A recent study has shown that while the representation of minorities and women is increasing in both movies and television, both groups remain grossly underrepresented. In such a disproportionate landscape, it’s not enough to simply feature minority actors and actresses as part of an ensemble. Rather, they must be put in principal positions where the experiences and conversations based in and around their ethnic identity can shape the storytelling. Kim’s Convenience joins the small but growing number of shows putting these characters and conversations on the small screen. And luckily for us, it’s as funny as a Ddong Chim.
Based on the hit play by Canadian playwright Ins Choi (and featuring two of the original cast), Kim’s Convenience centers around a Korean immigrant family on the east side of Toronto running their own, you guessed it, convenience store as they deal with navigate life in Canada. Having the store as a central setting provides for numerous hilarious interactions between “Appa” (Korean for father, played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and “Umma” (Korean for mother, played by Jean Yoon) and their neighbors/patrons. Refreshingly this doesn’t always lead to cultural clashes but also provides space for their minority customers and friends to muse with them about Western society. These interactions provide a humanity and nuance to the characters that make them more relatable.
Another focal point of the show is the generational and cultural gap between Appa and Umma and their children, photography student Janet (Andrea Bang) and Jung (Simu Liu) with whom Appa is estranged. The family conflict takes on the dynamic of the parable of the Prodigal Son, with Jung being the rebellious son who left home after a confrontation with Appa and the law and Janet being the faithful child who feels unappreciated at times despite her academic success and dedication to working at the store. The show impressively balances affirming the pursuits and interests of the younger Kims while acknowledging the love and intentions of the older Kims. There is so much authenticity brought to the characters it becomes easy to get wrapped up in their squabbles over issues such as marriage and occupation. Additionally, having both Janet and Jung operate outside of the traditional expectations and stereotypes of East Asians yields some important scenes about family and parenting in Asian culture. Some of the most sympathetic scenes are when Jean Yoon has to put on her best face when her son’s criminal history or her daughter’s artistic endeavors are brought up, despite how personally proud she may be of their accomplishments. It’s a great insight into the torn nature of first-generation parents who want the best for their children and also feel accountable to the greater immigrant community they are a part of.
And yet despite all of the complexity of the themes they cover, the show still explores them with a light touch that makes it incredibly funny. Viewers may at first be uncomfortable with some of the humour that comes from accents and language differences, but those aspects are never exploited. Rather, they become authentic characteristics of the individuals being portrayed which instead of distancing the viewers from the characters, invite them to understand these characters more. Janet’s rationality is never a match for Appa’s stubborn silliness, and Umma is usually always there to desperately attempt to reconcile the two. The humour is further rounded out by Nicole Power and Andrew Phun, who respectively play Jung’s boss, Shannon, and his best friend, Kimchee. Shannon’s awkwardness and overwhelming niceness just make her school girl crush on Jung that much more entertaining while Kimchee’s over the top personality brings a refreshing and absurd lightheartedness to every tense situation.
Going into its third season Kim’s Convenience has shown no signs of slowing down. It’s already been approved for a fourth season (before the third has even finished wrapping) and is now available internationally on Netflix. These accomplishments are fitting for a show reminiscent of other successful family comedies like Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family. Wonderfully nuanced characters and thoughtful explorations of family dynamics make this a show everyone can enjoy. #okseeyou
Watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Kim’s Convenience on Netflix. Season 3 premieres winter 2019.
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