Stream or skip? +2023

After almost two years Little America returns with more heartwarming stories about immigrant experiences in the United States. The stories are based on real immigrant stories, and even if fictionalized a little, the stories are rooted in reality that includes conflicts and struggles. The second season continues the feel-good atmosphere that the first created just before the pandemic hit.


opening shot: A boy paints faces on the mannequin heads in the window of his mother’s hat shop in Detroit.

The essentials: In the first episode “Mr. Song tells the largely true story of Luke Song, a hat designer who created the bow-embellished chapeau worn by Aretha Franklin at Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. We first see a young Luke (Alan S. Kim) listening to gospel music on the radio, specifically Martha Jean’s show “The Queen” (Phylicia Rashad). Although his mother (Lee Jeong-eun) owns the shop and makes the hats, the shop is called “Mr. Song’s Hat Shop.”

Luke is practicing his cello outside the shop when Martha Jean recognizes the song he’s playing as one of the tunes she spun that day. She walks in and Mrs. Song sells Norma Jean a well-fitting hat with a feather on the brim, perfect for her to show off at church this week. In gratitude, Martha Jean includes the store on her radio show, bringing Detroit church women in droves. When Martha Jean returns, Mrs. Song offers her money for the plug, but Martha Jean refuses. She offers Luke a dollar for the drawing he made of his mother.

We then see an adult Luke (Ki Hong Lee) in medical school who draws when he should be taking notes. Still, he’s good at what he does. But when he comes home during a break, he knows that medical school isn’t for him even though he’s only a semester away from graduating. After an inspiring conversation with Martha Jean, he decides to drop out and apply to art school, something opposed by his parents, who sacrificed everything to come to America from Korea and raise him in a caring environment.

He gets a scholarship to the Parsons School of Design in New York, but runs afoul of faculty who want him to connect more with his field; He tends more to let the people looking at his art connect with it themselves. So he drops out and works at the hat shop, which is where he finds his ultimate inspiration, especially after Martha Jean — who had an argument with Mrs. Song about Luke dropping out of med school — comes back and asks her to build a tall Nefertiti hat.

Little america season 2
Photo: AppleTV+

What shows will it remind you of? Little America Season 1.

Our opinion: Season 2 of Little AmericaProduced by Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon, Alan Yang and Lee Eisenberg, continues the feel-good vibe of the first season by highlighting immigrant stories that are not only inspirational but based on real events.

The show manages to achieve that vibe without a lot of fluff, largely because of the real-life roots each story has. Yes, there is conflict in every story, as there should be. But the conflict is fueled by real human situations and emotions, not events that are made up. That sense of reality is another reason the show feels more grounded, even as it tells its heartwarming stories.

It also helps when there are appearances like Rashad, Lee Jong-hun, and Ki Hong Lee in the first episode. We know Rashad is an acting force of nature and has been for four decades, but both Lees can hold their own in their scenes with her, and then in the scenes where mother and son have emotional moments, they bond with each other and that audience quite strong.

As with most anthology series, the episodes will likely vary in quality, but if Season 1 is any indication, the warmth and inspiration will be a constant, which is enough to keep us watching.

gender and skin: None in the first episode.

farewell shot: Luke and his mother listen to the inspirational music at Martha Jean’s church.

sleeping star: We liked Alan Kim as a young Luke, mostly because he played Luke as a precocious but not a smartass.

Most pilot line: It’s quite painful when Mrs. Song says to Martha Jean, “You’re just a customer!” as they argue about the advice Martha Jean gave Luke before he dropped out of med school.

Our appeal: Stream it. Little America continues to tell positive stories about immigrant experiences in the United States without sugarcoating problems or covering things with a heavy layer of sweetness. The stories are inspirational but close to reality, and the second season is just as entertaining as the first.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and technology, but he doesn’t fool himself: He’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, Salon,, VanityFair.comFast Company and elsewhere.

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