In the new comedy series Sunnyside, on M-Net (101) from Friday, 10 April at 22:00, disgraced New York City councilman Garret Modi (Kal Penn) is broke and mooching off his sister, Mallory (Kiran Deol), when a whacky group of immigrants approach him for assistance. They hope that Garrett will use his ties to help them to stay in the country legally.

Garrett, eager to cash in financially and use their issues to boost his career, agrees, hiding the fact that he currently has no political clout. But when one of his “clients” runs afoul of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Garret is forced to come clean. He vows to help the whole group become citizens for real, drawing on his knowledge of the political system to help them to ace their citizenship classes and sort out their issues.

Much of the humour in Sunnyside comes from the clash between basic humanity and the absurdities of the legal and political system that immigrants are up against while trying to formalise their status in the country. That’s where it gets real.

The real deal

Series co-creator, writer and star Kal Penn drew on his 10 years spent working in politics between 2007 and 2017 to give backbone to Sunnyside. During the Obama Presidency, Kal worked on the bill for the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), targeted at granting legal status to undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and were educated there. While the bill failed by a narrow margin, it immersed Kal in immigration issues. “I obviously loved my time in D.C. And I am the child of immigrants, so I know those stories very intimately. But I love making people laugh. And I love that comedy has the opportunity to bring people together, especially when things are polarizing,” says Kal.

And his writer’s room didn’t have to look far for inspiration, either. “Every single one of our writing staff are either immigrants or the kids of immigrants, or married to an immigrant themselves, so basically from an immigrant family,” Kal adds. The cast’s own experiences and backgrounds have also been taken into account in the writing.


Who’s Who

There’s also no shortage of fish out of water comedy in Sunnyside as each of the characters has their own foreign flavour.


Garrett Modi (Kal Penn)

Garrett (a son of immigrant parents) spent 15 years at the top in politics as a New York city councilman by looking good on social media and making promises, while doing absolutely no work to back them up. Then he got “cancelled” after getting fired for partying too hard, getting arrested and throwing up in a police car. His new immigrant clients are going to shake him out of his ignorance, arrogance, laziness and privileged point of view.

Fun fact: Modi is Kal’s real surname (he was born Kalpen Suresh Modi), as a nod to his real-life immigrant parents, who’re from Gujarat in India.


Griselda (Diana-Maria Riva)

Griselda is either the hardest working Dominican woman in New York, or a classic example of how many jobs you have to have just to get by working on minimum wage. She delivers packages and newspapers, works as a bartender and hotdog seller, she even fixes iPhones. Every place this little group of immigrants goes, Griselda has a job there. Despite being married to a US citizen, Griselda is facing deportation issues.


Jun Ho (Joel Kim Booster) and Mei-Lin (Poppy Liu)

Billionaire “twins” Mei Lin and Jun Ho have the same ridiculously rich, somewhat supervillainy father but they were born to different mothers in the same hospital on the same day. Jun Ho is South Korean, while Mei Lin is Chinese (both sharing their performers’ ethnicities). But no matter their backgrounds, scratch these spoilt brats and they’ll bleed Gucci and cold green cash. They’re supposedly running a business together to meet their visa requirements. Supposedly. Again, spoilt and lazy.

Fun Fact: Jun Ho and Mei-Lin are based on an Icelandic family that Sunnyside co-creator Matt Murray knew.


Bojan/Brady (Moses Storm)

Brady, an expert on living cheaply, was raised in the US, as an American, and has only found out recently that his mother brought him into the country at the age of two from Moldova. He is in the US as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient and has to toe the line, sort out work permits and renew his paperwork every two years until he becomes a citizen. And the fact that you have to study for an actual test to become a US citizen? Ugh! Bojan/Brady is given to making impulsive decisions, so he’s struggling with the rigid formality of the process he’s facing. If he puts a foot wrong, ICE will be knocking down his door.


Hakim (Samba Schutte)

Ethiopian immigrant Hakim was a cardiothoracic surgeon (and a huge nerd) back home, but has been making ends meet in the US by working as a taxi driver because he hasn’t been able to get a license to practice medicine in the US. Getting a letter of recommendation for residency would be the first step on that path. Hakim is also looking to get his sister into the US.

Fun fact: Samba is Dutch-Mauritanian. He was born in the Sahara and was raised in Ethiopia.

Sunnyside S1 starts on Friday, 10 April on M-Net (101) at 22:00.

How to watch Sunnyside online

Sign up for DStv Now, a free service for all DStv subscribers. With DStv Now the same channels you watch on your decoder at home are available for you to stream online, or using the DStv Now app on your phone.