Fresh out of a long career in one of Canada’s most successful TV comedies, Andrew Phung wanted to do something seemingly simple: he wanted to do another TV show.
But while this may seem like an obvious step for the four-time Canadian screen award winning writer and producer – and it only pertains to his work on Kim’s convenience – Phung felt something else. He would create his new sitcom, Running the Burbs, just after what has been called the golden age of Canadian television, in the wake of hit shows like Letterkenny, Schitt Creek, Moms who work.
“I feel so much pressure all the time,” Phung explained in an interview, while chuckling lightly at the situation. “Because these shows are wonderful.”
It is also an echo of his own work on Kim’s convenience, the light comedy about a Korean family in Toronto that ended abruptly this year after five seasons.
Shortly thereafter, the cast members alleged accounts of racism in the writers’ room due to the poor portrayal behind the camera, while fans and critics alike felt the show was loaded with the expectation of being everything for everyone, as it was one of the few Canadian comedies to feature featuring non-white actors.
Hearing these concerns from his castmates informed Phung’s upcoming project, and you can see it on screen. He teamed up with his longtime collaborator Scott Townend – who is also his best friend and godfather to his children – and made sure to hire a diverse room of writers and hired consultants from Vietnam, South Asia and even culinary for their show, which focuses on a Vietnamese. South Asian-Canadian family in the suburbs.
The original idea was simple. Phung wanted to tell the story of a diverse and inclusive family who just loved each other – something he felt was missing in the television landscape. There were too many serious shows, or austere shows forced to face the harsh realities of BIPOC life. Running the Burbs freed himself from external burdens and ideas about what a show should be – both for television and for himself.
“I said, ‘I want to do it right,’” Phung told Townend when they first performed the show. “And he said to me, ‘No you’re not trying to do it right, you’re trying to do it less wrong.'”
WATCH | Running the Burbs first season trailer:
The show, which premieres Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, stars Phung as Father Andrew Pham, alongside his wife Camille (Rakhee Morzaria) and children Khia (Zoriah Wong) and Leo (Roman Pesino). The storylines also largely follow Phung’s lens of a less serious – but very energetic – look at modern life. A bottom line in the first season deals with Zoriah Wong’s Khia and her neighbor crush, Mannix.
But as Khia’s little brother teases her and her parents are worried, you won’t find any outrage, worry, or even mention of LGBTQ + elements. The fact that both characters are girls is neither emphasized nor examined. She’s just a girl with a crush, in a family that loves her but is worried – and maybe a little weird.
It is a story that has been at least partially taken from life. In scripting the scene, Phung described an experience he had with his five-year-old son. As they walked by a pride flag outside his school, Phung’s son pointed at him and asked him to take a picture.
“I was like, ‘Dude, you’re five and you see the world that way,’” said Phung, a gateway to Khia and Mannix’s story. It was a way of thinking about the reality of modern life without the baggage of trauma – an LGBTQ + scenario that talks about the person and their journey, not broader cultural associations.
“This is not a coming out story,” said Phung. “It’s a story of being. It’s a living story. It’s who you are.”
Love letter to the suburbs
This lightness continues throughout the show, which emphasizes inclusion at the same time as characterization. Townend and Phung both pointed out that lightness and fun that are meant to be at the heart of the show – a love letter to the suburbs that perhaps stands out the most with the surprise musical guest on the show.
Getting that musical guest (which will remain a secret until the premiere of the second episode) was kind of moonlighting, Phung explained. They wrote the episode around him, but didn’t fully believe he would agree. Weeks before the show was filmed, Phung said, the writers were writing an alternate episode for weeks assuming he would turn down the role – only for him to not only film the guest spot, but to demand that they bring it back for another episode.
It’s quite the tenor of the show, said Phung – one that promotes inclusion, pride and aspiration, but in a way that is both a little silly and, at the same time, serious.
“It’s about a suburb, people who live in the suburbs and in this block,” Phung said. “There’s a great mix of people, but their color isn’t why they’re there. Their personalities and their stories are what we hold most dear. And the goal for us was every character that we had. we were presenting. We better find out more about them as the episodes go by. “