August 18, 2016

Set visit: party time at CBC’s Kim’s Convenience

Bill Brioux / Brioux TV

Headed out to Kim’s Convenience Tuesday but not for milk and bread. The comedy, premiering in October on CBC, is shooting in Toronto on seven standing sets spread across two large sound stages.

If you’ve been watching CBC’s Summer Olympic Games coverage, you’ve no doubt seen the promos for the series. “We really lucked out with that,” says executive producer Ivan Fecan, who knows a thing or two about the value of promotion.

The former CTV czar has never looked more chill. Decked out in full Malibu mode, he could pass for the owner of a surf shop.

Yet there he is, hands-on, in his office every day at the studio whereKim’s Convenience is shot. He proudly walked me over to a room Tuesday to show off what he suggests is the most diverse casting wall anywhere in North America.

I don’t doubt it and that diversity extends on both sides of the camera. Kim’s Convenience is exactly right for Canada in 2016 — an immigrant story, told by new Canadians.

Specifically, it’s the tale of Mr and Mrs Kim (played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon), a couple who immigrate to Canada from Korea in the ’80s, opening a convenience store near Toronto’s Regent Park. (The store exterior, in fact, blends in perfectly along Queen Street East.)

It’s very much the story of creator/playwright Ins Choi’s life, one that he introduced as a series of stage sketches several years ago. The story has evolved as an award-winning play, remounted annually at Soulpepper. The theatre troupe, led by Albert Schultz, is a co-producer with Thunderbird on the series.

Most times when a reporter is led to a soundstage tour of a new series, the phrase you always hear is how this is a “happy set.” That might actually be true at Kim’s Convenience. This is a collection of folks who seem genuinely thrilled to be doing this show at this time.

The enthusiasm starts with Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, a busy actor who boasts a broad range of credits, including Degrassi and the upcoming CBC series Shoot the Messenger.  Sun-Hyung Lee never thought he’s be “No. 1 on the call sheet.” He’s killing it in Kim, however, wearing the role of the proud, stubborn patriarch like it is a second skin. Why not — he’s been a part of this story from the earliest stage incarnations. Co-star Yoon has also been along for much of this ride.

Tuesday was Sun-Hyung Lee’s birthday and there were balloons, cake, presentations and tears. Losing it when surprised by his peers. he showed all the love his character keeps completely submerged. There was even an ice cream truck parked outside for the occasion. Now that’s convenience.

There are high hopes for this series, with some older observers predicting a King of Kensington-like connection and breakthrough for the Canadian comedy. A few episodes have been edited together and the people who have seen some of it, including Choi, Fecan and co-creator Kevin White (Schitte’s Creek), have that damn-it’s-good-but-too-early-to-say-it-out-loud look on their faces when you ask. There were hushed references to Louie and Veep, two great comedies any show would have a tough time living up to.

All I can vouch for is the ice cream (excellent) and the good vibes on set (stress-free and contagious). The series launches in early October on CBC.

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