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October 14, 2016

Review: Kim's Convenience 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Kim's Convenience

In Canada: Tuesdays, 9/9.30NT, Canada

It's not often that stage shows get turned into TV shows, but Canada works a little different to the US. Kim's Convenience was a gentle comedy about a Korean-Canada convenience store owner and his family that won Best New Play at the Toronto Fringe Festival back in 2011. Now adapted by the play's writer and starring most of the same cast, it's become a 13-part CBC series.

Stereotypes abound, not just about Koreans but also about convenience store owners, and most of the show's humour involves playing with those stereotypes. The first episode sees a Gay Pride parade going past Appo Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee)'s shop and how he deals not only with gay customers but also accusations of homophobia. While Appo is indeed as you might expect 'not quite sure about the gays' ("where have they all come from? And what's the difference between transgender and transsexual"), his response is not prejudice but to offer a 15% gay discount and to quiz transvestites about whether they simply like wearing women's clothes or are sexually attracted to men - so he can decide whether they deserve the 15% discount. 

Similarly, the photography-centric episode two, in which you expect him to be conservative about some art students' naked shots instead reveals he's a failed photographer himself and is more critical over the choice of model in the shots than the choice of subject matter. And then he gets into a competition with his arts school daughter Andrea Bang over who's a better photographer.

That subversion of stereotypes continues with his wife (Jean Yoon)'s ongoing efforts to marry off Bang to a good, 'cool, Christian Korean boy', with Bang protesting that no such thing exists:

Meanwhile, Appo's happy with anyone his daughter's happy with, provided they know the date of Korean independence.

While most of the action takes place in the Kims' shop, there's also a couple of side stories. The first involves estranged son (Simu Liu), who works at a car rental shop where the manager (Nicole Power) has the hots for him.

The other involves Yoon's volunteer work down the church, where she gets into the traditional passive-aggressive competition with other mothers over whose kids/lives are better. Except the show again tries to subvert stereotypes and everything works out far nicer than you'd expect.

It took about 15 minutes or so for the first actual laughs to turn up, I found, but after that, Kim's Convenience because a lot better. It's never riotously funny and often is at its best when it's more of a sketch show, with brief scenes involved new customers to the shop, rather than when it's dealing with its series arcs. But compared to the horrors of say Four In the Morning, it's head and shoulders above the crowd.

Give it a try if you enjoy good-hearted shows and that rare thing indeed - a funny Canadian sitcom.

October 12, 2016

Review: American Housewife 1x1 (US: ABC)

Posted on October 12, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

American Housewife

In the US: Tuesdays, 8.30/7.30c, ABC

I don't know if it's something to do with Leslie Bibb or not, but ABC has a habit of taking promising sitcom titles and then squeezing all the fun out of them. Bibb, whom you may remember from Popular or Crossing Jordan or more likely as intrepid Brown-educated reporter Christine Everhart in the Iron Man movies, did of course star in ABC's GCB. GCB was previously unhelpfully named Good Christian Belles, which in itself was a fudge since the show was originally based on a book called Good Christian Bitches. As you can tell, someone started to fret about the title and did some hasty renaming that never really went anywhere good.

Bibb doesn't star in American Housewife but she does guest star in the first episode, bringing  this cold-footed curse with her to the show, which originally bore the more intriguing and potentially more divisive title The Second Fattest Housewife in Westport. You can tell that's what it had been called until the pilot had been filmed because that's virtually every second line out of the mouth or voiceover of star Katy Mixon (Eastbound & Down but probably best known, thanks to TV's inability to register the existence of fat women, for playing Melissa McCarthy's sister on the fat-abusing haven for overweight actors and actresses, Mike and Molly). Now, with its title making a pointless and almost irrelevant claim to universality (cf This is Us), all those repeated references to not wanting to be "the second fattest housewife in Westport" are entirely stupid.

Continuing this season's theme of "there are fat women, TV, get over it - but they're not happy about being fat, oh no!" (cf This Is Us again), the show sees Mixon renting a house with her family in the otherwise rich and exclusive neighbourhood of Westport. All the other women are so rich that all they have to do all day is eat healthily and work out, resulting in Mixon being perpetually looked down upon for being 'so real' (ie fat). And most of the first episode is about Mixon's worries that opposite neighbour 'fat Pam' is moving away, which will result in her becoming the second… you can work out the rest.

American Housewife is extremely short on laughs and extremely long on stereotypes. Despite ostensibly being pro "the 50% of American women who are a size 14 or over", pretty much everything is about how miserable Mixon is, despite not being that overweight. Well, maybe not miserable. Irritated and angry, and not in a virtuous way - she really hates those 'skinnies' and most of the time, you're not routing for her as a result, since she's always being pre-emptively snide to a group of people who are at most oblivious, it would seem, rather than actively nasty.

What humour there is stems from ABC's more traditional reservoir of family laughs. In contrast with Speechless, here it's hubby Diedrich Bader (Office Space, Veep, Outsourced) who actually raises some chuckles, helped by the younger kids in the family - the son being the new, younger, Rand-reading Alex from Family Ties, the youngest daughter being an OCD nightmare. There's also a black lesbian divorcee (Carly Hughes), who adds a bit more fun to the proceedings, if only through contrast.

There's some insight, to be sure, and there's probably a group of women who can empathise with Mixon's anti-heroine, but this isn't black-ish for the plus-sized by any stretch of the imagination. One not to add to your regular TV diet.

October 7, 2016

Review: No Tomorrow 1x1 (US: The CW)

Posted on October 7, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

No Tomorrow

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, The CW

Most love stories see boy meet girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl live happily ever after. The CW, being part of the Internet age as well as the home of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, knows life's not that simple and the boy or girl of your dreams might turn out to be a complete fruit loop.

So it is with No Tomorrow, which should perhaps be renamed Crazy New Boyfriend. Based on Rede Globo Brazil's Como Aproveitar o Fim do Mundo (How to Enjoy the End of the World), it sees uptight American girl Tori Anderson fall in love at first sight with carefree Englishman Joshua Sasse (Galavant). After a chance encounter reunites them, she's all prepared to ditch mumbling dull boyfriend Jesse Rath (Defiance) for Sasse when Sasse reveals that the reason he's so happy-go-lucky is that he believes the world is going to end within the year, thanks to an impending collision with an asteroid. He's going to live like there's no tomorrow and he's got a Bucket List to work through.

At first, Anderson resists but a near-death pogo stick-induced experience causes her to re-evaluate her life - but on her terms not his. Will she and Sasse end up together or will she go back to Rath? And what will she put on her Bucket List?

How much you might enjoy No Tomorrow is almost exclusively down to how much you enjoy the company of Anderson and Sasse. Now normally, Sasse is the kind of transatlantic posh boy who gets on my nerves. He probably pronounces 'water' with a tap and his accent is sufficiently odd that The Guardian thought he was Australian. He was certainly annoying in Galavant

Yet, there's something actually quite likable about him here, a former science journal copy editor who gave up everything and became free and easy because of science and maths. Although he probably calls it math. He's a bit controlling in his certainty but he's got a good heart and is appealing. It's also good to see an inversion of the usual 'English dull, American fun' and manic pixie dream girl stereotypes.

Meanwhile, Anderson is amazing. It's hard to believe that she's been confined to Nickleodeon and web TV series until now. She's appealing, funny and lights up every scene she's in. Which is pretty much all of them.

Don't like them? Going to hate this, because it's going to rely very heavily on their interactions. True, we have all of Anderson's co-workers, her boss and her family to entertain us, each of them in their own way several shades of whacky; Sasse is a bit more on his own, although there's a slight twist at the end of the first episode that suggests he might bring his 'friends' along for what is likely to be a far scarier ride for Anderson than she expected.

But ultimately, it's going to be Anderson and Sasse going off on dune buggy rides, singing karaoke together and doing whatever other life experiences 20somethings think they should be doing before they're dead. Could be good, but the evidence of the first episode suggests it might be more fun for them than for us.

All the same, No Tomorrow has a good deal of charm, two good leads and a promising first episode. One to try just to make your day a little brighter.

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