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.