Saturday, July 06, 2024

Sunny, on Apple TV+

Maybe Asimov's "Law of Robotics” will be more of a suggestion in the future. For Suzie Sakamoto’s husband Masa, it was just something to code around. Supposedly, he and her son “Zen” died in a plane crash, but his code is still out there. Much to the American expat’s surprise, Masa also left behind a specially programmed homebot (robotic housekeeping assistant) that will introduce herself to the grieving Sakamoto in creator Katie Robbins’ 10-part Sunny, which premieres this coming Wednesday on Apple TV+.

Sakamoto always resented robots, because her mother was killed by a self-driving car. She had been led to believe her late husband worked in the refrigerator division of his technology company, so she is shocked to learn he oversaw their robotics.

Masa’s mother Noriko Sakamoto is obviously Japanese, but she is also a classic mother-in-law. Consequently, Sakamoto would rather drink than deal with her. She also has little patience for the annoyingly chipper homebot delivered by Masa’s senior colleague, Yuki Tanaka. Sunny, as Masa named her, tries to help Sakamoto process her grief, but she is having none of that. However, Sakamoto discovers Sunny has other talents, so she recruits the bot to investigate the accident. The more she learns of her husband’s secrets, the more determined she is to recover the secret memories buried within Sunny’s directories.

Sakamoto does not make friends easily and she alienates them quickly. However, she somehow also recruits Mixxy, a part-time mixologist at her local cocktail bar, to help her investigation. She soon starts suspecting the involvement of a Yakuza clan currently mired in a power struggle. Hime’s cousin expects to succeed her father as chairman, but she has different ideas. To out-maneuver him, she must find the long-rumored codebook for reprogramming robots in illegal and potentially dangerous ways.

The robotics in
Sunny represents comparatively light science fiction, but it is integral to Robbins’ story, based on Colin O’Sullivan’s novel. The humor is largely tied to Sakamoto’s incredibly profane mouth, but it is frequently amusing. It might have grand ambitions, but it is no Severance. Yet, Sunny is engaging and not overly taxing sf-dramedy, which is rather impressive when you consider it is centered around a grieving mother.

It turns out Rashida Jones can curse like a sailor. She needs to, because Sakamoto’s swearing plays an important role in the story. She gets a lot of laughs as a result and has some spectacular meltdowns. Judy Ongg’s Noriko is a lot to handle, but she humanizes her and ultimately flips viewers’ assumptions and sympathies in later episodes. Plus, veteran Japanese character actor Jun Kunimura is wonderfully wise and sly as old Tanaka.

It is a strong ensemble, with You (short for Yukiko Ehara) delivering some massively creepy villainy as Hime. Likewise, Hidetoshi Nishijima is suitable mysterious, in an ambiguous, world-weary kind of way, portraying Masa in his many flashbacks. However, “Annie the Clumsy,” as she is now billed, engages in so much shtick and exaggerated dramatics as Mixxy, viewers quickly share Sunny’s aversion to her.

The series is not perfect. The first three episodes could easily be compressed and the format-breaking ninth episode stretches an interesting concept too far. However, Robbins and company successfully develop their robotic and Yakuza elements, while mining the darker side of human nature for humor. It is a balancing act that works surprisingly well. Recommended as a very humanly-grounded exploration of near-future technology and old world gangsterism,
Sunny starts streaming Wednesday (7/10) on Apple TV+.