There was something about Kim’s Convenience’s writing that just didn’t click with me. It certainly has its moments, but on the whole I found the first season to be written like a run-of-the-mill family sitcom. The characters never seem to move past their tropes, the storylines are relatively predictable, and the dialogue is witty at times but banal at others. Kim’s Convenience is certainly generic in my opinion, but I would also argue that it being generic is the best part about it. Its commonplace nature is its greatest strength in the Canadian media landscape, especially as Canada’s first mainstream television show with an Asian lead cast. In that sense, Kim’s Convenience holds historical weight, but its averageness is what excites me the most about what the show could mean for the future of Canadian television.
Of course, a show that gripped my attention with detailed story elements filled with interesting and thought-provoking interactions between fully realized characters would have perhaps been a better use of my watching time. But I cannot deny my appreciation for Kim’s Convenience. Its main cast, the Kim family, are presented just like any other family on television – the father is stubborn in his ways but ultimately well-meaning, the mother is kinder and would just like her family to get along, the older brother is a working adult with a checkered past, and the younger sister is an artist looking to gain independence and find her place in the world. Their archetypes harken back to classic and recognizable sitcom tropes. The characters interact with each other in predictable and familiar ways, save for one key difference.
The Kims are, of course, a Korean-Canadian family, and this part of their identity is something that cannot and should not be erased. The children refer to their parents as “Appa” and “Umma,” the Korean equivalents for “Dad” and “Mom” respectively. The Korean characters often use Korean phrases or Korean titles when referring to each other, they eat Korean food, and they participate in Korean traditions (if you consider jabbing someone in the behind as a sort of tradition). They are unapologetically Korean while simultaneously embodying standard Western character tropes. And while I would have personally enjoyed a more in-depth deconstruction of these archetypes, I cannot deny the significance of demonstrating their ubiquity across cultures and ethnicities. Kim’s Convenience shows audiences that no matter where you come from or how you grew up, you probably have a mother who’s constantly asking you if you have a romantic partner yet, or a sibling whom you don’t get along with but still love at the end of the day. The Kims are another solid example of a staple family on television, just a lot less white.
In some ways, I’m glad that Kim’s Convenience is a fine and modest show. Being the first of its kind in mainstream Canadian television, I have no doubts that both the show and the people working on it faced tremendous pressure from the initial pitch to the airing of the first episode. Rather than overreaching or underachieving, Kim’s Convenience found a comfortable median where it can exist as itself, unfettered by the status of being a pioneering show. It would be unfair for critics and audiences to place the onus of being the pinnacle of representation on Kim’s Convenience’s shoulders alone, but its setting of the bar creates the potential for other shows and media featuring Asian leads to come to the forefront: Asian-led romances, Asian-led comedies, Asian-led buddy cop shows, even more Asian-led family sitcoms – the list goes on.
I may not have liked Kim’s Convenience, but that’s perfectly fine. I appreciate its existence and that other people may gain something from the show that I didn’t. I can always wait for the next Asian-led show to come along and be everything I ever wanted. Or maybe I’ll grow tired of waiting, and create that show myself. And that philosophy can hold true for any number of Canadian creators working to make their voice heard in an environment that’s slowly but surely opening its ears, helped in part by shows like Kim’s Convenience.
Kim’s Convenience paved the road – now it’s up to us to follow it.