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Here are the top episodes of the CBC sitcom in chronological order, in case you don't have time to binge the entire series
The final episode of Kim’s Convenience’s fifth season wasn’t supposed to be the end of it all. A sixth season had been ordered by CBC, but production company Thunderbird chose to shut the show down after the departure of co-creator and showrunner Ins Choi.
Most of the cast members have shared their feelings about the way the show ended: Paul Sun-Hyung Lee made an emotional Instagram post within a day of the news breaking in March, and subsequently discussed the series’ collapse with co-star Andrew Phung in an interview with the Calgary Herald. In June, Simu Liu and Jean Yoon went public with their specific frustrations not just with the cancellation but the way the show was produced, speaking about producers and writers indifferent to their perspective and the dearth of Korean talent behind the scenes.
That leaves us in kind of a weird place when it comes to assembling this guide to the best episodes of Kim’s Convenience. (We picked 13 in total – the same number as in each season of the show.) It’s necessary to acknowledge the circumstances under which they were produced, but we can also celebrate what the cast accomplished. They can – and should – be proud of what they did with the time they had.
The show’s pilot established its premise (and mined the stage play for plot points), and the second episode started to spread the storylines among the characters. But episode three – in which Jung and Kimchee’s not entirely mature relationship leads to a work prank that reads as sexual assault to Nicole Power’s justifiably horrified Shannon – is the first one that tells us the Kims’ ethnicity and culture is going to be a factor in the show. (It’s since become apparent that the writers’ failure to explore that culture more fully was a point of considerable stress for the cast on multiple occasions, which means a lot of these episodes arrive with an asterisk.) It’s also legitimately funny to see Simu Liu and Andrew Phung play the increasing frustration of Jung and Kimchee good-naturedly trying to explain the “Korean wedgie” to their uncomprehending co-workers.
Choi’s play was a drama before it became a sitcom, so this episode is a handy reminder that the material can handle a little darkness – and that the cast is more than capable of handling it. A lump on Appa’s back triggers a cascade of emotion in the Kim family, with Appa deflecting his own worry onto Janet and Umma, and Jung getting up the courage to visit his estranged and extremely woozy father in the hospital. Liu and Lee are great in that scene, but they’re equally good in the scenes preceding it, as Appa blusters about his dignity to disguise the fact that he’s terrified, and Jung is stunned by the depth of his feelings when Janet calls to tell him Appa’s going into surgery. The reconciliation between Appa and Jung would take four more seasons to play out, but it started here, and it’s great.
Kim’s always had a great bench of supporting players, and the best of them was Amanda Brugel; her well-meaning but swamped Pastor Nina was a great character for Yoon’s Umma to bounce off of, with her genial bewilderment grating against Umma’s competitive nature and eagerness to please. This episode – which finds Nina briefly moving in with Appa and Umma – reverses that relationship for a different sort of comic engine, and it works just as well. A B-story that finds high-school dropout Jung feeling insecure after a game night with Janet and her OCAD classmates also marks a key point in that character’s development, letting Liu and Bang flesh out the history of the Kim kids a little further.
Plot-wise, not a lot happens in this episode: Appa gets drawn into a flirtation with a customer on a ratings site, Jung adjusts to a de facto demotion at Handy, Janet’s roommate Gerald (Ben Beauchemin) considers breaking up with his girlfriend Chelsea (Gabriella Sundar Singh). But it all flows perfectly, with the entire ensemble nailing every moment. The cold open, with Appa and Umma torturing a squeamish Janet with stories of her deeply unsanitary childhood, is one of the series’ best; the scenes with Gerald and Chelsea play to Bang and Beauchemin’s screwball timing, and the business with Appa’s online flirtation leads to my single favourite line reading of the entire series, as Sugith Varughese’s Mr. Mehta tries to defuse an awkward moment with small talk and absolutely blows it: “The weather! My god, it’s… everywhere!” (If anyone’s wondering, my second favourite line reading is Phung’s guileless delivery of “a egg” in the pilot, when Jung asks Kimchee what they have in the fridge.)
“Happily married couple accidentally ends up in therapy” feels like an old sitcom trope, but Lee and Yoon make it an awful lot of fun, as Appa and Umma completely derail the couples’ group session Pastor Nina has booked them into – and in doing so, reaffirm how well-suited they are to one another. (In the subplots, Jung starts to suspect Shannon’s boyfriend Alejandro is cheating on her, and Janet worries whether she should share a potential mentor’s email address with Gerald – mirroring stories about withholding information that play out very differently.)
Everyone spirals! Appa’s tendency to bluster about his military service leads Gerald to frame him as a war hero in a photography exhibit; Umma is shocked to discover she’s Kimchee’s emergency contact – but not Jung’s – and Janet worries she sexually harassed a server at Chelsea’s club. And yes, it feels like a seriously missed opportunity that CBC didn’t build a spinoff around Janet: Bang gets incredible comic mileage out of Janet’s increasingly convoluted attempts to make amends for an ill-considered joke, and the scenes of Janet just hanging out with her friends in a comparatively swanky location feel like they could have been pulled from an entirely different show. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see it.
Stretching out Appa and Jung’s reconciliation is one of Kim’s best choices; the rift between father and son has existed for so long that neither of them seems to know how to get around it. (It’s not surprising that the show keeps returning to this thread, since it was at the heart of Choi’s play.) And when Appa gets Jung to play a friendly game of basement ping-pong, they can’t help but fall back into old patterns – leading to a queasy confrontation that finds both men trying to de-escalate the situation in incompatible ways. It’s a terrific scene for Lee and Liu, who have to come at each other from places of genuine hurt – and when the moment is finally defused by Janet coming downstairs to ask what all the shouting was about, Bang even manages to work in a deft bit of physical comedy.
The show’s fourth season wasn’t its strongest, rolling on sitcom mix-ups and minimal character development. After three years of carefully developed arcs, Kim’s felt like it was entering a holding pattern… though it was still lively and entertaining from one episode to the next. “In The Bedroom,” with Appa and Umma experimenting with separate sleeping arrangements, was a standout, but “Knife Strife” works as pure farce, as Appa, Umma and Janet become convinced the knife Umma found in a dumpster was used in a murder. Also, Janet realizes she needs to break up with the New Age yoga idiot she’s been dating, giving Bang an opportunity to run through the entire spectrum of comic irritation while Jung glides cheerfully – and obliviously – through the whole thing.
Season 5 may have been shaky behind the scenes – in a Twitter thread last month, Yoon spoke of the cast pushing back against “overtly racist” storylines and praised the return of co-creator Choi to a more active role in support – but the finished episodes are some of the series’ strongest, with everyone’s stories moving confidently forward and plots pulling back from the broader sitcom premises. The season premiere juggles lighter and heavier material nicely, as Umma wrestles with telling Janet about her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (which, as Yoon also pointed out, is something very few people of Korean descent ever have to worry about) while Jung and Shannon try to keep the romance going while Jung is taking business courses in California. (Liu was still shooting Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings in Australia when production started on the season, and their Skype conversations turned out to be a nice way to acknowledge our collective experience of the pandemic without letting it into the reality of the show.)
The most unexpected thing to come out of Kim’s Convenience was the chemistry between Appa and Kimchee: Lee and Phung are both Calgary natives and huge, huge nerds, and they bonded immediately despite having almost no screen time together. This was something the show tried to harness throughout its run but never quite perfected. (It’s also tricky that Appa is supposed to be old enough to be Kimchee’s father, while the actors are much closer in age.) This episode finally finds an in-universe way to deal with it, having Appa contrive ways to hang out with Kimchee after running into him at a restaurant, and Kimchee being torn between his affection for Appa and his loyalty to Jung. By the end of the episode, it’s clear the relationship can’t progress – but it does nudge Kimchee to search for his own estranged father in the season finale.
Another Appa/Jung episode – and maybe the most important one, as the gift of a shirt becomes Appa’s version of the gesture Jung demonstrated all the way back in “Appa’s Lump” – an instinct to draw closer rather than push away. In another echo of season 1, Umma finally finds that “good, Christian Korean boyfriend” she was hoping to land for Janet all the way back in the pilot… but Janet’s drifting in other directions. Which is another thread that could have been explored in season 6, dammit.
There are a lot of plots flying around in the penultimate episode of the series – Jung and Shannon audition for an Amazing Race-style reality show, and their differing approaches reveal some serious issues in their relationship, while Appa and Janet take a first-aid class taught by long-time customer Enrique (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll), whom Appa undermines to the point of cruelty – but while all of this is going on, Umma is experiencing a crisis of faith, worrying that her prayers aren’t just being ignored but smacked down by an angry Jesus. Yoon’s performance shifts slowly from comic anxiety to genuine torment, and her scenes with Brugel’s Pastor Nina are played straight, setting up a beautiful moment as Appa walks Umma through her dark night of the soul. (And just in case I’ve been overly cautious about praising Lee’s performance as Appa, this episode is a showcase for him too, as he balances Appa’s gleeful bullying of Enrique with the compassion and understanding he shows to Umma when she needs it most.)
As I’ve written at length elsewhere, the season 5 finale wasn’t intended to wrap up the show, but it does give us closure just the same. (Maybe it was Choi’s way of saying goodbye to the characters he created.) A number of storylines are resolved, a couple of new doors are eased open, the whole family sits down to dinner for the first time in forever – and when the evening ends, Appa and Umma are together in their store, content with the life they’ve made for themselves and ready to face whatever’s coming. I’m happy to leave them there, thinking about the possibilities.