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Katie Robbins Unveils AI Marvel with Apple TV+'s "Sunny"

Katie Robbins Unveils AI Marvel with Apple TV+’s “Sunny”

Between her roles as a writer and a producer, Katie Robbins has moved her way through the entertainment industry before becoming the lead on Apple TV+’s new series, Sunny, which follows Rashida Jones as Suzie, a woman trying to come to terms with the mysterious and devastating loss of her husband and son. But it’s not just about dealing with loss; there are so many questions that arise surrounding Suzie’s husband, who she begins to discover she may not have known as well as she thought, after a new home bot, Sunny, arrives following his death.

Robbins explained that the idea for Sunny was loosely based on “The Dark Manual,” a novel by Irish author Colin O’Sullivan, set in Japan. The novel’s plot is different and darker, and it features a male robot. However, Robbins found a core idea in the storytelling—a woman dealing with great loss and figuring out her next steps—that resonated with her. Robbins has always been drawn to stories about the aftermath of horrible events and was intrigued by how AI might play into that. She had read a lot about human-robot interaction (HRI) and how robots can become transitional objects for people having trouble connecting with others. Robbins also wanted to address female friendship as she felt the absence of time to connect with her female friends due to her busy life.

In preparing for the show, Robbins did a lot of research into Japanese culture. She spent time in Japan both before and after starting the writing process, soaking in the culture and preparing to write the pilot. During the writer’s room sessions in Los Angeles, the team worked with cultural consultants to ensure the show’s accuracy regarding Japanese culture, specifically Kyoto, where the show is set. This meticulous research included input from Japanese or Japanese-American individuals with firsthand experience living in Japan. The entire season was even shot in Japan, where Robbins lived for nine months.

Robbins paid close attention to creating Sunny’s personality and identity. Suzie, played by Rashida Jones, has a sharp and sardonic wit, so Robbins wanted Sunny to juxtapose that with optimism. Sunny, who embodies a hint of optimism even in her name, learns from Suzie through machine learning, picking up some of Suzie’s attributes over time. This dynamic makes for an odd couple relationship as Suzie figures out whether Sunny is trustworthy. The creators collaborated with Weta Workshop from New Zealand to build a physical robot for the show, incorporating elements of Japanese design. Sunny was designed to have a mix of Kawai’s cute aesthetic with sleek, functional lines. Joanna Sotomura, who plays Sunny, wore a helmet with a camera to capture her face and words which were projected onto Sunny the robot in real time for an authentic interaction on set.

The mystery surrounding Suzie’s husband, Masa, and its implications for Suzie’s journey also took considerable effort to craft. While Robbins couldn’t divulge too many details, she explained that the key focus was on how someone’s understanding of their loved one could be fundamentally shaken, leading to questions about the nature of their relationship and love. When we meet Suzie, she is in a prolonged state of mourning and denial, questioning the truths she thought she knew about her husband.

The rise of AI technology also influenced the series. Robbins began writing the pilot in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, and she was already thinking about AI. At that time, she was discussing AI theory and talking to roboticists, but didn’t fully believe that some of the AI capabilities were imminent. However, while filming, developments like Chat GBT happened, making AI advancements feel much more immediate and relevant, thereby making some scenes and ideas in the show feel more present.

Regarding the theme of loneliness, Robbins shared that writing during peak COVID made her think deeply about the subject. She noted that people often turn inward during difficult times instead of reaching out for help, which can lead to a dangerous level of isolation. Robbins hopes that the show conveys that making small steps toward connecting with others can be beneficial and healthful, even though taking those steps can be challenging.

The show also features several female relationships, both familial and friendships, which Robbins intricately layered. Suzie’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Noriko, played by Judy Ongg, is fraught with tension but also filled with dynamic and relatable banter. Robbins drew from her personal experiences for these interactions. Additionally, Suzie’s friendship with Mixxy and her dynamic with Sunny were inspired by Robbins’s own female friendships, where people naturally adopt each other’s phrases and behaviors over time.

Robbins’s favorite part of working on the first season was the collaborative process. Despite the often solitary nature of writing, sharing and working with an extraordinary group of people made the experience profound. The production involved interacting with many talented individuals, including those in Japan, where non-verbal communication sometimes played a significant role. This collaborative experience provided an antidote to the loneliness she was writing about in the show.

Catch Sunny on Apple TV+ on Wednesday, July 10, 2024.

Source: Culturess