Opinions

The show found additional global success once it hit Netflix. Image: CBC.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Kim’s Convenience was a major commodity for CBC

Producers of the beloved Canadian sitcom, Kim’s Convenience, recently announced that despite being renewed for a sixth season, the current fifth season will be its last.

This is a huge blow to Canadian and Asian representation in the media. 

The show, which premiered on CBC Television in 2016, is about a Korean-Canadian family, the Kims, who own a convenience store in Toronto. The Korean immigrant store owners, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, deal with the generational differences between them and their Canadian-born children Jung and Janet. 

The show explores the challenges the family faces as they try to navigate the intersection of their Korean-Canadian nationality in their identities. The show is largely based on the upbringing of one of its writers, Ins Choi, a Korean-Canadian who began writing the story as a play in 2005 when he noticed the lack of Asian representation on stage. 

Following the show’s release, an influx of positive reviews (including a 100 per cent Rotten Tomatoes score for the first season), 12 nominations for awards (with 6 wins), and endless praise from both fans and critics on social media solidified the show as a comedic goldmine, that accurately reflects Canada’s multiculturalism and portrays Asian characters with depth. 

Unlike most of today’s media, which only seems to include BIPOCs in tiny, underdeveloped roles (if at all) for the sake of checking off some imaginary diversity box, the writers of Kim’s Convenience took it upon themselves to show the diversity that is synonymous with Toronto and the strong relationships that can form between people of different backgrounds. 

Like people from all marginalized communities, the Kims do experience discrimination, and the writers don’t shy away from taking these instances as opportunities to discuss uncomfortable topics like racism, sexism, homophobia, and more. But, the characters also frequently experience problems entirely unrelated to these that are often reserved for their white counterparts, from familial conflicts to relationship problems to the career uncertainties that many young people experience.

The best part of the show is watching just how effortlessly an inclusive cast of main and recurring characters are introduced throughout the series after years of being told there was no room for minorities on screen. The show doesn’t just depict racial minorities and immigrants either: among the rotating cast of the convenience store’s customers are members of other underrepresented groups, like religious groups (several women can be seen in niqabs and hijabs, and men in yarmulkes) and the LGBTQ2+ community. 

It’s refreshing to see that the portrayal of multiculturalism doesn’t rely on the tired stereotype that Canadians are always nice and polite no matter what. We see how members of different groups interact and navigate new situations with maturity (as most Canadians do), without sacrificing comedy. In fact, this is the premise that kicks off the pilot episode, “Gay Discount”, which is about Mr. Kim introducing a discount on products purchased by homosexuals to make up for an insensitive comment he made to a gay customer. While this storyline could have easily been problematic, instead it highlighted Mr. Kim’s experience trying to better understand the people in his community, rather than judging them solely by his traditional upbringing and beliefs. 

Another episode opens with Mr. Kim greeting two Muslim sisters in niqabs, making sure to use each of their names. When another customer asks how he can differentiate between the women with their faces covered, Mr. Kim proudly explains subtle differences between them and says, “it’s not hard, just have to care for [the] customer.” While Mr. Kim is distracted, the sisters inform the customer that Mr. Kim only correctly identifies them half the time, but they don’t correct him because they appreciate his effort. The moment is sweet, funny, and best of all, honest. Although the characters may not have much knowledge of other cultures, they constantly make the effort to learn more and always treat each other with respect. 

These Canadians aren’t nice for the sake of fulfilling a stereotype, but because they actively choose to treat others with compassion, making this one of the only programs to show what it truly means to be Canadian. 

Perhaps the reason that Kim’s Convenience is able to give such a realistic look into Canadian culture and the experiences of Asian-Canadians on-screen is because members of these groups are included in the decision-making off-screen. Not only was Kim’s Convenience the first Canadian TV show with an all-Asian lead cast, but it was written and produced by Canadians and shot in Canada. The transition shots of Queen Street, Ontario College of Art & Design University (OCAD), and Toronto Transit Commission buses add to the feeling of being in downtown Toronto, and as a Torontonian. It’s exciting to see the city (and its people) being portrayed as having stories that are worthy of telling, rather than just a cheaper alternative to shooting in New York.

This unprecedented level of BIPOC representation in mainstream media is also complimented with well written characters. Although the show focuses on a Korean family, the identities, cultures, and place in Canadian society of many groups manage to be frequently explored without becoming those characters’ defining traits. They acknowledge their cultural differences in positive ways that allow them to connect over their shared experiences as newcomers to Canada. 

Some of the best examples of this phenomenon are in the conversations between Mr. Kim and his best friends, Mr. Mehta, an Indian restaurant owner, and Mr. Chin, a Chinese businessman. The men all come from different Asian countries and can be seen arguing over which country is the best, or who had the better life back home, but they always work together to gain a better understanding of their new surroundings. In one instance Mr. Mehta and Mr. Kim discuss parenting styles and the methods of discipline that are acceptable in Canada. In another, Mr. Kim and Mr. Chin discuss the difference between being transgender and transexual. In both instances, the men are genuinely curious about these topics, and address them with the most sensitivity. 

These scenes do plenty to dispel the common stereotypes that are applied to Asian-Canadians, especially on screen. Although they were raised with conservative values, the Kims, Chins, and Mehtas are accepting of their community’s more progressive practises and even take part in many of them, such as encouraging Janet’s relationship with the Mehtas’ son. They challenge the notions that Asian children must always excel in academics (Janet is an artist and Jung is a highschool dropout), that Asians are unaccepting of interracial relationships (Mr. Chin engages in several himself), that Asians are unattractive or undesirable (Jung is the ‘playboy’ of the group), and the inclusion of people from all over Asia proves they are not and should not be considered the same. 

The decision to end the show a season early was announced on March 8 in a statement from producers, who cited creators Ins Choi and Kevin White’s decision to leave the show as the reason for the abrupt end. They said, “given their departure from the series, we have come to the difficult conclusion that we cannot deliver another season of the same heart and quality that has made the show so special.”

Kim’s Convenience is truly revolutionary. Its depiction of Canadian multiculturalism, the Asian-Canadian experience, representation of minority groups, and impactful storytelling not only make it an enjoyable show but a testament to the type of representation that is achievable on-screen. It’s also admirable that the creators chose to end the show at its peak instead of waiting for the quality and viewership to decline. Although the end of the show is a huge loss for Canadian and Asian representation, it should serve as an example of the type of content of which we want and deserve to see more.