As one of seven siblings with many nieces and nephews, family has always held a central role in Bonnie Hunt’s life. So it makes perfect sense that the actress/writer/director/producer has now created an ideal family comedy TV series that manages to be both contemporary and timeless.
“Amber Brown,” airing on Apple TV Plus and inspired by Paula Danziger’s book series, tells the story of a bright-eyed 11-year-old girl (Carsyn Rose), whose artistic talents help her deal with the stresses in her life, such as her divorced mom Sarah (Sarah Drew) having a new boyfriend, Max (Darin Brooks); her best friend Stanley (Beau Hart) moving to another state; and a school environment where she is excluded from the in crowd. Amber is thrilled when her father Philip (Michael Yo) moves back to town, and she quickly gains a new best friend, “Brandi with an i” (Liliana Inouye), when a new family moves in next door. She also finds emotional support from her fun-loving Aunt Pam (Ashley Williams), who is quick to offer a listening ear and guidance. Still, growing pains rear their head as this lovable pre-teen struggles to make her way in the world.
Like “The Andy Griffith Show,” which Bonnie cites as an influence, there is often a moral core at the center of the stories in “Amber Brown.” This is especially true in a two-parter about Amber secretly defying her mother’s rule that she is not allowed to get her ears pierced until she is 13. After getting it done anyway, Amber struggles with the guilt of knowing that she did something wrong, and she finds no peace until she confronts what she did with her mom, who responds with compassion but also a level of discipline.
While the adults in “Amber Brown” are comically flawed, they are also mature people who know it is their job to lay the groundwork for Amber to grow into a responsible person. For instance, the free-spirited Aunt Pam knows there are lines not to cross when it comes to right and wrong and Sarah’s right to dictate the rules to her daughter. And Max, whom Amber resists becoming the new male presence in their home, slowly wins the girl over with his sensitivity to her feelings, as well as his charm and humor.
When it comes to Max and Philip, it’s notable that Bonnie Hunt wrote them both to be likable characters. It would have been easy to give either the ex-husband or new boyfriend a few bad qualities for the audience to root against. Instead, the show presents the complexities of divorce for both adults and children in an honest way, all while being grounded in pathos and a positive view of humanity. This is especially true in a poignant scene in which Amber looks at an old photo of herself together with her mom and dad in happier days and wishes she could crawl into the picture to recapture that time and place and emotion. That moment, coupled with Carsyn Rose’s performance, made it feel true-to-life and created a connection between Amber and viewers.
Among the series’ strongest storylines is Amber volunteering in a nursing home and building a friendship with an elderly woman who recently lost her husband. It turns out that this woman used to live in Amber’s house, so the girl orchestrates a plan to break her out of the nursing home for a while to take her to see the house again and relive some old memories. In addition to giving senior citizens a solid amount of screen time and showing they can offer friendship and wisdom to the younger generation, this story also highlights Amber’s selflessness and desire to bring joy to someone who is feeling alone in the world. And it manages to convey this important message with plenty of laughs mixed in.
“Amber Brown” is a gem of a series with a lot to offer both young people and their parents, grandparents, or fun-loving aunts. Perfectly cast, it will leave a smile on your face, touch your heart, and even inspire you and your kids to be better, more empathetic people. Check it out now on Apple TV Plus.