Stories of immigration to the United States must punch through cliche to feel real. The task is steep. So many stereotypes seep into these stories: pressure to tell tales of trauma porn, strict parents, homesickness, and a decisive moment of victory. Even more challenging for writers is balancing the truth within some of these cliches, while honoring the greater complexity of the overarching story. In Season 2 of Little America, the episodes strike a lovely balance between these two competing interests, delivering eight individual vignettes that speak to the strength of the human spirit and celebrate the texture of America’s cultural tapestry.
LIke the series title itself, Little America calls back to the immigrant enclaves that became major neighborhoods in major cities. But like those same neighborhoods today, these “Little Americas” have merged with other communities or rightfully represent entire slices of American identity in the present day. What’s striking about the episodic storytelling of Little America is not only a constant reminder that these stories are indeed true, but also the lovely decentering of natural-born WASP characters entirely from these narratives in select episodes. In the season premiere, the son of Korean immigrants to Detroit forms a life-changing relationship with an older Black woman and local radio personality. While the ghost of whiteness remains in the episode—pressure to compete within a brutal capitalistic marketplace, the horrors of the 1960s Detroit race riots—the story remains fixed on characters outside of it. Representation moves beyond a buzzword for Little America; it lives its ethos.
The highly personalized nature of these individual episodes can be traced back to elegant direction. Beyond the roving scope of true stories featured this season, camera work sells the immediacy and the emotional impact of each chronicle. Often switching away from a third person point of view to the first person point of view of character, major emotional experiences transfer more readily to the audience. A bustling Somali restaurant, a panic attack in a car dealership bathroom, impending collapse during a state fair: all of these heightened moments of stress strike harder and sell the embodied reality of these personal narratives. While pleasurable to consume, these episodes manage to force the viewer into empathy. Semi-frequent uses of flashback pulls the viewer into confronting main characters’ child, teen, and young adult selves, showcasing vulnerability on an even greater scale beyond the immigrant, or second generation American tale. The flashbacks wink at the overall episode’s nature as a capsule of a true story of real living Americans today. Often there’s almost a gold tinted nostalgia attached to the episode, a reminder that what has been suffered results in triumphant survival yet to be seen.
Little America’s stories represent microcosms of American life. Creators Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Lee Eisenberg deserve their flowers for ushering yet another delightful sequence of stories. But a warning remains for this medium of art—its own extinction teeters on the cusp. With episodes individually sourced from showstopping Epic Magazine pieces, appreciators of fine American storytelling on the silver screen must confront the dire relationship between publishing and teleplays. Every individual story brought to life this season on Little America more than deserves to be depicted with this much artful care. But with the deluge of shuttering and striking publications in the media landscape focusing on human interest stories, like The Washington Post’s Sunday magazine, opportunities for these phenomenal people’s stories to be recorded, let alone captured, narrows to a thin window.
The humanity of Little America speaks to what greater America, or a great America could be. These fights are fought with personal stories. Let us honor Little America by watching their stories—but the risk stems beyond fears of the series’ cancellation. Big, bulky and unthoughtful stories about who an American is prevail when diversity is silenced and writers stop typing. Keep the lights on for the American tapestry that still needs to be continually woven and revised.
Little America Season 2 premieres Friday, December 9th on Apple TV+
Katherine Smith is Virginia-based freelance writer and contributor to Paste Magazine. For her musings on popular culture, politics, and beyond, find her on Twitter @k_marie_smith
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