Join us as we watch the NBC comedy, Sunnyside, on The Pilot Podcast. We follow ex-councilman Garrett Modi as his money making scheme turns into a chance to really help people. This show presents some real issues immigrants in America face today. Tune in to learn how Sunnyside balances an educational message with some truly funny characters.
Set in New York City, the series follows Garrett Modi, a fictional former New York City Councilman, who finds his calling when faced with immigrants in need of his help and in search of the American Dream.
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Welcome to The Pilot Podcast!
Where we watch the pilot episodes of TV shows and recap other shows to answer your question, should I watch this?
My name is BJ.
And my name is Mitu.
And this week, we're checking out the new NBC comedy, Sunnyside.
So stay tuned to the end to find out if BJ has ever conned a group of immigrants.
I have not. Let's put that on the record. But if someone offered me a stack of money, I would find a way to legally accepted it.
I would learn how to do whatever it is they need me to do within the bounds of the law to access that stack of change. But backing up a bit, BJ, do you want to give our listeners a brief recap of this pilot episode?
I'd love to Mitu. So Sunnyside follows our main character of Garrett Modi. He is a former city councilman, who was removed from office at the very beginning of the episode, when we find out that there's actually a viral video going around where he was confronted by police while he was intoxicated, and bribe them and various other offenses. And this leads him to kind of be down and out. He lost his career where he wasn't actually doing all the things he promised. He moves in with his sister, a successful doctor, and he needs to find something to do with his time. So at first he actually signs up to just meet with people, do little AMA's, take some photos, use his internet fame, his 15 minutes of fame to get some quick cash.
Basically IRL Cameo.
Then he gets contacted by a group of immigrants who want his help, because they assume that he's well connected as a former member of government, in securing their citizenships and their security.
So they start paying him and he's in need of money. So he takes on the job, tells a few lies. But in that classic sitcom trope, he gets caught telling a lie, but turns it around and becomes motivated. And now he really does want to help all of them in search of the American dream.
And short of his connections, he pledges to teach them how to pass the test.
Yes, he's taking it seriously now. He is actually motivated to help people kind of like when he originally ran to be New York City Councilman.
And it's hard. My brother became a citizen in the last couple of decades. And I remember when I was a kid, my mom would set up Jeopardy in our living room, and she would have us answer questions all to try to make it fun. And being the competitive jerk that I was, I would beat him to the answers. And then my mom had to stop because I was not helping. But I didn't know, I was a child. I didn't know that everything was on the line. Aw, my poor brother.
Well, it's a funny story to think back on.
Yeah, probably wasn't funny for him at the time but definitely funny to think about now.
But speaking about that, this whole topic of immigration and citizenship, and the way that Sunnyside tackles, it is not as funny as I would expect for a comedy. What did you think?
I think they intentionally made this a serious pilot to introduce us to the hardships of navigating the citizenship process, because it's much more difficult than people believe. Jose Antonio Vargas actually had a really great documentary about the process of becoming a citizen. I remember in the documentary, he interviewed people who didn't know and they were saying, you know, why can't they all be nice like you and wait in line, and then he would reveal his undocumented status and say, it's actually a lot harder, and there is no line. It's this nebulous, convoluted process. I think that they were intentionally not funny about it, because it's not funny trying to secure your citizenship and having the security issues. On the other hand, it's supposed to be a sitcom so I look forward to seeing how they're able to squeeze in those jokes. Kal Penn is a co-creator of the show blends his own last name to the character he plays and he co-wrote the pilot, I believe. I don't think he's an immigrant himself. I'm curious to see how he's able to find the comedy in this because as a child of immigrants, myself, there certainly is comedy in the chaos of it all. It's just difficult.
Yeah, I think you brought up a good point in that, especially nowadays, in our political situation, which we won't dive into, that more people are educated on what the process is really like for people. A lot of citizens in the US really do think it's as simple as, put your name on the list, take the test, and then you're done. And so thy question, why is and everyone just doing that, when there is so much more to the process, and so hopefully this can shed some light on that. I'm also thinking that they might be splitting up the cast between the serious characters and the comedic characters in order to maintain that intentionally serious tone while throwing in some funny elements. So it seemed like in this particular episode, Jun Ho and his sister Mei Lin are some of the more comedic characters. Also, Griselda and all her different jobs. While I think Garrett is going to try and be the more serious one, even though he's kind of like the bumbling guy trying to get himself together.
First thing shout out to Joel Kim Booster and Poppy Liu for their portrayals as Jun Ho and Mei Lin. They were the comedic relief of the episode. They were so funny. And their chemistry was off the charts. They were fantastic together as rich siblings. You and I went to a school with a lot of money. And they reminded me of some of the international students that we went to college with. I just loved it. I thought they were so funny. But I agree with you, I see more funny moments with them. I'm excited to see if they dive into them and allow them to explore a more dramatic side. But I see the more serious moments coming more often between Garrett and Hakim, played by Samba Schutte. He's an Ethiopian immigrant and former surgeon who now drives a cab because he can't get the certification across continents. I would also say that this show feels especially relevant. I mean, of course, to Kal Penn because he co-created it but he was actually in the Obama White House in the Office of Public Engagement, which basically helps to teach people how the government works and encourages public engagement, quite literally. I had friends that worked in that White House and they used to say that when Kal Penn would take leaves, he would be going to the private sector, quote-unquote, and it would be to like work on another Harold & Kumar movie then coming back to the public sector. It feels like he gets to do some extension of that job in using his role to teach. I do hope, though, that they trust their cast, because it's such a funny cast. I hope they trust the comedy to do some of the teaching, because I hope that every episode of the show isn't this heavy.
Yeah. I also hope that they blend together the comedy and the teachable momentsa a bit better. Because in this episode, I felt like some of the scenes were a little forced as they were trying to get out these messages, such as Garrett at the baseball game, and also a conversation between Garrett and Hakim and his taxi. And it just felt a little unnatural. And maybe that was them just trying to lay a baseline of what they want to deliver this show, and then they can start adding in more jokes later on.
And one of the executive producers behind the show is Michael Schur, who was behind Parks and Rec, which was another show that I think this can be loosely compared to. Which basically taught America, or at least its viewers, how municipal government can work. And I think this is the other side of Parks and Rec where Amy Poehler's character. Leslie Knope, was a super do gooder in love with the government person and had such faith in it whereas Kal Penn's character, Garrett, seems to be a darker portrayal, less trusting of the government, more trying to figure out how to pull favors and pull tricks to get these people to be okay.
Yes, he's more selfish rather than selfless.
Yes. And Leslie Knope was definition selfless. And Michael Schur seems to be much more politically engaged, at least from his social media presence and all of his interviews. He seems to be a lot more aware of the role that he might have in exacting change as a wealthy, straight white man. He seems to be like hyper aware of that. I don't know if he also feel some responsibility through this show to do some level of storytelling.
I hope that doesn't guide him too much a sense of responsibility.
You pointed this out, but towards the end, there's a scene and we don't do spoilers on our recaps. But there's a scene where Kal Penn delivers one of those wrap up feel good speeches in a sitcom. That moment at the end of Full House where Danny Tanner tells the kids why lying is wrong. Kal Penn basically had that moment. And they literally change the music where it was this soft swell of "and now we're learning a lesson"
Yeah, it was a nice piano like okay, guys, get your heart warm, like maybe get a tissue out. This is the big moment, emotional turn.
And it was so heavy handed. The speech was heavy handed, the delivery was heavy handed, and the music was heavy handed. I don't think this is a controversial stance. I am in full support of people being able to come to this country and work and be happy and thrive and simply exist. I am not in favor of random deportations, which is something that we see a bit in this episode. I don't know that that's the most controversial take, but they really hammer in that take. But then again, I could not be in the majority.
That is possible. So I think another thing that's worth mentioning, are some of the actors who really stood out. Did you have a particular favorite?
As someone whose family comes from East Africa, I, of course, was watching Hakim a bit closely, because the actor himself is not Ethiopian. But he grew up in Ethiopia until he was 18. He's actually Dutch Mauritian, but I thought his accent was pretty good. I wouldn't say it was great. But I think there were little moments where I was like "Oh, he sounds like people I know." He dropped the TH and words and used a Z instead, that's a very Ethiopian accent thing to do. I thought it was pretty typical of an older male Ethiopian immigrant, for him to be a cab driver. I thought that those things and his backstory of being a doctor, coming to this country, and not being able to pull over his education so he couldn't pursue his career in the same way in the US. I thought all of those things were pretty spot on for his character. But yeah, the accent was all right. And I think he's going to be an interesting character. In the same way that I hope that they'll allow Joel Kim Booster and Poppy Liu to explore the deeper sides of their characters beyond the comedy of just being the super wealthy children of a super villain. I hope that they allow Hakim to be a little bit funnier. And not just funny in the sense that I was a surgeon and now I have nothing because a couple of those jokes came in there and I was like oof all right.
I agree. Also, especially with the point on Jun ho and Mei Lin. They were funny in this episode, but I hope they don't remain too much of a stereotype. Or too one-dimensional with just being wealthy and using money for everything. Which I think we see a tiny bit of development at the end when Jun Ho actually learn something. So they're taking steps in the right direction.
If you choose as a show to portray a diverse cast of people who are playing immigrants, you are then taking on that mantle of responsibility of making sure that this is representative and you are giving them depth to their characters and they're not these one note people. Because I have pretty base expectations for a lot of shows when I see something differing from the norm of what you see on TV all the time. I don't expect every single show to be representational of the community that I see around me. But if you're this show, then you have elected to take on that responsibility.
Yeah, and I think they're going to have to work on that as they balanced the serious nature of the premise along with the comedy element, because incorporating the comedy puts them at risk of going down a poor representation pathway, where those characters really could just be used solely for humor and we don't see the other sides to them, unlike what we're probably going to see with Garrett, who I think is already the most well-rounded character.
Yeah, and he's the lead, so that's to be expected.
I would also say another one of my standouts was his sister Mallory Modi played by Kiran Deol. She has a smaller role compared to the immigrant students in the show. But I liked all of her moments, her interactions with her brother like getting the phone call where he's like pretending the call a councilman or someone in the governor man, when she comes to her home and sees that he's teaching a class in her living room without even asking her, when her brother asked him to move in, and then she finds out that he has no money, and then when he does get money, he's buying shoes instead of paying her rent. All her reactions were funny and believable. And I think she's already my favorite character.
I absolutely saw her becoming your favorite character. I'd also like to give a shout out to the character Brady, who was played by Moses Storm. And he's an American born in Moldova, who didn't know that he was undocumented. Not to bring up Jose Antonio Vargas again, but he found out that he was undocumented when he went to get a driver's license. And that's actually not a unique story of people going to get these major documents, or experiencing these major milestones, and then realizing, "oh, that birth certificate kind of rubs off." It's not all the way real. I'm excited to see how they portray his character, because that's representative of a lot of the stories we see. And I like that they're including the perspective of someone who truly has no sense of the place where they're from. There is a joke in there where he literally does not know where Moldova is. And he seems to resent that he's from there, because another person in that little group that we only get to see a little bit of is from Moldova, or nearby, and he kept trying to hug Brady and feel some connection with him. And Brady kept pushing him away. And so I could see that as almost symbolic of him pushing back on his heritage. So I think that there is a lot cooking in that character.
Yeah, I think he'll be a good example of someone who can only identify with being American cause that's all he knows. So now having to not necessarily embrace this new side, but I acknowledge it, is going to be probably a struggle for him. Because it's like, this has never been important for 18 plus years. And now you're saying this is like something that's supposed to be relevant, when it's never mattered before.
Now, I'm supposed to show up to this place, this other country that I don't know where it. So when y'all buy that ticket...
I need Google Maps to help me get there.
Yes. so somebody's got to pay for a data plan to otherwise. I'm not gonna do okay. So Beej, are you ready to rate?
Yeah, let's start with your opinion, Mitu. What would you rate NBC's Sunnyside?
I would rate would give it a couple more episodes.
So I really wanted to love this pilot episode, given the subject matter, given the fact that I love Kal Penn, but it wasn't amazing to me but I think it had the potential for a really funny show, and a really important show. So I would suggest to our listeners to check out this pilot episode. And like me, I'm going to give it a couple more weeks because I genuinely believe it'll grab my attention. I just think this first episode wasn't as good as I thought it would be. But also my expectations were in the clouds. They were very high. What about you, Beej?
Well, now that I've heard your rating, I'm would wait until my friend tells me more about the show. You know how I am with comedies. This comedy, it's really 50/50. It's either going to become really good or it's going to go downhill. I see a lot of potential. And unlike some other comedies that we've watched, I don't immediately think this is going to get cancelled. I already see it getting a second season. But will I think it's funny enough that I want to watch? Unclear. There's hope, and I will let you answer that for me.
That's really high praise from you for a sitcom.
All right, Beej. Where can people find more episodes of The Pilot Podcast?
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Thanks for listening.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai