Simu Liu’s ‘Hello (Again)’ Leads New Series of Web Series Featuring Black and Asian Characters and Stories

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After Simu Liu first appeared in the TV comedy “Kim’s Convenience” and before becoming a world-famous Marvel superhero, he had the idea for a romantic comedy with an Asian hero and heroine.

That idea grew into the web series “Hello (Again),” which debuts on the CBC Gem streaming service on Friday.

Liu’s name sparked increased interest in the show – about a Toronto restaurant cook who starts, ends, then restarts a relationship over and over again thanks to the intervention of a supernatural child – but it doesn’t. This is just one example of a format that provides opportunities for color creators that are rare on regular television.

On March 31, for example, CBC Gem will debut “Revenge of the Black Best Friend,” created by black writer and host Amanda Parris, and featuring Olunike Adeliyi of “The Porter.”

The same day sees the premiere of “Topline,” a web drama created by Filipino-Canadian writer-director Romeo Candido, about a Filipino teenager who dreams of a career in the music industry.

On Friday, fellow Filipino-Canadian, Edmonton comedian Gordie Lucius, debuts ‘Frick, I Love Nature,’ in which he explores the natural world and the creatures in it using cheesy props and deadpan humor.

“You know, we’re lucky in Canada to have funders (and) a broadcaster like the CBC that has created a space for short, scripted shows,” Parris said in a video interview. “You don’t need to have such long evidence that you can do something like you would if you were hosting a TV show.”

Web series pose less risk for broadcasters, Nathalie Younglai agreed in a separate video interview. A screenwriter on CBC’s “Coroner,” she was brought in to work with Liu on “Hello (Again)” after he pitched the idea to CBC in 2017 (2013.)

With episodes averaging 10 to 15 minutes in length, budgets are smaller than traditional 30-minute or one-hour shows. And because web series are streamed over the internet, they don’t have to sign up for a schedule or be sold to TV advertisers.

“Non-traditional series give more room for experimentation and more authorial voice,” Candido said via email. “Television is such an expensive medium, so shows like ‘Topline’ can take more of a risk when it comes to subject matter, tone and style.”

In her series, 16-year-old Tala (Cyrena Fiel) secretly records songs in her Scarborough bathroom as alter ego Illisha, but her widowed father, who lives on disability benefits, expects her to go to nursing school. When one of her songs goes viral, she is invited to “topline” – providing melodies and lyrics – for a popular Toronto music studio, but she must keep it a secret from her father.

“Hello (Again)” has elements of a conventional rom-com — well, not the pesky kid that no one but Jayden (Alex Mallari Jr.) can see or hear — but it’s grounded in experience. to be part of an Asian immigrant family in Toronto.

Jayden’s family was originally supposed to be Chinese-Canadian, like Liu’s, but Mallari Jr. (“Dark Matter,” “Workin’ Moms,” “Ginny & Georgia”), raised in Scarborough, was born in the Philippines , so in the series he was given a Filipina mother and a Chinese father. Rong Fu, who plays Jayden’s love interest, resident doctor Avery, is a Chinese-Canadian.

Naturally, the casts of web series like “Hello (Again)” “Topline” and “Revenge of the Black Best Friend” are dominated by actors of color.

Younglai said it was “a bit overwhelming” the amount of talent available, especially when casting the role of little girl Willa (Rebecca Chan) in “Hello (Again)”. “It was hard to see all this amazing potential and then you can only pick one,” she said.

“In Canada, we have a shameful reservoir of, like, huge amounts of talent who are just starving for the opportunity to really show what they can do,” Parris said.

Take Adeliyi, for example, a Toronto actor of Nigerian and Jamaican descent with a television career spanning two decades. She’s had roles on shows like ‘Coroner,’ ‘The Expanse,’ and ‘Workin’ Moms,’ but really started getting noticed this year for ‘The Porter,’ a CBC drama that tells a Canadian story. black with a predominantly black cast.

“Revenge of the Black Best Friend” not only casts black actors, but ridicules why they aren’t as well-known as their white counterparts, with Adeliyi playing Dr. Toni Shakur, a self-help guru for black characters. symbolic.

Parris came up with the idea after thinking about how black characters were taken out in the shows and movies she enjoyed in the 1990s. In “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” for example, she recalled the black slayer Kendra as having a much bigger role than her.

“I was so excited to see a young black girl in ‘Buffy.’ And I didn’t realize she was killed off so quickly and her accent was so terrible,” Parris said.

A character named Kendra (Tymika Tafari) gets to kill again – and drop the bad Jamaican accent – in an episode of “Revenge of the Black Best Friend” that also features characters who look like Black Ghostbuster Winston (Daren A. Herbert), Dean Thomas (Dante Jemmott) from “Harry Potter” and Rochelle (Victoria Taylor) from “The Craft”.

Parris hopes web shows like “Revenge” will give Black, Indigenous, or creators of color more leverage when it comes to traditional TV fare.

This year saw the launch of several mainstream Canadian shows featuring lead characters of color, including “The Porter,” Andrew Phung’s “Run the Burbs” for CBC, and CTV’s “Children Ruin Everything.”

And Parris is encouraged that even a predominantly white show like the CBC comedy “Son of a Critch” has an Asian character: Filipino best friend Ritchie (Mark Ezekiel Rivera), “who is a fully formed character and has a family and has… a point of view, and you fall completely in love with him.

But she and Younglai say change needs to happen faster.

“It’s great that there are all these new shows coming out, but can we have two Asian shows? I don’t know,” Younglai said.

In the meantime, Parris said she was honored to debut “Revenge” as part of “this wave of really exciting (web) content that’s coming out. I really hope people watch it.

“Hello (Again)” debuts March 25, “Topline” and “Revenge of the Black Best Friend” March 31 on CBC Gem.

Debra Yeo is an associate editor and contributor to Star’s Entertainment section. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @realityeo

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