NBC’s newest comedy is set in the political scene in Sunnyside, Queens, and it just might make an ideal acting debut for City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
Van Bramer, who’s represented the neighborhood since 2010, says he’s interested in appearing in the network’s new series, "Sunnyside." Premiering Thursday, the show stars "Harold & Kumar" actor Kal Penn as a disgraced, former council member seeking reelection.
"I have offered my services to the show and they are filming in L.A., sadly," Van Bramer says. "But, they said if they do come to Sunnyside to shoot some scenes, they will keep me in mind. I don’t have my SAG [Screen Actors Guild] card just yet, but we’re hoping for one."
The series, created by Penn, follows his character, Garrett Modi, as he’s thrown out of office after a video of his public intoxication arrest on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway goes viral. Modi, at a low point of his career, crafts a master plan to seek reelection, but gets distracted when a group of young immigrants seeks his assistance passing their naturalization tests for citizenship.
The series is filmed on a soundstage at Universal Studios Hollywood but uses the diverse Queens neighborhood as its central location.
"We are very excited," Van Bramer says. "The whole neighborhood is thrilled, tickled a little bit to see our beloved Sunnyside become a national sensation, we hope. It’s also going to be fun to watch and see how the neighborhood is showcased."
Van Bramer reached out to offer his congratulations to Penn on Twitter when the series was picked up in May. He didn’t get a response, but the tweet ended up opening an eventual line of communication with the network.
"While I didn’t get retweeted, I saw Kal Penn at a Pete Buttigieg event a few months ago and when I walked up to him and introduced myself as the council member from Sunnyside he said, ‘We know, you tweeted at us. We’ve been talking about you!’"
The councilman, who also represents Astoria, Long Island City and Woodside, connected with the series’ writers and producers via Skype to discuss the neighborhood and his political role.
"We did about an hour and a half Skype interview. They asked me all sorts of questions about what it’s like to be a council member, what it’s like to be in Sunnyside. … I appreciate their attention to detail and their desire to get it right."
Penn, speaking to The New York Times, says he chose the area as the setting for his comedy because it’s one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods and "’Flushing’ is truly a terrible title for a show."
While "Sunnyside" has a political undertone, the central focus of the series shifts away from City Council within the first few minutes of the pilot episode, when Modi is literally kicked out of his office. It is, at its core, a comedy.
"It’s a lot of fun and I think Kal Penn is a very talented writer and actor. I know they want to keep it funny and light, but also talk about some of the things that immigrants in Queens are faced with."
Offering some advice to Modi on recapturing the support of Sunnyside residents, Van Bramer says: "Well, you should stay out of trouble, No. 1."
He continues: "I would say any candidate for City Council in Sunnyside should care a lot about quality of life issues, walk the streets and be present. Knock on a lot of doors and have an engaging personality. People want to connect with elected officials and candidates and know that they’re genuine human beings — real people — because often we’re not portrayed as real live human beings. That’s what I would offer to Kal Penn’s character and wish him luck."
"Sunnyside" makes its debut on NBC Thursday at 9:30 p.m.