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October 3, 2016

John Doyle: CBC’s big week starts with the excellent Kim’s Convenience


John Doyle / Globe and Mail

It’s a big week for CBC. New and returning shows galore. The Romeo Sectionreturns on Wednesday, and the heavily hyped Shoot the Messenger arrives a week from today. Some big expectations. And there’s the tricky, tricky business of finding an audience when the new U.S. network and cable season is in full swing.

Well, it starts with a stellar debut. Kim’s Convenience (Tuesday, CBC, 9 p.m.) is a killer comedy – a finely crafted sitcom with great charm. An absolute joy to watch.

Derived from the acclaimed and wildly popular play of the same title by Ins Choi, Kim’s Convenience comes with a lot of baggage. CBC describes it as the “funny, heartfelt story of the Kims, a Korean-Canadian family, running a convenience store in downtown Toronto.”

Let’s put the emphasis on “funny,” not “heartfelt,” because that can be off-putting to an audience accustomed to searing, cynical rudeness in contemporary TV comedy. It’s based on a play, so is it stagey? Nope, definitely not. Is it on CBC in some well-meaning but wrongheaded effort at diversity on the prime-time schedule? No and never mind. It’s just funny, sharply written comedy with the right dollops of goofy delight.

The premise is, of course, shockingly familiar. Dad and store owner Mr. Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee), called Appa in the family, is a crusty-but-lovable guy. We’ve met many of his type on TV over the years. The trick with such characters is to have them interact with a wide variety of others to test the limits of their crustiness and lovability. If Appa were confined to interacting only with family, the magic would soon evaporate. But here, the constant stream of customers entering the store keeps the character evolving.

The series rattles along cheerily, cutting to the family dynamic for occasionally earnest segments, and even these are cleverly constructed for ditziness rather than mawkishness.

Mr. and Mrs. Kim (known as Umma and played with a delicate sense of farce by Jean Yoon) have been in their store location for decades and have two young-adult children – Janet (Andrea Bang) and Jung (Simu Liu). Janet’s at art school and Jung is working at a car rental company. He’s estranged from dad because there was a mysterious incident when he was 16, and he and Appa fell out; there was a criminal charge and Jung never finished high school. This circumstance could easily be overplayed for maudlin drama to accompany the comedy, but it isn’t. Jung’s a fully fleshed-out character, a young man more interested in having a good time than an uplifting reconciliation with dad. Kudos should go to Liu and especially to Andrew Phung, who plays Jung’s co-worker and roommate Kimchee. Their banter and Kimchee’s full-out hoser attitude amount to very, very entertaining absurdity. Some more flesh could be put on the bones of Shannon (Nicole Power), Jung’s lovelorn boss, but that will come, hopefully.

In the episodes available for review, Kim’s Convenience (adapted and written for TV by Choi and Kevin White) stays away from the pseudo-seriousness that could easily plague a comedy about immigrants and family dynamics. There is little obviousness and mugging, and moral lessons are few in the breezy speed of it. What’s it all about? Good jokes, mainly. Heartily recommended, Kim’s Convenience is a clever, generally engaging screwball comedy with an eye on entertainment – and not much else, thankfully.

Also airing

Conviction (Monday, ABC, CT, 9 p.m.) is a classic example of network TV misusing talent and falling back on tired templates for prime-time drama. It stars the wonderful Hayley Atwell (last seen in the excellent Marvel dramaAgent Carter on ABC) as Hayes Morrison, the wild-child daughter of a former U.S. president. Hayes is badass lawyer who parties hard. When we meet her, she’s messed up, as usual, but given a shot at redemption by a DA (Eddie Cahill) who wants her to lead his new Conviction Integrity Unit, which examines cases in which there might have been wrongful convictions.

Things move along with some sizzle and sass – Atwell is having a whale of a time – until Conviction turns into a case-of-the-week legal drama. Hayes is obliged to lead a team of earnest young lawyers who want to free the innocent and, well, crimes are re-enacted, new evidence is discovered and the case is put to bed before the final commercial break. Atwell has enormous presence and is a gifted, unusually physical actor, but she’s wasted here. What sizzles soon starts plodding along.