You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Sunnyside’

Kal Penn is an appealing actor whose airy, loose charisma has lately exceeded his luck: On TV in recent years, Penn has appeared on vexed series including “We Are Men,” “Battle Creek,” and “Designated Survivor.” Happily, on his new sitcom, “Sunnyside,” Penn seems to be porting in experience from a different part of his career — the time he spent working in President Barack Obama’s administration, in the Office of Public Engagement. That branch works, as its name would indicate, to keep the public engaged with the work of government. In “Sunnyside,” Penn makes the job literal, playing a disengaged former politician who takes on a new kind of constituent outreach. It’s a job that matches both his experience and his gifts, and a very promising pilot for NBC.

Penn’s Garrett Modi is a former New York City Councilman — representing Sunnyside, an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Queens — drummed out of office after a scandal involving public drunkenness; if it hadn’t been for one bad night, though, he’d either have found himself rejected by voters or, worse for him and for them, slouched into long-term incumbency. Having started from a position that politicians don’t have a real obligation to make things better, Modi has proven there were further depths of cynicism to which he could slide. Over the course of the pilot, though, Modi finds himself involved with a group of new Americans seeking to pass the immigration exam; he agrees to tutor them less out of civic pride than because he needs the money so as to stop living with his sister (Kiran Deol).

In its earliest going, “Sunnyside” would seem to share a mission with “Parks and Recreation”; with that show’s executive producer Michael Schur on board here, too, it certainly shares DNA. But on that previous show, protagonist Leslie Knope’s all-consuming faith in the process could cloy and come to seem overmatched by its historical moment; her most consistent political opposition was a co-worker who deeply respected her, making the series feel at times like a comedy about an alternate universe’s discourse. Here, the opposition is ICE, a faceless force that provides both Modi and his charges with real stakes against which to fight. 

The group is well-drawn, including Joel Kim Booster and Poppy Liu as a pair of wealthy Asian immigrants who’d prefer to buy their way out of the situation; Moses Storm as a young man raised from early childhood in the U.S. who doesn’t know where his putative homeland of Moldova even is; and Diana-Maria Riva and Samba Schutte as working stiffs whose talents and resourcefulness plainly exceed the opportunities they’ve been given. These characters share both a commitment to depicting the various constituencies in the real Sunnyside and a half-sour cynicism that makes the show’s political calculus feel real and intriguing. They don’t want to learn about the Constitution in order to marvel at the grandeur of democracy; they want to so they can move on with their lives. Leslie Knope, with her posters of great leaders an increasingly uneasy fit with a deflated age, has left the building.

And yet there is some inspiration in the sitcom’s first installment; Modi does, if for less-than-admirable reasons, the right thing, and he finds in so doing a sort of political action vastly more interesting than had been his holding office. As a depiction of activism and making change, the promising “Sunnyside” pilot makes a strong case that it begins with one’s neighbors, and builds out a neighborhood well worth watching.

“Sunnyside.” NBC. Sept. 26. One episode screened for review.

Cast: Kal Penn, Diana Maria Riva, Joel Kim Booster, Kiran Deol, Poppy Liu, Moses Storm, Samba Schutte

Executive Producers: Kal Penn, Matt Murray, Michael Schur, David Miner, Dan Spilo 

TV Review: 'Sunnyside'

More TV

  • Shefali Shah in Delhi Crime

    'Delhi Crime’ Wins big at Asian Academy Creative Awards

    Richie Mehta’s harrowing Netflix series “Delhi Crime” was the big winner at the 2nd annual Asian Academy Creative Awards in Singapore on Friday. Representing the show, lead actress Shefali Shah was rushed off her feet as she repeatedly had to return to the stage. “Delhi Crime” earned her best actress in a leading role, best [...]


    ‘Karnawal,’ ‘Restless,’ ‘Summer White,’ ‘Firsts’ Win Big at Ventana Sur

    BUENOS AIRES  — With Ventana Sur now firing on multiple cylinders, featuring pix-in post or project competitions for not only art films but also genre pics and animation – two sectors embraced by young creators in Latin America – “Karnawal,” “Restless,” “Summer White” and  “Firsts” proved big winners among Ventana Sur’s arthouse and animation competitions, [...]

  • Robert Walker Jr.

    'Star Trek' Actor Robert Walker Jr. Dies at 79

    Robert Walker Jr., son of actors Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, died Thursday, his family confirmed to the official website for the television show “Star Trek.” He was 79. Walker Jr. is best remembered for playing the titular Charlie Evans in the “Star Trek” episode “Charlie X” from the show’s first season in 1966. His [...]

  • Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, right,

    TV Ratings: Why Is the NBA Shooting Air Balls?

    The NBA’s TV ratings so far this season have been far from all-star level. Viewership across ESPN, TNT and NBA TV is down 15% year-to-year overall, according to Nielsen figures. TNT’s coverage is averaging 1.3 million viewers through 14 telecasts, down 21% versus last year’s comparable coverage, while on ESPN the picture isn’t much prettier. The [...]

  • Claire Danes, Homeland

    TV News Roundup: Showtime Releases 'Homeland' Final Season Trailer

    In today’s TV news roundup, Showtime drops the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,” and National Geographic reveals the first look at Cynthia Erivo as Aretha Franklin in “Genius: Aretha.” FIRST LOOKS Showtime released the trailer for the final season of “Homeland,“ premiering Feb. 9. The eighth and final season, starring Claire Danes and [...]

  • 700700 + Ted Turner Dedication. December

    Ted Turner Tributes Established With WarnerMedia Gift to University of Georgia

    WarnerMedia has established a scholarship, internship program and exhibition hall at the University of Georgia to be named after maverick media mogul Ted Turner. The company has gifted $550,000 to the university to create the Ted Turner Scholarship Fund, for students attending the school’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which is also the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content