If Apple really wanted its fledgling streaming service to nab more awards last year, it probably should have worked Little America into its launch lineup. This little “anthology” of eight unrelated half-hour episodes—each following immigrants from different countries—is the best thing we’ve seen from Apple TV+ to date. It’s smart, both in content and how it handles casting. It’s relevant, especially in an age when immigration dominates frightful headlines and lies at the heart of some of our country’s worst contemporary sins. Little America has big things to say.
The anthology approach works well, as it allows this series to paint a fuller picture of the American immigrant experience. Some tales have direct relevance for the recent news, as in the case of a young gay man attempting to flee Syria as a refugee (and notably, almost the entire tale unfolds outside the U.S.). Elsewhere, an Iranian man tries to build a house, and a Vietnamese mother struggles with the way her fully American children are drifting away from her. Had it focused on a single family or individual, it would have risked slipping into a niche viewership grounded in a single ethnicity.
Little America works because none of these tales feel implausible. They feel real: I could imagine them happening to someone on my block. On some level they are, as each (save one) started life as photo essays in Epic magazine. Indeed, Little America tells us that its episodes are “inspired by a true story,” and it emphasizes its wondrous diversity by reproducing those words in the native language of the episode’s subject before each tale.
In what must amount to a first for Apple TV+ apart from the kids’ shows, few of the stars here have marquee clout. (You’ll find some exceptions, though, such as Zachary Quinto.) If you need big names for some kind of legitimacy, you’ll find them instead in the list of producers, which includes folks like Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon, Lee Eisenberg, and Alan Yang (known for his works with Parks and Recreation).
The actors, though, spark such little recognition that they could be the very people they’re portraying. Apple might have spent big bucks on actors for shows like The Morning Show, but here it wisely seems to have funneled most of the production money toward on-location filming instead. It’s an approach that pairs well with the tales’ low-key settings, but more importantly, it’s one of the many tactics Little America employs to win over viewers who might have conflicted thoughts about immigration.
You know these immigrants, Little America wants to tell that conflicted audience. They’re your waiters, your Uber drivers, your coworkers, or even the person running shoulders with you on the city bus. Had Kumail and his colleagues chased down more recognizable faces, that lesson might have been lost.
And Apple clearly isn’t preaching to the choir with Little…