Apple's bulldozing into the streaming business hasn't gone as well as it had hoped. Despite spending illions with a (pick a letter) to attract talent (Reese! Jen! Aquaman!), Apple TV+ became just another option to add to your monthly subscriptions rather than a must-have. It doesn't have the library of past hits like Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+, and its originals at launch were all sparkle and no substance. Unless you're an Aniston completionist, there's really no reason to subscribe to Apple TV+ with a growing pile of heartier options out there.
That all changes with Little America, an anthology series from Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon (the husband and wife team behind The Big Sick) and The Office's Lee Eisenberg, and it's THE reason to throw down five bucks for an Apple TV+ subscription. Each episode of Little America is based on a true story of an immigrant to the United States, and retold in a 30-minute block of inspiring, unwavering humanity filled with hope, humor, and joy.
In the premiere, a young Indian-American boy in Utah must take over managing his parents' hotel after his parents are deported, so he works his way into the National Spelling Bee to plead to Laura Bush to bring his parents home. In another, a Hispanic woman, the daughter of a housecleaner to people much wealthier than they are, finds her path in life through a chance enrollment in a squash league for urban youth, where she excels. The stories sound far-fetched, but every episode concludes with a catch-up on the real-life subject, reminding you that these are true stories that are shaping our country and our future.
Most episodes follow a similar pattern — each character struggles with something, forges a path through an interest, works hard, struggles some more, works even harder because they have to work harder than non-immigrants, comes out on top — yet they never feel repetitive thanks to the variation in backgrounds, settings, and decades, and more importantly, because of the way they are handled. Too often, Hollywood tells stories of immigrants through oppression by others, but Little America looks at the struggles of new Americans through systemic obstacles and cultural differences rather than vile racism from white devils. The result is a thoroughly positive experience that brings these character's journeys to the rest of the world by focusing on them, rather than the horrible things other people do, and it's damn refreshing. (In the four episodes I watched, the lack of racism — which unfortunately is part of the immigrant experience — never left a hole in the authenticity of the story; but there did appear to be a conscious decision to leave it out because it wasn't the story producers wanted to tell.)
Going even further, kindness leaves a huge stamp on the show without a hint of preachiness behind it. Little America is set on solving one of our country's greatest hurdles when it comes to immigrants: opportunity. Many of the episodes involve someone doing something so simple, giving an eager outsider a chance when others do not, and watching the ripples that one gesture can have in another person's life. Seeing a pair of old white men happily outfit a Nigerian man with a cowboy hat and boots in an Oklahoma western wear without question is ridiculously heartening, for example.
But make no mistake, the stars of Little America are these brave pioneers from foreign lands dropping everything for a fair shake at life that their homelands might not offer. Their paths may start at different places, whether it's a different country or a different mindset, but they traverse these journeys through the same indomitable spirit and hard work ethic and end in the same spot: the undeniable experience of being human.
TV isn't magic; there aren't any shows that can turn you into a kinder, more understanding person, but Little America and its message of positivity and inclusivity might be the one to change that.
TV Guide Rating: 4.5/5
All of Season 1 of Little America premieres Friday, Jan. 17 on Apple TV+.