Fall TV Preview

Sunnyside's Kal Penn Reveals How Head of the Class and Perfect Strangers Influenced Feel-Good NBC Comedy

Kal Penn in 'Sunnyside' on NBC

Kal Penn is not looking to wade into the current immigration debate with his new immigration-themed NBC comedy Sunnyside. In fact, he’s actively trying to avoid it.

Co-created by Community‘s Matt Murray and executive-produced by Mike Schur, the show centers on a disgraced New York City councilman (Penn) who gets hired by a diverse group of hopefuls who dream of becoming American citizens.

“The idea of immigration is as old as our country is — so no disrespect to any of the candidates who are running, or the folks who are currently in office, it’s just I didn’t give much thought to [any of that],” he says. He avoided current events altogether and sought to create an aspirational show “in the vein of the stuff I grew up watching,” including Perfect Strangers, Head of the Class and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

“The commonality of those types of shows is that when you turned off the TV, you felt really good,” he explains. “There are a lot of [current] shows that frankly don’t make you feel good. I’m a huge fan of The Daily Show, but every time you turn off the TV after watching it, you feel bad about the world. I wanted to do the opposite and tell stories that make you feel good.”

To pigeonhole Sunnyside as a politically-driven comedy, he says, gives “too much credence” to the incendiary climate we live in. “All of the issues we talk about are as old as immigration and the complexities of immigration themselves. They’re topical but not recent by any means, nor are they a reaction to anything.”

At the end of the day, Penn says, “I just want people to laugh, wherever you live in the country, wherever you live in the world, to be able to put aside differences and laugh with people who feel like they’re a group of your friends.”

Sunnyside debuts tonight at 9:30/8:30c. Press PLAY on the sneak peek below, then hit the comments and tell us if you’ll be tuning in.