“Kim’s Convenience is part of an exciting new chapter of Asian faces on Western television.”
Title: Kim’s Convenience
Episodes Reviewed: Seasons 1-2
Creators: Ins Choi 👨🏻🇰🇷🇨🇦 and Kevin White 👨🏼🇨🇦
Writers: Original play by Ins Choi 👨🏻🇰🇷🇨🇦, TV scripts by Ins Choi 👨🏻🇰🇷🇨🇦 (20 eps), Kevin White 👨🏼🇨🇦 (20 eps), Amelia Haller 👩🏼🇨🇦 (18 eps), Matt Kippen 👨🏼🇨🇦 (14 eps), Sonja Bennett 👩🏼🇨🇦 (13 eps), Rebecca Kohler 👩🏼🇨🇦 (13 eps), and various (5 ♀ and 2 ♂, including 2 POC)
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
8/10/2018: Updated Conclusion to mention availability on Netflix
Kim’s Convenience is a warm and silly sitcom centered around the Kims, a first generation Korean Canadian family, and their eponymous convenience store in a multicultural neighborhood of Toronto. Adapted from the powerful, award-winning play by Ins Choi, the story is inspired by the creator’s own life which lends an authentic voice to the complex family struggle that comes when parents and children are not just from different generations, but different cultural upbringings to boot.
The original play is compact and vibrant, but the sitcom format unpacks the play’s individual scenes and beats, spreading them across the first season’s thirteen episodes. While this results in the story losing a bit of weight compared to the play, it also allows the aperture to open, allowing in new characters for the Kims to react to and grow with. Episodes ebb and flow, ranging from the low-hanging chuckles of language barriers to gripping family tensions of a lost son returning home. And while the intergenerational conflict is a familiar setup, the delightful lens into Korean culture and the immigrant experience elevates Kim’s Convenience above its cookie-cutter sitcom peers.
The male and female characters in Kim’s Convenience are equally drawn, both in terms of complexity and screen time. They have flaws, but are lovable, and all characters—even the older Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Umma (Jean Yoon)—have compelling romances and backstories.
In contrast, male-dominated sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory or HBO's Silicon Valley look passé with their glaring imbalances. Even comedies with respectful depictions of women, like Black-ish or Master of None, fall short when it comes to breaking out of gender tropes. In a genre that skews heavily male, Kim’s Convenience is a haven for male and female viewers alike.
Kim’s Convenience sets the standard for inclusion through the following successes:
Robust Onscreen Representation
Korean Canadians are the stars of the show, their community on full display at localities like church or inside the Kim home. The supporting cast, too, is packed with the kind of diversity that reflects a modern day Toronto. The neighborhood where the show is set, Moss Park, was 40% non-white in 2011 and accordingly, Appa finds himself welcoming patrons of every hue into his small corner bodega.
While this revolving door of recurring guests can come off a bit college brochure-like, as the show conveniently represents every major ethnic group with characters such as Mr. Mehta (Sugith Varughese), Pastor Nina Gomez (Amanda Brugel), or Mr. Chin (John Ng), the show steps beyond racial archetypes and achieves a level of believability that transcends its Skittles pack exterior.
Cultural Inclusion vs. Erasure
Asian American show Fresh Off the Boat can sometimes feel a bit disingenuous, sugarcoating its “Asianness” into something palatable for white viewers. For example, the show’s patriarch is an ever-smiling Taiwanese man who owns a cowboy-themed restaurant while his younger children fully assimilate into their white neighborhoods, rollerblading through the streets with local moms or attending Homeowners Association meetings. The main takeaway of the show seems to announce, “Hey, we’re just like you!”
In contrast, deep Korean pride is fundamental to Kim’s Convenience. The show proudly shouts, “Hey, we’re all different, but that’s what makes us great!” Rather than the fish-out-of-water narrative found in Fresh Off the Boat, the Kim family weaves itself into the multi-ethnic community around it. We see a wonderful mix of relationships: interracial dating is common but not exclusive, as we see the son and daughter date Koreans or Chinese as often as they do white or black individuals. Platonic relationships, such as those between Appa and his friends who stop by the store, are also peppered with cultural references that feel contextual and enriching rather than forced or exploitative.
Even among the Korean characters, firm cultural delineations are drawn between characters who are simply visiting Toronto from South Korea, those who have immigrated to Canada, and those who were born right in Toronto. This kind of complexity is a breath of fresh air that recognizes just how integral life experience is in shaping cultural identity.
Rejection of Stereotypes
Finally, Kim’s Convenience rejects stereotypes with breathless ease. The model minority trope is the first to go, as the show portrays a middle-class family wherein Jung never finishes high school and works at a car rental service to make ends meet, while his sister Janet attends a local art school and works part-time at the family store.
The show also rejects a long history of Asian men portrayed onscreen as nerdy, de-sexualized, or simply invisible. In a cultural landscape where John Cho’s naked butt in Columbus is lauded by talk show host Seth Meyers as “breaking the glass underpants” for Asian male nudity, and Haikus With Hotties has raised thousands of dollars on Kickstarter for calendars that empower Asian men through tongue-in-cheek sexualization, Jung’s character is basically doing the Lord's work by playing the hunky, kinda-dumb heartthrob with big biceps and a penchant for running around shirtless.
Kimchee (Andrew Phung), too, is a wonderful subversion of stereotype. He’s a loudmouth with amazing comedic timing, and a major troublemaker—the antithesis to the model minority myth.
No major characters are LGBTQ, but neither does there have to be for a show to be considered LGBTQ-friendly. The pilot, in fact, opens with Appa being accused of homophobia during Toronto Pride. To overcompensate, Appa concocts a “gay discount”, applying his gaydar throughout the episode in a spectacularly un-PC manner that somehow manages to poke fun at everyone without ever feeling mean-spirited.
While Kim’s Convenience does not set out to tell LGBTQ stories, they embrace the community in exactly the same way the show treats everyone: as weirdo friends and neighbors, or as curious creatures from whom everyone can learn something.
Mediaversity Grade: A 4.75/5
Kim’s Convenience is part of an exciting new chapter of Asian faces on Western TV, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Fresh Off the Boat or Australia’s The Family Law. Of the three, Kim’s Convenience is my runaway favorite.
The show fulfills a much-needed gap in storytelling: immigrant family life that delivers laugh-out-loud moments without trying to prove that we’re all one big happy family. In fact, it's the somber moments that make this show stand out. Kim's Convenience has become an escapist destination for me, where Canadian kindheartedness feels more recognizable than my own country at times.
I hope it becomes your escapist happy place too. So what are you waiting for? Both seasons of Kim's Convenience are now available on Netflix, with another two already greenlit by CBC.