To say a lot has happened between Seasons 4 and 5 of Kim’s Convenience would be an understatement.
Aside from COVID-19 safety measures, there were two other major behind-the-scenes events. The first was Simu Liu landing the role of Shang-Chi in the Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The second was Paul Sun-Hyung Lee scoring a multi-episode arc on a little Star Wars spinoff called The Mandalorian. Luckily, all three events failed to derail Season 5 of Kim’s Convenience.
Returning Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBC, we spoke to Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon about the family facing one of its toughest challenges yet as they navigate a difficult medical diagnosis for Umma.
How did the pandemic affect production on Kim’s Convenience? Paul Sun-Hyung Lee: Shooting during a pandemic, it’s not business as usual. The mere fact that we were able to go back to work, I think, was a huge win. I have to give huge props to the production team and the producers of Kim’s Convenience for creating a protocol, a COVID protocol designed with safety first. They had systems where the different departments were separated into different pods. There were different points of access for everybody where there wasn’t any cross mingling. We had PPE, checking procedures, all these different things that we had to go to these hoops to ensure our safety. And it was really, it was quite an adjustment period. It’s a different energy on set, your timing’s a bit thrown off. You can’t see anybody’s faces. As an actor, on top of having to play a scene, you’ve got to do your own final makeup touches and you have to reset your own props and you have to think about blocking … all these extra things. You’re doing three or four different jobs sort of at the same time.
Jean Yoon: [Before the pandemic] between shots, you’d have grips moving the lights at the same time, hair and makeup is chasing around trying to powder you, wardrobe, the director and the assistant directors. [During COVID-19 protocols] it was easier to keep your train of thought as an actor, which is really good because with all of these protocols, I do think on average we had fewer takes. And so you really wanted to make sure that you were right on.
Umma has a medical situation this season. Jean, what can you say about it? JY: Any medical situation for a character in our age bracket is an opportunity to explore stories that are grounded in truth. The uncertainty of one’s health is something that is just … you pass 50 and the next thing you know, you’ve got to start watching your cholesterol and your sugar and how much exercise you’re getting. So that raises some real questions and the opportunity for those sorts of storylines based in that kind of dilemma is pretty rewarding. One thing about this show is that its strength is the relationships between family members and any kind of medical situation is going to bring up, it raises the stakes and it’s going to bring up questions and stories and emotions that are worth exploring.
There is a scene between yourselves and Andrea Bang that killed me. It was so emotional. JY: Thank you. Yeah. Working with Andrea at any time, she’s so good. Oh, my god. She’s so good.
PSHL: You’re no slouch yourself, Jean.
JY: Let’s talk about how amazing Andrea Bang is, though. She’s got this ability to tap into this well of vulnerability that just blows me away. And I remember even in the first audition, like with we were camera testing a few people and Andrea had it right from the get-go.
Paul, what can you say about some of the storylines that are coming up in some of the things that this family is going to run into? PSHL: Without giving away too much of the storylines. One of the things Andrew Phung and I always bug the writers about is like, we want more scenes together. We want to see Kimchee hang out a little bit more and not for only selfish reasons, although they are, because he’s my best friend. But it’s this whole idea of us hanging out together puts a bit of a strain on his relationship with Chung. It’s this neat little triangle that sort of happens. It’s always a pleasure to work with Andrew. I’m happy to say that there are scenes with Andrew this season that I’m quite happy about. But there are also some scenes with Simu that happened this season that I’m very, very happy about. With Simu going away and shooting that little boutique movie and then coming back, it was just like, ‘Hey, the family’s back together again.’ It just felt like, for that period of time, all was right in the world despite it being a dumpster fire in 2020. It was just this moment of happiness, where we were sitting there like, ‘Our son is home and that’s a lovely thing.’ So in terms of storylines, this is a season that is focused on the family, the relationships with each other and character growth.
JY: Simu came back and quarantined for two weeks and the way it worked out is we ended up having a week hiatus which was great. But then he had to shoot nine days in a row, basically 10 episodes of scenes. They had to bring in all three directors back and there were days where the morning would be one director and the afternoon would be another. He had to be incredibly disciplined and prepared, and boy was he ever. Yeah, it was great to have the family back together.
[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Code M for Murdoch”]
It’s simply not a season of Murdoch Mysteries until Terrence Meyers appears in at least one episode. Following his debut way back in Season 1, a visit from Meyers (played by Peter Keleghan) means a storyline jam-packed with intrigue and backstabbing (both literal and figurative).
Monday’s latest instalment also featured fan favourite James Pendrick (Peter Stebbings) and that dastardly Allen Clegg (Matthew Bennett). We spoke, via email, to Paul Aitken, the episode’s writer.
Congratulations on Season 14. Can you believe Murdoch Mysteries has gone on this long? Paul Aitken: When we were starting Season 2, we had a phone conversation with the network (Citytv at that time). They told us they loved the show and joked that they wanted it on for 15 seasons. We laughed. They laughed. And here we are.
Is it a Murdoch Mysteries rule that there be one Terrence Meyers episode per season? PA: I don’t know if it’s a hard and fast rule but it’s become a very ingrained habit. It’s like every Beatle album had a Ringo song.
How did the main spy-themed storyline come about? Is it inspired by any particular part of history or film? PA: It all started with a dream I had about Murdoch getting a message saying “Murdoch Find JP.” We then combined that with a Terrence Meyers plague story we had knocking around for a few years.
Was the rabies sub-plot inspired by the current pandemic? PA: No. We had this cooking for a few years in various forms.
I always love it when Peter Stebbings has time to reprise his role as James Pendrick. I’m surprised you were able to schedule him around his directing duties. PA: It took a couple of years. I guess we can thank COVID for his availability.
The fans love James Pendrick. Did you have any idea, at the time he was first introduced, that he would be a hit? PA: No. He was introduced in Season 3 as part of a season long storyline that was ultimately resolved. We brought him back in Season 5 as the inventor of an electric car that ended up being crushed by big oil. It was then that we realized the potential for the character.
Do you have a favourite recurring guest character to write for or is that an unfair question? PA: It’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is. There are many I love of course. Terrence Meyers, Ralph Fellows, James Gillies, Roger/Rupert Newsome, etc. If I have to choose I’ll go with Pendrick. He’s such a ridiculously magnificent man. A saner, nobler Elon Musk. He gets his dreams crushed in every episode, yet rises again with an even BIGGER plan. I wish I was James Pendrick.
The first three episodes in Season 14 have featured many funny or lighthearted moments. Is that a theme this year or will things get darker as we move on? PA: I think we’ve always had a mix, both between episodes and within episodes. I don’t think this season is any different. It’s a grab bag. You never know what you’re going to get.
[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Rough and Tumble.”]
Well that was certainly a change of pace, wasn’t it? Whereas Murdoch Mysteries‘ Season 14 debut was more lighthearted, Monday’s latest was a truly rough and tumble affair. Written by Murdoch Mysteries and Frankie Drake Mysteries showrunner Peter Mitchell, Bobby Brackenreid was reunited with his family in the most stressful of ways: accused of murder. That meant Thomas had to walk a tightrope between being a copper and bringing Bobby in for questioning or keeping Bobby hidden while investigating the case himself.
By the episode’s end, Bobby had been cleared of the murder charge, but his future is uncertain. In our latest post-episode interview, we spoke to Peter Mitchell about the instalment.
Congratulations on Season 14 of Murdoch Mysteries and Season 4 of Frankie Drake Mysteries! How challenging was it to run both shows while addressing COVID-19 safety measures? Peter Mitchell: Probably not as challenging as working in a grocery store. Shaftesbury, the production company, placed an extremely high value on crew safety. We also worked with people who were all following the same protocols and were very serious about making sure both themselves and the people they were working with, stayed safe. That said, I’m a bit of a water-bug on set, moving from prep in the office with writers, pre-production with staff, shooting with the crew, and post-production with sound, music, and film editors. Multiply that by two shows and that is eight separate pods. My freedom of movement was very restricted and sometimes that was a pain. That said, meetings and the like conducted over Zoom went much quicker as people were much more focused. I also have a wonderful Associate Producer, Elsbeth McCall, who could handle things when I could be two places at once.
How did you adapt both series’ writing rooms so that scripts could continue? PM: Less is hopefully more. We had fewer scenes per episode, fewer characters in the scenes, and fewer background performers. Physical distancing was often a bit of a problem and we had to carefully plan out stunts and degrees of closeness between performers. Fortunately, the directors and assistant directors on both shows were able to block and choreograph the background actors so, I think, this will not really be all that noticeable to the audience. Both shows did fewer ‘days on the road’ than we have in the past. In the writing rooms, we didn’t spend as much physical time together as we have in the past and we often met in smaller groups than we have in the past. The demands of quarantine and distancing meant we had to show up focused and ready to work when we all got together (either virtually or in-person). It wasn’t as much fun as it usually is.
Was there an added benefit to writing from home, or was it largely a pain? PM: Once one got used to handling the tech, there was hardly a difference. I’ve spent most of my career writing everywhere, at home, in a crowded writing room, on-set and, very, very occasionally in a bar, so it was no different for me.
“Rough and Tumble” marked the return of Bobby Brackenreid, who was accused of murder. It’s been a while since we’ve seen Bobby. How did this storyline come together so that he would be the accused? PM: We’d always joked about turning Bobby into a serial killer. And while he isn’t that in the episode in question, we wanted to have a bit of a bang when he was reintroduced into the Brackenreid orbit. I think on some level seeing all the videos this summer of how demonstrations and the like could turn into random violence also tweaked the idea. And the release of Bob Dylan’s album Rough and Rowdy Ways kind of lit the flame.
It’s always interesting to see the Brackenreid family interact, especially now that Nomi is in the picture. Will the results of the case, Bobby guilty of a lesser charge, affect the Brackenreid’s again this season? PM: Well, that would be giving away a bit too much now, wouldn’t it? Safe to say, both the fates of Bobby and Nomi impact the Brackenreid’s this year.
It was wonderful to see Goldie Huckabee return and impact on William and Julia the way she did. Has the decision to have William and Julia appear in more light-hearted scenes been a conscious decision, or has it happened organically? PM: Jonelle Gunderson, who plays Goldie, has a delightful comic touch. It would have been a real shame not to utilize it. I have also been a fan of the “annoying neighbour trope.” The decision to have more light-hearted scenes with William and Julia came about because, well have you looked at the world out there, we felt we could use a little of it right now. Also, because it was difficult to film physical intimacy, we wanted to show that the two do love each other and if one way to do that was to see them laugh together more.
Who did you have in the Murdoch Mysteries writing room this season? Any new faces? PM: Murdoch has most of the same group it has had for the last couple of years, Paul Aitken, Simon McNabb, and Noelle Girard but this year we added Christina Ray and Caleigh Bacchus both of whom were wonderful additions who wrote very strong scripts for us.
Who did you have in the Frankie Drake Mysteries writing room this season? PM: The writing room at Frankie Drake was composed of Mary Pedersen (who I stole from Murdoch), Jennifer Kassabian (who was on the show last year) Keri Ferenz, and Robina Lord Stafford.