Jan 24, 2021

Kim's Convenience: Gay People are the Problem of the Week

Kim's Convenience (2016-) on Netflix,is a popular Canadian sitcom adaption of a play that has run since 2011.  It's about a Korean-Canadian family running a convenience store in a diverse neighborhood of Toronto.

It seems a bit retro: in each episode, the curmudgeonly, old-fashioned Mr. Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) rams head-first into something about modern society that he doesn't understand.  In the first episode, it's gay people.

He refuses to allow a gay pride poster to be placed in his shop window, because why do gay people have to advertise themselves with a parade?  Koreans don't march down the street yelling "I'm Korean!"  If they're gay, why can't they be quiet, respectful gays?

I started to cringe, having heard this complaint a dozen times, even from gay people.  It is a standard homophobic misconception that gay pride is about proclaiming that you have gay sex rather than celebrating survival in a hostile world.

 Accused of being homophobic, Mr. Kim backtracks by offering a 15% discount to gay people during Pride Week. Through the rest of the episode, he decides who warrants the discount and who doesn't.

He tells Boy Toy (Alexander Nunez) "You're not gay, you're just pretending."  Boy Toy returns with a flamboyant friend as proof, but Mr. Kim merely asks him what his favorite movie was in college.  Caddyshack.  Straight.

But when a guy (Andy Yu) drops in to apply for a job, Mr. Kim offers him the discount.  He protests that he is straight, but Mr. Kim wink-winks "Sometimes it takes awhile for the gay to come out."

He does give the discount to a drag queen after a conversation about "Why you dress like a woman?"  She actually seems pleased by the question, and replies: "It feels comfortable.  It feels like home."

The episode was not exactly offensive, at least not offensive enough to turn off, but it made me uncomfortable.  It was like watching people talk about me behind my back.

No gay people appear, or are referenced, in any of the other episodes I sampled.  Evidently the gays were the problem of the week, and the show moved on:

A friend asks Mr. Kim to become a "wingman" on a double date.

A kid runs wild in the convenience store, and the mother refuses to discipline him.

Mr. Kim gets a crush on the new female pastor, and insists on not charging her for anything.

After the first few episodes, the convenience store was relegated to the B plot, while the primary plot involved the problems and relationships of the two Kim children:

Janet (Andrea Bang), a photography student at OCAD University, struggles to achieve independence by moving out, getting a job, and refusing to "marry a nice Korean Christian boy."  .

Jung (Simu Liu), who hasn't talked to his father in years, works at a car rental company, where he has a crush on his female boss.  He doesn't appear to own a shirt.

The writers play up Jung's hunkiness deliberately, as a remedy to the countless sexless Asian characters in media.

Simu Liu has also appeared in the play Banana Boys, about the stereotypes Asian Canadian men face,  such as "they are bananas (yellow on the outside, white on the inside)."

Other male characters include:

Kimchee (Andrew Phung, center ), a clownish slob, Jung's roommate, coworker, and bromantic life partner.

Gerald (Ben Beauchemin), their nerdish, self-depricating coworker, and eventually Janet's platonic roommate.

Terence (Michael Musi), another coworker at the car rental place, who Kimchee doesn't like.

Alex (Michael Xavier), Jung's childhood friend who briefly dates Janet.

Enrique (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll), a regular customer at the convenience store.

Alejandro (Mark Grazzini), who dates Jung's boss.

Roger (Kevin Vidal), who briefly dates Janet's friend.

Raj Mehta (Ishan Dave), who dates Janet.

Peter (Zach Smadu, left).  I don't know who he plays.  I just had trouble finding beefcake photos of the other actors.

I like the fact that the Canadian locale isn't closeted: this is definitely Toronto.  The scene where a guy tries to rob the convenience store with a knife instead of a gun made me want to move there.

But I don't like the exclusion of gay people from the universe, after the first "gay problem" episode.


  1. So, basically, King of the Hill, except Korean. And this is an issue a lot of us deny: Immigrants generally are more conservative than the general population. So, Texan, make him the archetypal conservative (not necessarily politically far-right: At a bare minimum, Hank would see Donald Trump's cardinal sin, being a New Yorker. In fact, Trump is the embodiment of all the bad stereotypes about New York: Rude, arrogant, hedonistic, shady like you know his business isn't legit but you just can't put your finger on it. New Yorkers, of course, say the same about New Jersey.) Immigrant in Toronto, can't have him be conservative.

    I like how being threatened with a switchblade is your idea of paradise. Actually, violent crime has been going down for over a quarter-century now, since the first Bush. (Ironically, the reason goes back to the Nixon administration.) It's one of those stats people don't talk about; the NRA wants you to be afraid of criminals and buy a gun to protect yourself, while the gun control lobby's raison d'ĂȘtre would just vanish, so they both agree not to discuss that little detail.

    I do take issue with white liberals romanticizing Canada too much, though. Considering the sheer amount of racism against Indians.

    1. Toronto also has the best Chinese restaurant in North America. I could eat there every day.

    2. That's fair. I just thought it was funny that you wanted to be threatened with a switchblade.

      The reason the trend of immigrants being conservative concerns me goes back to 2016. The things Hill people said while licking their wounds included like, the 4.0 version of the 1972 "shifting demographics" canard. No, it's not that easy. Not every minority, immigrant, software engineer, or person who ever paid $5 for burnt beans is going to vote for a Democrat.

  2. I think the show is funny and tries to be inclusive. The parent are conservative but they mean well. I wish there more gay characters but one can only hope that Jung gets drunk and goes bi. Yes call me shallow but I never get tires of Simu Lu shirtless bits- now if he could only loose his pants. He is not shy in his Instagram : )

  3. As a queer man, I found the gay episode hilarious all throughout. Enrique is a recurring gay character, and in the last two seasons, Janet explores her own sexuality.

    1. I watched it up through the last season (which is on my Netflix list but I haven't gotten to yet). I don't recall the character of Enrique. Is that the nurse who is a regular at the store? I hadn't heard of Janet coming out.


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