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Andrew Phung and Rakhee Morzaria Are Shaking Off The Criticism Of Inauthenticity On 'Run The Burbs'

CBC/Ian Watson

Andrew Phung and Rakhee Morzaria can’t agree on the exact details of how they met, but they do know that it was kismet. The two crossed paths at the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal in 2019, but it’s unclear when the first seed of Run The Burbs started growing.

Months before production on Run The Burbs started, Phung was in the middle of promoting another season of Kim’s Convenience, while on the other hand he had just been dropped as the host for a cooking show. For Morzaria, the show that she had been writing for was axed, the pandemic put a hold on her NYC stand-up comedy dreams, and she was living at home with her parents, enlisting the help of her mother to film her TikToks.

As timing would have it, Phung took that month off to write the pilot for Run The Burbs, and successfully pitched it to CBC. When the show went into development, Morzaria ended up being one of the first people they brought on.

The show centres on the Vietnamese-South Asian-Canadian Pham family: stay-at-home-dad Andrew (Phung), HR rep-turned-home-catering-entrepreneur Camille (Morzaria), queer teenaged daughter Khia (Zoriah Wong), and youngest son Leo (Roman Pesino). Throughout all iterations of the show, the one thing that has never changed is the Pham family’s bond – they’re ride or die for one another.

“I think that was important for us when we were developing the first season – we wanted to pull all our stories and experiences and put it there,” says Phung. “It was important for us to show this family taking on the world together.”

What Phung wanted to do with the show was show a real sense of community in the suburbs. For him, when he was growing up in the suburbs of Calgary, Alberta, he remembers hanging out with his neighbours, riding their bikes around town, and playing street hockey.

Often, when suburban stories are told, they’re portrayed through a white perspective. But when you look at the suburbs in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and in large city centres in North America, Phung explains, there are so many BIPOC communities taking up those spaces. When one family member moves to a new neighbourhood, their other relatives usually soon follow because they want to stay together. And that’s how these distinct, diverse communities are built.

CBC/Ian Watson

The showrunners wanted the neighbourhood, characters, and even the house to reflect the lives of the young second generation Canadian families that move out to the suburbs. Some moments in the show are pulled from Phung’s own childhood experiences, like doing the one trip grocery runs from the car to the house.

But the best parts of the show don’t come from one individual writer’s personal experience. Morzaria explains that the writers each pull from their own experience and come together to discuss it, then use it as a springboard to jump off of and mold to the characters’ lives.

“If someone shares a nugget of something, we add to it and attach it to ourselves,” says Phung. “The ideas that rise up are the ones that resonate with most of the room.”

However, that ability to be relatable can also be a double edged sword. For Morzaria, she had a lot of worry that she wouldn’t represent her culture accurately. She wondered if people would criticize her for making chai the wrong way.

“Camille’s whole thing is cooking,” Morzaria explains. “It stressed me out so much about showing Indian food and South Asian culture on screen and there’s so much pressure to get it right. If I didn’t do it right, what does it mean – what does it say about me?”

Some viewers have the habit of comparing themselves to the characters on screen and screaming treason when those experiences don’t align with their own. While she felt comfortable performing as herself in her stand-up comedy, Morzaria was wary of people calling her inauthentic for her portrayal as Camille.

“I’ve found peace knowing that this is my character’s experience, and this is just one family,” she says. “And hopefully there will be more shows like this – and there already are – and I hope with more folks like us carving out space in the film and TV world, we’ll see more representations.”

Morzaria continues: “I think we’re all craving to be seen and represented on television so sometimes the community can be more critical. Like when I see South Asian people on television, I feel myself being really critical.

But it’s important to remember as a viewer that we have not had that space to try to fail and to learn. Part of shows like this is having that understanding and learning. We have not had this space to occupy in film and TV.”

Their desire to give their culture the space it deserves isn’t just superficial. There are already dozens of Christmas episodes by every other sitcom, so Phung figured that it would be more exciting to cover new territory by making Lunar New Year holiday episodes. In “Culture Fest,” they challenge each culture’s version of curry, an episode which Phung and Morzaria both call a highlight of season two.

Phung promises big comedic swings in the upcoming season. Now that the show has laid its groundwork, they’re able to push their boundaries further.

“There’s episodes that are thematically and stylistically different,” says Phung. “And we want to show this family in a variety of ways. What I’m most proud of this year is seeing the four Phams’ individual growth as characters. They go to new places, they become vulnerable. What makes me so happy at their core, they still have each other’s backs no matter what.”

Season 2 of Run the Burbs is available to stream on CBC Gem starting January 4.


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