TV review, Sunny, Apple TV+: an empathetic robot, a grieving widow and unexplained deaths, this futuristic drama is nicely set up

Rashida Jones as Suzie in Sunny. Picture: AppleRashida Jones as Suzie in Sunny. Picture: Apple
Rashida Jones as Suzie in Sunny. Picture: Apple
With shades of Black Mirror and Doctor Who, Sunny features strong performances from Rashida Jones as grieving Suzie and the voice of Joanna Sotomura as her robot

Sunny Apple TV+ ***

Melissa Etheridge: I'm Not Broken Paramount+ ****

Spent BBC2 ***

Melissa Etheridge performs onstage during I’m Not Broken. Picture: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Paramount+Melissa Etheridge performs onstage during I’m Not Broken. Picture: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Paramount+
Melissa Etheridge performs onstage during I’m Not Broken. Picture: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for Paramount+

A vaguely unusual comedy drama etched in shades of Black Mirror, Sunny stars Rashida Jones as Suzie, an American woman living in a near-future Japan where humans are serviced – in all sorts of ways – by ingratiatingly cute Emoji-faced robots. Remember those creepy droids from the Capaldi era Doctor Who episode Smile? They’re them, basically.

Suzie’s Japanese husband and child have apparently both been killed in a plane crash, although the rescue operation is still ongoing. But it’s only a matter of time as far as Suzie is concerned, they’re not coming back. So she wanders around in a daze, numbing herself with booze.

Hide Ad

Meanwhile, the company her husband worked for deliver a domesticated robot – the titular Sunny, sweetly voiced by Joanna Sotomura – to the family home as some sort of bizarre consolation prize; a friendly pet to keep her company while she grieves.

Suzie is shocked by this, not least because she thought her husband built refrigerators for a living. Turns out he was actually a brilliant robotics engineer. Why did he lie?

Michelle de Swarte as Mia in Spent. Picture: Ludovic Robert/BBCMichelle de Swarte as Mia in Spent. Picture: Ludovic Robert/BBC
Michelle de Swarte as Mia in Spent. Picture: Ludovic Robert/BBC

Naturally, Suzie resents Sunny’s overly helpful presence, but over the space of the first two episodes – the remaining eight will be released on a weekly basis from 17th July – they gradually formed a peculiar bond. Sunny was programmed to incorporate elements of the husband’s personality. She has no memories prior to her first meeting with Suzie, but maybe she can help to solve the mystery of who her creator really was.

Are these robots, as Suzie starts to suspect, capable of murder? And if so, was her husband involved in designing them that way? Also, what do the Yakuza have to do with all of this? And why is she under covert surveillance? Who are these people?

So many questions. It’s all quite intriguing, although as always with murky conspiracy-led shows of this nature you can only hope that it builds towards a satisfying conclusion. It’s adapted from a standalone novel, so it presumably won’t leave us hanging. I’m nothing if not mildly optimistic.

Granted, the tone isn’t entirely sure of itself, at least not so far. It veers quite unevenly between deadpan comedy, ‘quirky’ farce and a solemn meditation on grief and loneliness. I’ll be charitable and chalk that up as a deliberate attempt to reflect Suzie’s fractured mental state. Apologies in advance if it just turns out to be sloppy writing.

Hide Ad

Anyway. Jones and Sotomura are very good, they’re an engaging duo, and if it does all fall apart then we can at least enjoy the elegant retro-futurist production design.

A few years ago, the American heartland rocker and activist Melissa Etheridge started to receive candid, soul-baring letters from some of the women incarcerated at the Topeka Correctional Facility in Kansas.

Hide Ad

Why? Well, as I discovered in the touching docuseries Melissa Etheridge: I'm Not Broken, Etheridge has always been a devout supporter of human rights for prisoners. Inspired by one of her heroes, Johnny Cash, she played her first penitentiary gig at the age of twelve. Etheridge fully understands and sympathises with the tragic cycle of abuse, poverty and addiction that engulfs so many people who end up in prison.

She also understands that she’s an artist, an entertainer, so all she can realistically do is draw attention to the issues she cares about via valuable projects such as this. Her concert at Topeka – occasionally powerful clips from which recurred throughout – provided a platform for the residents to let their voices be heard. That was the whole point. These women shared their terribly sad yet hope-tinged stories with a palpable sense of catharsis. Without a single trace of contrived sentimentality or binary simplification, I’m Not Broken empowered them.

Sure, it cleaved to some of the usual demands of a structured documentary narrative, most notably: would Etheridge manage to write a great song inspired by the letters she’d received? But that’s okay, it was only a background hook; wise owl Etheridge was fundamentally more concerned with foregrounding the importance of support and rehabilitation for survivors of trauma.

Underpinning it all was the tragic fact that she quite recently lost her son to a drug overdose. He was 21. From the stage at Topeka she said this: “I would give anything for my son to be in prison and not dead, and so no matter what their relations with their families are like, there are so many people who are glad you’re in prison and not dead. You have a chance here, you can make choices.”

Amen.

A former fashion model turned stand-up comedian, Michelle de Swarte writes and stars in the new BBC comedy Spent. It’s loosely based on her own life in the fashion industry, which would appear to be a perilous way to scrape a living if you’re not an A-List catwalk star.

After being declared bankrupt while working in New York, Mia returns to London in the hope of reigniting her moribund career. She’s down to her last £50 and has nowhere to live, but she’s too proud to admit this to anyone. She must maintain a veneer of success at all costs.

Hide Ad

If that means catching some shuteye in a car parked on a dogging site, or looking after some actual dogs owned by an eccentric, predatory posh woman who wanted to have sex with her (thankfully, she escaped), then so be it.

Mia is a likeable protagonist, and – as a fellow jobbing freelancer – I was immediately invested in her rather desperate plight. Spent has potential, it’s amusing, well-written and nicely performed. I recommend it.

Hide Ad

However, it does contain a particular comedy bugbear of mine – yet another David Brent-esque character. Mia’s agent is played by Matt King, aka Super Hans from Peep Show, and it’s not his fault, he’s performing the part as written, but The Office was over twenty years ago. Can we please, finally, call a moratorium on sitcom characters with those distinctive, overplayed mannerisms? Yeah?

Related topics:

Comments

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.