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October 3, 2016

CBC’s ‘Kim’s Convenience’ goes from stage play to sitcom


Bill Harris / Toronto Sun

In the opening scene of Kim’s Convenience, two young men walk into a corner store and ask the owner if they can put up a poster in the window.

The young men are going to be performing during gay pride week, and they want to promote their show.

The store owner, Mr. Kim – known as “Appa” to his Korean-Canadian family and played by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee – thinks the poster is a mess, and rejects it. One of the young men wonders aloud if Mr. Kim is anti-gay.

“I have no problem with the gay,” Mr. Kim insists. “But I have a problem with the parade. Traffic, garbage, noise.

“Why can’t you be quiet, respectful gay, like Anderson Cooper or Neil Patrick Harris?”

Hmmm … I’m not sure how Anderson Cooper or Neil Patrick Harris would feel about that observation. Would they be flattered or insulted?

Either way, compartmentalizing what you like and don’t like, as displayed comically by Mr. Kim, kind of summed up my general reaction to Kim’s Convenience.

Now debuting Tuesday, Oct. 11 with back-to-back episodes on CBC (pushed back one week at the last minute to avoid going head-to-head against the Blue Jays-Orioles wild-card playoff game), Kim’s Convenience is a new sitcom, based on a successful stage play of the same name by Ins Choi. Kevin White serves as showrunner, and he co-created the TV series with Choi. Both of them also hold executive-producer credits along with Ivan Fecan and Albert Schultz.

Fecan, of course, was at the helm of CTV during the glory days of Corner Gas, which aired from 2004 to 2009. As I’ve written before, Corner Gas proved that it is possible to get a lot of Canadians to watch a Canadian sitcom – over several years, too – as long as it’s the right Canadian sitcom.

You’ll get different opinions as to whether there has been a true successor to Corner Gas on the Canadian scene. CBC’s Schitt’s Creek must be considered, depending on how you want to measure it. But suffice to say, Kim’s Convenience is trying to find that sweet spot of appealing to Canada without pandering to Canada.

Kim’s Convenience follows, appropriately, the Kims, a Korean-Canadian family running a convenience store in downtown Toronto. The aforementioned “Appa,” played by Lee, and his wife “Umma.” played by Jean Yoon, immigrated to Toronto in the 1980s. They have two kids – Jung, played by Simu Liu, and Janet, played by Andrea Bang – who now are young adults.

While Janet is going to college and still lives at home, “Appa” and Jung have been estranged since Jung was 16. Jung is working at a nearby car-rental agency, but father and son have not even spoken to each other in years.

Describing it like that, Kim’s Convenience sort of sounds like a drama, doesn’t it?

“It is a comedy, make no mistake,” Fecan said. “But it’s a single-camera comedy. There’s no laugh track.”

Added Choi, “It’s culturally specific, but by doing so, it speaks to all humanity.”

So what did I like about Kim’s Convenience?

I liked the characters overall. “Appa” can be a bit cartoonish, but he is the Homer Simpson of this setup, the de facto main character, whose reactions and over-reactions drive a lot of what’s occurring. As for the other three members of the Kim family, I found that “Umma,” Jung and Janet all got stronger as the episodes progressed.

What didn’t I like about Kim’s Convenience?

Well, having seen three episodes, I’d say that I enjoyed the characters more than I enjoyed the situations they were placed in, if you know what I mean. While this is a show that definitely is set in the real world, without any sense of heightened reality, the challenge moving forward will be coming up with plausible plot lines that are real enough to not seem too overtly “sitcom-y,” and yet funny enough to keep us coming back.

I imagine the debut of Kim’s Convenience will get amply sampled by viewers on Tuesday. Might even Anderson Cooper or Neil Patrick Harris be watching? Quietly and respectfully, of course.