When I first started watching the Canadian comedy Kim’s Convenience a few years ago, I had no idea that a show about Korean Canadians would so frequently bring to mind my Black American grandmother. But it does: as the show’s main characters navigate familial relationships, generational differences, and an ever-evolving society, I can’t help but think of my traditional grandmother, who raised five independent-minded children and learned to adapt to changing times.
As Kim’s Convenience nears the end of its fifth and final season next week, I’d like to reflect on a show that makes me laugh like nobody’s business and helps me appreciate the path my grandmother walked.
Much like the Canadian breakout hit Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience features crisp writing, hilarious storylines, and characters that are both lovable and flawed. Like Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience allows its characters the space to be complicated, funny, admirable, and, at times, amusingly petty.
The first season of Kim’s Convenience introduces Sang-il Kim (known as “Appa”, or “dad”) and Yong-mi Kim (Mrs. Kim, “Umma”, or “mom”), a married couple in their 50s who immigrated to Canada from Korea. Together, they run a convenience store named Kim’s Convenience, which allows them to interact regularly with and learn from the residents in their diverse neighborhood.
The Kims have two adult children, Janet and Jung. Janet helps her parents with the store and aspires to be a photographer, a desire her traditional parents at first struggle to take seriously. Their son, Jung, works at a rental car company as he tries to move beyond his past as a rebellious teen and work his way up in the company. When the series opens, he’s also estranged from his father, a fact that pains his mother and creates an uncomfortable stuck-in the-middle situation for his sister.
Much of the show’s humor comes as the two generations learn to appreciate their different cultural and generational touchpoints, like when Mrs. Kim encourages an exasperated Janet to attend church to meet “cool Christian Korean” boys, or when Mr. Kim and Jung find themselves in a discotheque as they awkwardly attempt to mend their broken relationship. Other moments explore Janet’s and Jung’s romantic and professional ups and downs, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Kim’s relationships with friends, customers, and cultural norms. As the seasons progress, so do the characters; the younger Kims begin to refine their life goals and appreciate their parents, while the elder Kims deepen their already strong marriage, learn how to better relate to their children, and educate themselves on evolving cultural norms.
While my maternal grandmother didn’t move to a different country, she and my grandfather were part of the Great Migration in which millions of Black Americans left the South for the North in search of greater opportunity. When they arrived in the North, they encountered a fast-paced culture in the midst of social and racial change.
My grandmother and grandfather both worked factory jobs in Detroit while raising five children who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, a much different and more outspoken time than the one of their upbringing. They looked on as their children played rock and roll and grew afros and joined African dance troupes. Like the fictional Kims, my grandparents didn’t always understand their children and their choices, but they always loved them. They divorced in the 1970s, but even separately, they supported their children; my grandfather would later pass in the 1990s.
My grandmother, now in her 90th decade, is a traditionalist living in a world that has changed exponentially in her time. Sometimes she has struggled to adapt to these changes. When my mother first had dreadlocks, my grandmother, who was raised on traditional press-and-curls, slipped her a little money to “get your hair done.” My mother declined the offer (my uncle said, “Hell, I would’ve taken it”). But, like the Kims, my grandmother has good intentions and a willingness to grow: Years later, when my mother came to visit, my grandmother turned to her, took in her locks, and said, “You look so beautiful.”
Seeing Mr. and Mrs. Kim on the screen has reminded me of my grandmother’s endearing qualities. When Mr. Kim grows from being skeptical of Janet’s photographic talents to recognizing her gifts by buying her a fancy camera, I think of all the ways my grandmother has supported her children in their many endeavors. When the Kims volunteer at church, I think of my grandmother’s faithfulness. When Mr. and Mrs. Kim fret over their children, I think of how my grandmother fretted over her own children and grandchildren, praying over each of our names every day. And as I see the Kims expand their worldview, I think of how much my grandmother has expanded hers.
When we talk about the importance of diversity in television shows and movies, we may think representation is only significant to people in the minority groups being represented. It is, of course, important for Asian families to see themselves represented in media, just as it is important for me as a Black woman to see stories that explore Black families and relationships. But it’s also important for me as a Black woman to see a Korean Canadian family in a relatable and moving comedy. That’s because seeing diverse stories featuring multiple races and ethnicities and social classes enriches us all. By viewing these stories, we are encouraged to examine racial divides and also to see beyond them – and, if we’re lucky, we’ll also notice how universal so many of our stories are.
Note: The finale for the fifth and final season of Kim’s Convenience airs in Canada on April 13th; Season 5 is expected to land on Netflix shortly thereafter. That gives you some time to start binge-watching the first four seasons (at about 20 minutes each, you can knock out a couple of episodes at a time. Or, if you’re like me, you can knock out a half a dozen in one sitting).