Editor’s Note: TV moves on, but we haven’t. In our feature series It Still Stings, we relive emotional TV moments that we just can’t get over. You know the ones, where months, years, or even decades later, it still provokes a reaction? We’re here for you. We rant because we love. Or, once loved. And obviously, when discussing finales in particular, there will be spoilers:
Schitt’s Creek has gotten the most attention in the last few years, but it is far from the only beloved Canadian sitcom to be worthy of effusive praise. Kim’s Convenience, developed for TV by Ins Choi and Kevin White and based on the former’s 2011 play of the same name, is both sharply funny and deeply heartfelt, which is why the show’s abrupt cancellation earlier this year—despite the fact the show had previously been renewed—was such a blow to fans across both Canada and the United States. But beyond the sadness of knowing Season 5 (which arrived on Netflix June 2nd) is the last time we’ll see the Kim family, it’s the uncomfortable knowledge of what else has been lost as a result of the show’s sudden disappearance from the TV landscape.
One of the few shows to feature a predominantly Asian cast, Kim’s Convenience follows the trials and tribulations of a Korean Canadian family who run a small neighborhood corner store in downtown Toronto. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who starred in the stage version, reprises his role as Mr. Kim, or “Appa,” which means father in Korean. The practical but opinionated family patriarch immigrated to Canada with his wife, Jean Yoon’s Mrs. Kim, or “Umma,” which means mother (Yoon also starred in the stage production). She is heavily involved in the Korean church in her neighborhood and can’t stop herself from interfering in the lives of her grown children, Jung and Janet. The former, played by soon-to-be-Marvel-star Simu Liu, is estranged from his father after a streak of rebelliousness landed him in trouble during his teen years, while the latter (brought to life by Andrea Bang) works at the family store and attends college for photography. She remains on good terms with her parents, if frequently frustrated by their actions and opinions on how she should live her life.
At its most basic level, Kim’s Convenience is part heartfelt family sitcom and part clever workplace comedy, as Jung’s job at a local car rental agency also receives a significant amount of screentime and provides plenty of laughs via Jung’s interactions with his best friend Kimchee (Andrew Phung), as well as his boss and love interest Shannon (Nicole Power). But the show’s legacy is much more than just another smart, quippy comedy. Through the Kims, the show deftly and humorously explores the immigrant experience, highlighting generational differences and the many ways the relationships between parent and child can be complicated and change over time, with Jung slowly rebuilding his relationship with his father being a key example.
For five seasons, the show has also offered viewers a glimpse into the fully realized lives of an Asian Canadian family, as each member attempts to navigate their unique identity and find their place within a multicultural society, highlighting the many minorities who shape Toronto’s diverse community but remain underrepresented on screen. The show’s corner store setting conveniently allows a rotating group of visitors and customers to appear, including members of the LGBTQIA community, a pair of Muslim women, and a couple of Mr. Kim’s friends, like Mr. Mehta (Sugith Varughese), the owner of a local Indian restaurant, or Mr. Chin (John Ng), a Chinese businessman. It does all of this without ever feeling like the writers are merely trying to check diversity boxes. It also never makes the story about the traumas these minorities often face. That’s not to say characters don’t encounter racism and discrimination—they do—but there is no trumped up drama, just a positive series about community and family that uses its half-hour platform to educate both its characters and its audience.
It’s been refreshing to see a show as thoughtful and inclusive as Kim’s Convenience, especially as tokenism remains a large problem in television and film. In May, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released new research regarding the prevalence of Asian and Pacific Islanders in 1,300 of the top films from 2007 to 2019, finding that just 44 featured an Asian or Pacific Islander as a lead or co-lead, with 14 of those films starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Meanwhile, the non-profit group Leading Asian Americans to Unite for Change (LAAUNCH), whose mission is to empower Asian Americans to fight racism and increase representation, recently released a report that found 42 percent of Americans are unable to name a prominent Asian American, a shockingly high number that reveals the steep cost of underrepresentation of minorities across media.
Now, these numbers are limited to the U.S. and do not include Canada, but representation has been a problem there as well. Although Asians have been the fastest growing minority group in Canada, when Choi wrote the play upon which the series is based, he did so because he saw a distinct lack of Asian representation on stage and a dearth of Asian stories being told. And when Kim’s Convenience debuted in 2016, it was the first Canadian series to feature an all-Asian lead cast, despite the country’s diverse population.
So losing Kim’s Convenience now, at a time when anti-Asian rhetoric and hate crimes are surging around the world as a result of racist misinformation and xenophobic propaganda regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, is more than unfortunate. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic or overdramatic, its sudden cancellation borders on tragic. Asian representation was already extremely limited on screen, and now more than ever we need positive, non-stereotypical portrayals of minority groups that reflect the rich culture and history of our world. Kim’s Convenience, with its heartfelt storytelling and lovable central characters, is an example of what is truly possible when the people at the top care deeply about inclusivity and telling authentic stories. The show leaves behind a powerful legacy that will not be forgotten any time soon.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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