Season 1, Episode 1
Date of airing: September 26, 2019 (NBC)
Nielsen ratings information: 1.773 million viewers, 1.2/2 in Households, 0.555 million viewers and 0.4/2 with Adults 18-49, 0.3/2 with Adults 18-34, 0.6/2 with Adults 25-54
Kal Penn made use of the cancellation of DESIGNATED SURVIVOR to write his own comedy vehicle, which I guess is something Indian-Americans have to do these days to get cast in a television show. Considering how white the broadcast pilot season usually is, the non-white actors would have to develop a show all on their own to simply just get it in front of network executives, so they have a look at it and can waste a few seconds of their day thinking whether to greenlight a pilot or not. SUNNYSIDE very much feels like an all-in Kal Penn comedy — a character that he specifically wrote for himself, a show that deals with the issue of immigration which the current administration does not want to deal with, preferably portrayed by actual immigrant actors (who still look American though), and a show that has a selfish asshole character front and center, who will learn how to be a better person through contact and communication with other people, but not before going to continue being the selfish asshole, because there is nothing better for Garrett Modi to be as much of a dick as Arthur is over at PERFECT HARMONY. In 2019, central characters on NBC comedies are a bunch of a-holes. They could band together and be the guardians of our sane minds.
This pilot did what PERFECT HARMONY did not do: It gave the series a bigger back story to deal with, a potential future to write towards, and maybe even come out of its shadow more quicker than PERFECT HARMONY could do, which after only one episode is essentially just the child of SISTER ACT and GLEE — a lot of weird characters who sing and a neurotic choir leader don’t make for a lot throughout its first few episodes. SUNNYSIDE could go into a more broader route of storytelling, because not only does it have Garrett’s redemption arc to work with, as he grows from being the humiliated councilman to President of the United States at the end of the tenth season, if the show ever gets this far (looking at the ratings and it seems like it won’t even get past the tenth episode), but it has a political back story and that usually means you can introduce political characters, write them into political stories, all while keeping an eye on the real-life development on politics, which give rise to so many stories (the inevitable HBO movie of Orange Hitler Donald Trump’s presidency has already enough material to be a four-year television show). And besides all that, Garrett’s students will also most likely deal with their own personal issues and demons, as they are putting work into becoming American citizens, which is much harder work than winning the next choir competition. Plus side: Garrett isn’t suicidal, so that dark section of NBC comedy writing is gone from SUNNYSIDE.
But as usual, the writing was pushing to get to the finish line within 20 minutes, which means SUNNYSIDE was taking speed from the same drug dealer PERFECT HARMONY got their drugs from and that is going to be a problem in the long run. For one, NBC should crack down on those drug dealers (preferably in its own single-camera comedy show, because nothing is more awesome than meta humor), and for two, it does not help the show when the initial stories get breakfasted like Fruit Loops with almond milk, just so the writers room can get over the pilot episode hump and introductory phase immediately and get into the storytelling. While I’m happy that Garrett only returned as the group’s teacher and essentially began his redemption arc by facing his new city councilor to ask for help (and to introduce Diana as a potential love interest for Garrett, because this is still scripted television), instead of leading his students straight to American citizenship, I would have loved to see more of Garrett being the humiliated former politician, who couldn’t get anything done and has no goals in life. Not even 21 minutes after this series began, Garrett already had goals and was thriving in something, which means his back story of being the vomit city councilman is kind of wasted.
But the cast is charming and Kal Penn is always worth a look, even if he seems typecast in these comedic roles these days (hence my surprise of his involvement in DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, but that role didn’t do much for him). I said the same about PERFECT HARMONY though, which brings me to say that both shows are essentially about the same thing: A selfish asshole starts helping a group of down-on-their-luck people to get better in a certain area of life, all while selfish asshole becomes a better person in the progress. There is a reason NBC greelit both of these shows and paired them up on Thursday nights. Is this now a fight of which show with the same premise is going to survive or is there room for both?