Immigration has increased 100 fold over the last decade, and it’s something that affects so many people. It’s also a core theme in new rom-com Bob Hearts Abishola, which airs Thursdays on 1Magic (DStv 103) at 19:00.

The comedy series begins all cutesy and sweet as sock manufacturer Bob (Billy Gardell from Mike & Molly) is brought into hospital with a heart attack. While he’s there, he falls head over heels for Abishola (Folake Olowofoyeku, Ayoola in a 2014 episode of Modern Family), a Nigerian immigrant nurse who wants nothing to do with him… at first. They’re not just going to have a relationship and live happily ever after, though. Viewers will see them become friends, how their wires cross in communication thanks to being from different countries and cultures, and how they work to find common understanding.

Show co-creators Gina Yashere and Chuck Lorre (Young Sheldon) are adamant that Bob Hearts Abishola won’t be falling into the stereotype pitfalls. “It’s a beautiful story about people. That’s it. It’s just about people living their lives, loving, hating, working, studying. It’s just a good, heart-warming comedy,” says Gina, who plays Abishola’s bestie Kemi. “We’re writing these people as people. So it’s not like, “Oh, we’re going to make a romance, we’re going to make them fall in love.” It’s going to be a long process. They’re going to start as friends, and even becoming friends is going to take a while. So that is just one aspect to the story. There’s a lot of other stuff happening in the show.”

Feeding Abishola

Like Gina, Folake has been key to creating not just the storyline, as an immigrant, but to creating her character. She reveals: “I didn’t want it to be a stereotypical caricature of African life. I’ve found myself in situations like that before, but it became very obvious very early on that it was not going to happen. And even during the audition, with my depiction of the character, I was very cognisant of the fact that I didn’t want her to be [that].”

Chuck adds, “I don’t think there are any political statements in the show. It’s just about people. If there’s a subtext, the subtext is how wonderful are people who come here and bring their hard work and discipline and focus. Immigrants make America great. It’s so obvious. Let’s you and me pick up and move to Lagos, Nigeria and try and start a new life. That takes some serious courage. We’re not making a comment about legal [versus] illegal immigrants. We’re making a comment on the people that are here that are working their hearts out to make a life for them and their family. That’s the extent of what we’re trying to do in twenty-one minutes.

Rooted in reality

Both Gina and lead star Folake are Nigerian immigrants. And in a strange coincidence, they’ve followed the same route to the show, geographically – they moved to London, UK, as children with their parents, then to the United States as adults, settling in New York and working in Los Angeles. So they have first-hand knowledge of what Abishola is experiencing.

While so many shows have used Donald Trump’s presidency in their storylines, especially because of his stance on immigration to the US, Gina and her team are avoiding politics, saying: “We try to stay away from that (political) stuff. We’re just telling her (Abishola) story. And whatever she experiences while that story is being told is what she experiences. But we’re not going to go, ‘Right, we’re going to write an episode about immigration in England.’ That is not what we’re about, it's about just telling these people’s stories.”

Folake, who has lived and worked in the US since 2001, adds, “We get to explore the immigrant experience. Specifically, in this show, we explore the Nigerian immigrant experience, but I think it translates to all immigrant experience. It's universal. So you're gonna see us on primetime television, speaking (Nigerian language) Yoruba and eating Nigerian food. You get to see that we have more in common than we do not.”

Sounds about right

Having grown up in London and spent 20 years in America, Folake’s natural speaking voice is a UK-US combination. But it’s easy for her to slip back into her “natural” sound, explains the actress: “I walked into this already created, already planned-out world. My job is to take this script and deliver a performance that's accurate to the character and her region, which is specifically Yoruba, which is also my tribe. I grew up in Nigeria, and I'm also Yoruba.”

While she doesn’t get to go home as often as she likes, Folake, like her character, speaks to her family in Nigeria on a weekly basis and they have helped her with portraying Abishola. Folake says, “All I need to do is to draw from my memory, the memory of my mother, the memories of my aunties, the memories of all the women in my life growing up, and that's what feeds the character. Abishola is based on my mom and all the Yoruba women in my life.”

“I think that it is phenomenal,” she adds. “It’s surreal sometimes being on set and just seeing it play out. I think Yoruba sounds very romantic. It warms my heart to hear it. I think that it should be considered one of the romance languages.”

Bob Hearts Abishola S1 starts Thursday, 25 June on 1Magic (DStv 103) at 19:00 or watch on Catch Up

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