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September 29, 2016

Korean-Canadian family sitcom ‘Kim’s Convenience’ aims to boost diversity on TV


Lauren La Rose / Metro News

TORONTO — As “Kim’s Convenience” opens up shop in prime time, the Korean-Canadian family sitcom joins a rising number of shows seeking to boost visibility of Asian actors and characters.

“It’s so great to be able to add to that conversation in a positive way, because to be frank, a lot of that conversation is…. quite negative,” said series co-creator Ins Choi, who adapted his award-winning play for TV with showrunner Kevin White.

“I can’t wait for my Asian-American brothers and sisters to see.”

“Master of None” co-creator Alan Yang — who recently won a comedy writing Emmy alongside star and co-creator Aziz Ansari — used his acceptance speech to speak out about the dearth of Asian representation onscreen.

“There’s 17 million Asian-Americans in the country, and there’s 17 million Italian-Americans. They have ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ ‘Rocky,’ ‘The Sopranos.’ We got Long Duk Dong,” said Yang, referring to the foreign exchange student character from the ’80s teen film “Sixteen Candles.”

“We’ve got a long way to go,  but I know we can get there. I believe in us. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work.”

Premiering Tuesday on CBC-TV, “Kim’s Convenience” centres on Mr. Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Mrs. Kim (Jean Yoon), who immigrated to Toronto in the 1980s to set up shop. They are “Appa” and “Umma”  — Korean for “dad” and “mom”  — to son Jung (Simu Liu) and daughter Janet (Andrea Bang), who are young adults.

A dispute between Mr. Kim and Jung has left father and son estranged, but Jung continues to secretly stay in touch with Umma and Janet while he works at a car rental agency.

“The fact that we are putting on the national broadcaster a very specific community that is not a white community is refreshing, I think,” said executive producer Albert Schultz. “The other thing, though, is the neighbourhood (onscreen) is completely diverse. …

“As we introduce each episode, we’ll meet all of the cultures that make up this city, and therefore, this country,” he added. “I think there’s going to be an entry point for all Canadians for the various characters in this show, as well as the poetic entry point of one specific family that represents the universal first-generation experience.”

Choi first premiered the play at the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival, prior to being staged by the Toronto-based Soulpepper Theatre Company, where Schultz is the founding artistic director.

“The thing that hit me so powerfully on seeing it is how powerfully I reacted to it as someone who is a fourth-generation Canadian coming from a very different part of the world,” said Schultz.

“Yet, I felt this story spoke to me because I felt that my ancestral story of my people coming over from the north of Europe in the 1840s and what they do. And this is the experience that every Canadian has.”