There are not one but two network sitcoms about immigrants premiering this month — and I bet President Donald Trump won’t like either of them.
CBS’ “Bob Hearts Abishola” and NBC’s “Sunnyside” both portray immigrants as good people who, for the most part, contribute to America.
“The story I wanted to tell is about the greatness of first-generation immigrants — about the focus and discipline, the hard work [and] rigorous honesty that goes with coming here and grabbing ahold of the American dream,” said producer Chuck Lorre, who’s adding “Bob Hearts Abishola” (Monday, 7:30 p.m., Sept. 23, CBS/Ch. 2) to a resume that includes “Big Bang Theory,” “Young Sheldon,” “Mom,” “Two and a Half Men” and more. “So the premise of the series is immigrants make America great.”
(He even gave TV critics hats emblazoned “IMAG.”)
The “entry point” for the sitcom is that when middle-aged Bob (Billy Gardell, “Mike & Molly”) has a heart attack, he wakes up after surgery being cared for by nurse Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku), a (legal) immigrant from Nigeria. He falls for her; she’s not too sure about him — and, soon, we go home with Abishola and get acquainted with her parents, her son and her life.
It’s not the sort of immigrant story we so often see on TV in which “we’re either very downtrodden, poor, or criminal, or our accents are never quite right,” said Gina Yashere, a comedian/actress who is the daughter of Nigerians who immigrated to the U.K. She co-created the show with Lorre, Al Higgins and Eddie Gorodetsky and has a recurring role as Abishola’s friend, Kemi.
“It’s always an immigrant doing something wrong or being done wrong by somebody else,” she said. “Or being killed or just living in poverty.
“And the good thing about this show is they’re not immigrants ... they’re three-dimensional people with dreams and loves and hates and jobs and a life.”
According to Lorre, the surprisingly sweet Bob-and-Abishola romance isn’t the central focus of the show, and they’re “in no hurry” to have that play out.
“The story here [is] people come to this country and work their asses off to make a life for themselves and their family,” he said. “That’s a story worth telling.”
It’s a story being told in a different way on “Sunnyside” (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., Sept. 26, NBC/Ch. 5). Kal Penn stars as Garrett Modi, a son of immigrants who was the youngest city councilman in New York history, but was eventually forced out of office after disgracing himself. When he’s approached by a group of immigrants who want him to help them become American citizens, he selfishly sees it as path to redemption.
The immigrants include a hard-working Dominican (Diana Maria Riva); an Ethopian surgeon now driving a cab (Samba Schutte); a Moldovan (Moses Storm) who didn’t know he wasn’t born in the U.S.; and rich, entitled Asian siblings (Joel Kim Booster and Poppy Liu) who don’t want to say what country they’re from and are the antithesis of hard-working immigrants.
But “Sunnyside” is, Penn said, “a patriotic comedy.” He co-created the show with Matt Murray (“The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Parks and Recreation”), but the idea had been kicking around in his head since his manager asked him what his “dream project” would be five years ago.
“I said, ‘Well, the two things I love are making people laugh,’” he said, “‘and I love America.’”
Which is not to say that the immigration process is viewed in a positive light in “Sunnyside.” But, Murray said, it is portrayed realistically by a writing staff and cast who are almost all either immigrants or children of immigrants.
“It’s an infuriating process. It can be very frustrating,” he said. “But we are trying to tell a bunch of different stories around the subject. It’s not one specific thing to everyone. So we are just trying to tell real stories about people who have gone through it, and, yeah, there is comedy to be mined.”
Somehow, I don’t think Trump and his supporters will be laughing.