Sunny feels like one big Black Mirror episode

Grief is relentless. The anguish makes it difficult to let go of memories and what-ifs. For Sunny’s Suzie (Rashida Jones), it’s compounded because she doesn’t know if her husband and young son survived a plane crash. She then discovers her spouse lied about his day job at a tech company. Masa Sakamoto (Hidetoshi Nishijima) hadn’t worked in refrigerators like he led her to believe. He was actually in charge of creating homebots, a common domestic device in the futuristic Japan where the show is set. Masa designed an advanced bot for Suzie to help her mourn. A colleague drops it off on her doorstep after the crash, leaving her to wonder if Masa knew he was in danger and why he hid it. It forces her to revisit their memories in a new light for missed signs of his potential duplicity.

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Suzie gets help from her brand new homebot, Sunny, even if she doesn’t accept it willingly at first. The show, which premieres July 10 on Apple TV+, gives its two leads equally developed personalities, even if one of them is a droid. Think of Suzie and Sunny as an odd couple in a sitcom. Her snark complements the robot’s cheery programming (hence the title). As they venture on a truth-finding mission, the writers try to have it both ways with their commentary on artificial intelligence. The show oscillates between the tech being worthwhile and fatalistic, allowing the audience to draw their conclusions. And this all makes this intriguing, entertaining thriller a tad less cohesive overall.

Suzie’s messy yet emotional connection to this three-foot gadget with big eyes is the weirdest, most enticing aspect of the show. Their unexpected bond represents the obvious: Sunny is her last tether to the man she loves, the guy who coded it entirely to suit her reclusive nature. How can she ignore that in Masa’s absence even if she is heartbroken by his lies? Sunny explores Suzie and Sunny’s friendship—if that’s what we want to call it—and if it can evolve. Jones is best known for comedic roles, but she’s a potent force of nature here. She makes Suzie’s anger, sadness, isolation, and cynicism tangible, and the portrayl pairs perfectly with Joanna Sotomura’s exuberant voice acting as Sunny.

Through their alliance, the show prods at the timely dilemma of whether or not AI is beneficial, and how humanity’s use and misuse could define future generations. (The irony of it airing on a streaming platform owned by a tech giant is not lost on anyone.) Suzie’s partnership allows Sunny’s EQ to rise over time. Sunny even tries to take in an injured crow to nurse it to comprehend Suzie’s maternal grieving. But what happens if robots are controlled by nefarious people—in this case, gangsters—or if their programming goes haywire? (The premiere literally opens with a person being killed by one of these devices.) Sunny isn’t looking for a direct answer, which may be dissatisfying. But it widens the scope of possibilities in favor of a thought-provoking journey.

That said, with 10 half-hour episodes, the story spreads itself in unnecessarily sporadic directions. The puzzle-box mystery of Suzie hunting for her family leads her into a web of corporate corruption, the yakuza (including in-fighting among a family of criminals who want Sunny), and Masa’s traumatic upbringing. The show loses its gripping narrative in tying these threads together, making it feel like a Black Mirror installment that has gone on a long, long time. Jones is terrific with Suzie’s heightened feelings, but the lack of insight into her past and what led her to Kyoto 12 years ago feels like a missing narrative gap.

Luckily, Sunny’s disjointed pace doesn’t detract from its final payoff or its killer retrofuturistic sets (in line with Apple TV+’s Severance and Hello Tomorrow!), music, and cinematography, which all make Sunny’s world immersive. The show features a roster of fun characters, too, like Suzie’s suspicious new bartender pal Mixxie (annie the clumsy), her politely spiteful mother-in-law Noriko Sakamoto (Judy Ongg), and yakuza queenpin Himé (You).

Sunny’s two most winning episodes break the format up a bit, with one freaky installment centered on Sunny in a reality game show setup. A different, much-need half-hour flashes back to why Masa made these home devices in the first place. Drive My Car’s Nishijima shines here as a reminder of how underused he is throughout the season. Masa’s motivation boils down to a single feeling he experienced in his youth: loneliness. Exploring the depths of that becomes Sunny’s real purpose, giving its sci-fi setup a humane twist.

Sunny premieres July 10 on Apple TV+

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Saloni Gajjar