'Kim's Convenience' Has Changed the Canadian TV Game — Next Stop, the World
"We're representing millions of Canadians who have never seen their stories told, and we've seen the ripple effect that shows like 'KC' can have," says Simu Liu
Published Jan 18, 2021TV series Kim's Convenience sprung from the wildly successful 2011 play by Ins Choi, based on the playwright's personal experiences navigating the relationships between Korean immigrant parents and their Canadian-born children. A decade later, the show continues to pioneer the way immigrant families are portrayed on the small screen and beyond.
"It's so deeply representative of Canadian culture. We certainly celebrate our multiculturalism in our efforts towards diversity and inclusivity," says actor Simu Liu, who plays Jung Kim. "Now, over the last few years, have we been inclusive and celebratory of diversity on screen? Not as much as we should've been. With Kim's Convenience, we're representing millions of Canadians who have never seen their stories told, and we've seen the ripple effect that shows like KC can have. So many Canadians of colour have had opportunities in creative fields to develop their craft and their voice, and work beyond small, one-off characters in shows."
He continues, "The amount of times I've worked roles as 'the Asian guy,' or completely nameless characters, is just too many, and now this gives actors of colour a chance to really cut their chops. I had the opportunity to play Shang-Chi in the upcoming Marvel movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and we just saw [Kim's Convenience co-star] Paul [Sun-Hyung Lee] recently starring in a two-episode arc on The Mandalorian. We would not have these opportunities if it weren't for Kim's Convenience and the doors that it opened."
The fifth season of Kim's Convenience premieres this winter, and it's another hilarious, emotional ride for the Kim family and their downtown Toronto store. Janet searches for a job, Jung and Shannon attempt long-distance sexy times, and Umma receives a concerning diagnosis. Season five was successfully filmed during the pandemic, thanks to the strict protocols the showrunners enacted early on in 2020.
Not only does this latest season of Kim's Convenience highlight the talents of its cast, it's part of a wave of massively popular Canadian shows, and Liu says we're only in the early stages of its success: "Canadian TV is definitely on the rise. I mean, we just saw Schitt's Creek sweep the Emmys, and we have such a dedicated, more underground fanbase that supports us from every corner of the world, I think it's indicative of great Canadian television."
Andrew Phung, who plays Arnold "Kimchee" Han on KC, explains that, with Canadian content, the driving force behind our country's recent successes can be attributed to leaning away from the trending entertainment working for our neighbours to the south. "I think, with Canadian content, we tried to stay away from everything that was working in the States, and thought, 'What can we do that's different, but also reflective of what we have here in Canada?'" he tells Exclaim! "There aren't shows like Kim's, Schitt's, or Baroness [Von Sketch]. That willingness to be different sets you apart, and stands out."
With so many shows shining a spotlight on homegrown talent, Canadiana may just be the hottest new thing on television.
"It's incredible right now," Phung says excitedly. "I'm so proud to be able to open up my emails and see the names of people who are so talented, and are now getting the opportunity to work in front of and behind the camera. Growing up, I couldn't name a lot of Canadian television shows that blew up the same way they are now. We've come from Degrassi — don't get me wrong, I love me some Degrassi, but now like, Corner Gas was one of the highest rated shows on the CW. That's incredible for a Canadian television show to be crossing boundaries like that."
The proximity, power and population of the U.S. means that the Canadian entertainment industry sometimes has a hard time making itself seen. Liu appreciates Canada's unique voice, and believes we should continue to feed that distinction.
"They're our neighbours, so we're always going to be closely intertwined with them, but if we don't force the difference, then we become the States," Liu warns. "There's something to be said about Canadiana and the cultural differences that make us different, especially recently with everything going on over there."