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Rashida Jones to Star in Sleek Robot Mystery

Rashida Jones to Star in Sleek Robot Mystery

From “Shōgun” to “Blue Eye Samurai” to “Tokyo Vice,” Japan is having a moment on American television. Last year, Apple TV+ brought “Drops of God,” a live-action manga adaptation about the succession crisis of a wine empire, to U.S. audiences. Now the company is bringing that trend in-house with “Sunny,” a new half-hour A24 drama comedy starring Rashida Jones as an American housewife living abroad. A buddy mystery that pairs Jones’s Suzie Sakamoto with the titular character, a clever “house robot” left in Suzie’s care by her missing husband Masa (Hidetoshi Nishijima), “Sunny” conveys a gripping, eye-catching vision of the near future, even if the central story doesn’t quite live up to its attempts at a character-driven thriller.

“Sunny” isn’t animated like “Blue Eye Samurai” or a period piece like “Shōgun” and “Tokyo Vice.” Instead, the series is set against a soft sci-fi aesthetic reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s “Her.” Suzie, Masa, and their young son live in Kyoto, a city whose historic architecture and serene religious sites contrast with the dense, long, neon-lit Tokyo. The setting provides the ideal backdrop for the affable domesticity of the series’ technology, from garbage-collecting droids to Game Boy-like “gadgets” that have replaced smartphones. “Sunny” is adapted by Katie Robbins from Colin O’Sullivan’s novel “The Dark Manual,” but the most tangible contributions come from the craft team, which includes production designer Shinsuke Kojima and art director Masaharu Maeda.

Suzie is trying to navigate this new reality, which is about a decade removed from our own, even before Masa and her son are lost in a suspicious plane crash. Having lost her mother in an autonomous car accident, Suzie is a technophobe who hates robots. (Suzie is shocked to learn that her husband has dedicated his life to building them, upon Masa’s colleague’s delivery. He tells her that he works on refrigerators.) Suzie has also not bothered to learn Japanese, relying instead on an automatic translation headset. She claims that her dyslexia makes new languages ​​difficult, but over the course of 10 episodes, we begin to see that Suzie’s insistence on English is one of her many misanthropic tendencies. Her way of saying goodbye to Masa at the airport is to give him the middle finger.

The sudden absence of her nuclear family forces Suzie to seek help, whether from her mother-in-law Noriko (Judy Ongg) or her new friend Mixxy (musical comedian Annie), a bartender who offers to help Suzie in her search for her family’s fate. Out of desperation, Suzie even begins to trust Sunny. Voiced by Joanna Sotomora, Suzie’s friend may resemble a more spherical Michelin Man with an animatronic display, but she has been specially coded by Masa to have a personality as prickly as his wife’s. Gradually, the two become collaborators and even friends.

That dynamic is endearing, and Jones plays capably opposite her anthropomorphic scene partner. (She also wears a series of striking outfits, courtesy of costume designer Analucia McGorty. If Suzie has assimilated to any degree, it’s through her fashion sense.) But “Sunny” can veer away from its core mission of explaining Suzie’s loneliness and, retroactively, marriage. The Yakuza come off as stereotypical bad guys, and while the eager boss Hime (the one-named actress You) sports a striking haircut, her crusade against sexism in organized crime doesn’t command our attention. Noriko is cut off from the rest of the cast, and with it any potential insight into her son.

In the finale, viewers aren’t given enough clarity for Suzie’s journey to feel fully satisfying; we never learn, for example, who or what she left behind in the States. But this surreal, alternate Japan continues to deliver flashy scenes straight out of “Severance,” as a swarm of corporate drones don VR sets for a coordinated stretching routine. The penultimate episode, a faux game show set inside Sunny’s mechanical mind, manages to marry the show’s world-building with its emotional content. Even if “Sunny” doesn’t consistently hit that sweet spot, it’s nice to know it’s there.