Netflix series Kim's Convenience celebrates mush and family love at a time when we need it the most
Kim’s Convenience emphasises the importance of family and having your loved ones to fall back on despite differences between them
Western portrayals of Asian characters have always waded murky waters, especially in long-running tentpole series like The Simpsons or The Big Bang Theory. But Netflix’s slice-of-life show Kim’s Convenience is a welcome change that advocates inclusivity in the true sense. The fourth season of the series, primarily based on a Korean family living out their days serving their neighbours through their convenience store in Canada, speaks volumes on non-white cultures all packed in entertaining snippets.
Kim Sang-il aka Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) and Kim Yong-mi (Umma, played by Jean Yoon) are a treat to watch. Meticulous, unemotional and always critical of their children — the couple is a beacon that almost all hardworking, middle-class Asian parents strive to be. Their children Jung Kim (Simu Liu) and Janet Kim (Andrea Bang) are born and brought up in Canada, and automatically have ideological differences with the parental figures.
This cultural chasm between the two generations is brilliantly portrayed throughout the fourth season. From strict parenting guidelines to their apparent disconnect with their kin, Appa and Umma are pushers — always striving to make their children better, hardly impressed by their little achievements, as Sang-il confesses to his wife in the ninth episode (that too, without a shred of guilt) — “treat them mean, and keep them keen.”
This rigidity could easily become jarring to viewers, but the writing team headed by Ins Choi, Kevin White, Amelia Haller among others, deftly transform it into deep concern and love, which nevertheless find the most inappropriate conduits to express itself.
Kim’s Convenience is warm and fuzzy, wrapped in a hard exterior of stoicism. It plays on stereotypes, but they are so authentic to the Asian culture of parenting and in general, being, that it elicits only laughter and hardly any offence.
Appa and Janet have a heart-warming scene where the two tear up at the thought of how much they care for each other. But neither wants to express it, speaking only in monosyllables and challenging the others to show their ‘softer side’ first. As an Indian viewer, this hits very close to home. It brings to the surface core traditions (albeit problematic) of an entire community that relies heavily on bringing up children without much mushiness, in households that seldom have dialogues on important world matters or interpersonal relations. However, the series is quick to follow up with endearing scenes which prove that just because they don’t express things does not mean they don’t feel them.
The show also refers to a poignant observation about the one-dimensional approach that many first-generation immigrants often take to tackle uncomfortable situations. In the third episode ironically titled ‘The Help’, Umma faces an instance of racism, but is so unaware of it, that she brushes it aside as an ‘accident’. It is only after Janet (well-versed with the concepts of the oriental gaze and cultural appropriation) points it out, that Yong-mi realises the gravity of the matter at hand. Credit to the writers for introducing a classic flip at the end where Yong-mi actually plays on the “white man’s years of guilt” to get what she wants.
The fact that life for middle-class immigrants is never easy is established clearly, but never in a didactic manner. However tough the going may get, the tone of the show abides by its simplicity — also a reflection of Appa and Umma’s uncomplicated view on life.
The series emphasises the importance of family and having your loved ones to fall back on despite differences between them. Kim’s Convenience is pacy, hilarious and warm. It does not advocate lofty ideals with strong social messaging, but instead chooses to deliver subtle sucker punches that is sure to make viewers laugh and marvel simultaneously. The crux of this life-affirming, optimistic series lies in Appa’s theory of (nonchalantly) selling expired cookies in the store – just brush the bad parts out, and it’s as good as new.
Kim's Convenience is streaming on Netflix.
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