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Review: 'Little America'


Apple TV Plus this week debuted "Little America," a new anthology series that features poignant stories of immigrants to the U.S. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it is the best original series Apple's new streaming platform has created so far.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Little America" is a poignant, occasionally heartbreaking, always compelling triumph for one reason. It recreates the peculiar mix of heartbreak, hard work and success that sums up many immigrants' path to finding their place in this country. Consider Kabir, who brushes off a teacher's suggestion that he enter the National Spelling Bee because he's been forced to run his family's motel in Utah after his parents were deported to India.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You know, the finalists meet the first lady. Wouldn't that be something?

ISHAN: (As Kabir) I run an economy value inn off Route 22. We're the third-ranked motel in Green River, according to TripAdvisor. And I'd like to keep it that way.

DEGGANS: Later, he changes his mind and tries to win the bee so he can plead his parents' case to the first lady. In another episode, Marisol, a young undocumented girl, gets an important lesson from her eccentric coach after she dives for the ball at squash practice.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Good, very good.

JEARNEST CORCHADO: (As Marisol Rosado) Really?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) No, you were bad. But inside of you, there is a jaguar. In the words of a great basketball player, Kevin Garnett, you cannot teach that beast. It is either in you, or it is not.

DEGGANS: Soon, we'll find out the reason that episode is titled The Jaguar. And then we meet Iwegbuna, a Nigerian student in Oklahoma who astonishes his Nigerian friends when he begins dressing like a cowboy, complete with ten-gallon hat and boots.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Why are you dressed like that?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) You and your cowboy fetish.

CONPHIDANCE: (As Iwegbuna) We respect women and children. We walk with confidence even though our country spat on us. What are we if not cowboy?

DEGGANS: Executive produced by Kumail Nanjiani, his wife Emily V. Gordon and Alan Yang from Netflix's "Master Of None," "Little America" dramatizes eight stories inspired by the experiences of real-life immigrants. The series' intent to humanize and highlight the journey some immigrants have taken to build successful lives in America is obvious. But "Little America" uses sly and creative ways to draw viewers in, spicing stories with humor and a knowing look at how challenging American culture can be. For Marisol, the challenge was to keep her cool when the referee in a squash championship delivered a call that didn't go her way.


CORCHADO: (As Marisol Rosado) They're not gonna let me win anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Who's them? He made a call. You threw a fit. You need to focus and get back in there.

CORCHADO: (As Marisol Rosado) No, I'm not gonna get back in there.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) So fine. Go home.

CORCHADO: (As Marisol Rosado) Yeah, maybe I will.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Hey, if you make a bad decision, there's always an opportunity to fix it. The ball always comes back. But that was squash. This is life. You don't always get another shot.

DEGGANS: Iwegbuna's challenge was fitting in at a school where his brutal honesty put off some people, especially while asking a professor to hire him for a teaching position.


CONPHIDANCE: (As Iwegbuna) Well, to refresh your memory, I'm the best in class. I have the most need, and the money will help me to get back home this summer.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) I'm trying to hire a student who can teach in my stead.

CONPHIDANCE: (As Iwegbuna) That is me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) You're also extremely pushy.

CONPHIDANCE: (As Iwegbuna) How am I pushy?

DEGGANS: If I have a quibble with some stories, it's that they use that old trope of showing the value of marginalized people by revealing a grand talent that validates them. You shouldn't have to run a motel as a tween or become a national champion at squash to get people to show empathy for your stories. But that's a minor criticism. By the time each story ends, showing pictures of the real people who inspired the episode, you'll likely have a tear in your eye and a much greater understanding of what it takes to succeed as a newcomer to America.

I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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