all of them will be available on the same day, unlike with Apple TV+ previously — are centred on migrants from all over the world. That includes France, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Singapore, Syria, and Uganda, in addition to the already mentioned India. While most episodes are set exclusively in the US, a few spend some time in the countries of origin, be it through flashbacks or cross-cutting. And there's even a concept episode, one that's largely silent, starring Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) and featuring Zachary Quinto (Star Trek).
Spoilers ahead for Little America.
In fact, some of these other Little America episodes do a much better job than the Indian immigrant one. “The Manager” finds Kabir pushing himself to win the National Spelling Bee — clichéd but a true story — so he can appeal his parents' case in person with Laura Bush, wife of former US President George W. Bush. Only to find out that there's little Ms. Bush has to offer. Kabir ends up growing up without his parents around, while also having to look after the family motel as his uncle guardian lazes off. Though the episode touches upon Kabir's isolation, it also leaves a lot out of his story.
The more powerful episodes, the best of the lot in season 1, are the ones involving a Mexican undocumented teenager called Marisol Rosado (Jearnest Corchado), and a Singaporean single mother named Ai Wang (Angela Lin). Titled “The Jaguar”, written by Dan LeFranc (The Affair) and directed by Aurora Guerrero (Mosquita y Mari), the former charts Marisol's journey to becoming a national level squash player. In the latter, titled “The Grand Prize Expo Winners” and written & directed by Tze Chun (Gotham), Ai breaks her back to build a life for her two kids.
A mini-version of an underdog sports drama, “The Jaguar” finds an uncaring, under-confident teen defy her underprivileged background and find direction in her life, with help from a tough-love coach (John Ortiz). In doing so, she also rediscovers the love of her family. Meanwhile in “The Grand Prize Expo Winners”, Ai struggles with her fear of abandonment, which she eventually overcomes on a cruise. The episode is one of a select few that has nice tiny touches, as when a bored Ai, left behind by her kids and with nothing to do, cleans her cruise ship room.
Little America doesn't always hit these heights though, but even at its quietest, it delivers an important and resonant message. Joshuah Bearman, executive producer and Epic Magazine founder, acknowledged that when he said: “Immigration has become a political issue, but not if you just tell people's ordinary stories. We wanted to make this show so that audiences could just get to know other people.” Despite Bearman's assertions, a series that brings immigrants centre stage, at a time when they are being vilified by leaders globally, makes a statement in itself.
All eight episodes of Little America are out January 17 on Apple TV+ worldwide. The series has already been renewed for a second season.