This series is hardly the first work to explore the pains and triumphs that come with moving to and adapting to the United States. But the anthology format serves the show’s goals in crucial ways. Most obviously, Little America’s depictions of eight different families grappling with relocation free individual episodes from the burden of representation. The framing of the show necessarily rejects the idea that each story can be a stand-in for the Immigrant Narrative writ large, or that there is a single narrative to begin with. Unlike migration-focused works that have prioritized their own putative importance over fidelity to the people they represent, Little America doesn’t sensationalize violence. The creators, Lee Eisenberg, Kumail Nanjiani, and Emily V. Gordon, didn’t set out to capture the most politically urgent tales, either. “The stories are very personal, and the stakes are hopefully universal. ‘I want to provide a better home for my family’; ‘I want to fit in at a new school,’” Eisenberg told The Ringer recently. “Those kinds of themes and storylines are what we were chasing, and the fact that they were with people that are so rarely front and center was something that really excited us.”
Indeed, Little America is at its best when depicting intimate moments, including scenes of its subjects’ domestic life—especially in their home countries. In “The Manager,” the first episode, a young boy named Kabir (played by Eshan Inamdar) becomes a spelling-bee champion in large part because of his father’s promise to buy him a Trans Am if he learned every word in the dictionary. This setup renders the family’s later separation especially heartrending. When Kabir’s parents return to India to await news of their U.S.-residency status, the process stretches on for years, meaning they never get to witness their son’s spelling-bee wins in person. By the time they return to the States, he’s an adult—one whose adolescence they observed through the obfuscatory filter of Skype. The small changes in Kabir’s parents are foreign to him; he’s surprised to learn that their old celebratory meal can no longer include Pepsi for his father, who has developed diabetes. These are lives and bonds and families on hold, and Little America conveys the weight of these losses without sacrificing its characters’ vitality.
Kabir’s parents aren’t the only subjects who struggle with the arcane American immigration system. In the final and most wrenching episode, “The Son,” a gay Syrian man flees home after his sexuality is discovered by people outside his immediate family. Upon his arrival in Jordan, Rafiq (Haaz Sleiman) becomes a regular at an internet cafe, where he constantly refreshes the webpage tracking his application for asylum in the United States. His anxiety is palpable. Though the series avoids story lines about more harrowing migration paths, Little America underscores the fear that seemingly minor—and arbitrary—administrative updates can inspire in immigrants. The punishing nature of the American immigration system directly affected the show’s production: Because of the ban that restricts travel from Syria, the final episode of Little America was filmed in Montreal. (According to show writers, the episode has been banned in 11 countries; Apple has yet to comment publicly on “The Son” being unavailable for streaming in those areas.)