A ‘Supernatural’ Reunion on ‘Kung Fu’

Kim Rhodes and Robert Berens talk about working together on 'Supernatural' and 'Kung Fu,' and how 'Kung Fu' presents an opportunity for them to explore the dynamics of a 'Supernatural' spinoff that never materialized.

Kim Rhodes as Carrie Justine Yeung/THE CW

This article contains spoilers for the October 12th episode of Kung Fu.

There’s another Supernatural reunion on The CW. A couple of years after saying goodbye to the long-running dark fantasy drama, Kim Rhodes, who played Sheriff Jody Mills, and executive producer Robert Berens, who co-wrote the character’s unsuccessful backdoor pilot on Supernatural, have reunited in the third season of Kung Fu.

In the hit action-adventure series, Rhodes plays Carrie, a representative for a large restaurant investment group who takes a special interest in the Shens’ family restaurant, Harmony Dumplings, which has been having a difficult time rebuilding and reopening since a devastating earthquake hit San Francisco four months ago. While matriarch Mei-Li (Kheng Hua Tan) is quick to decline the group’s overtures, citing a desire to exercise control over the restaurant’s business dealings, she receives some under-the-table information from Carrie to help her secure a better deal. In the process, Mei-Li and Carrie will form an unexpected friendship, but they will soon discover that there might be too many cooks in the kitchen.

In a recent joint interview, Berens and Rhodes spoke about the evolution of Carrie’s relationship with Mei-Li, their biggest takeaways from working on Supernatural, and why they think Kung Fu presents an opportunity for Rhodes to play out the dynamics that would have been explored in a Supernatural spinoff that ultimately never materialized.

Bob, when you and your co-showrunner Christina M. Kim mapped out the arc of this season, what made you want to create a new character to partner up with Mei-Li, and why did you decide that Kim was the right actress to bring her to life?

Robert Berens: Last season, we got to see Mei-Li emerge as a businesswoman and a creative artist in the kitchen alongside Sebastian (JB Tadena), and we wanted to bring in a character who was a bit of a foil to the business side for Mei-Li. “What is it like to face someone who has a different view of how to run a restaurant?” It brings some interesting conflicts to that side of Mei-Li, so what would be the new reality of Mei-Li’s life in the kitchen? And what would be the new reality for Harmony Dumplings post-earthquake? 

We had this idea of a woman who has certain things very much in common with Mei-Li, but is definitely representing a different perspective on the restaurant and how to run it. As we were talking about the character it was actually my partner, Spencer, who was like, “Kim would be great for this.” And I always wanted to work with Kim again. But we auditioned a lot of people—there were some great reads for the role—and I was like, “I’m in the tank for Kim Rhodes, but I’m gonna let Christina and my collaborators weigh in independently.” And it was really her read of the role, which was so right on the money and so great from jump, that it was really no contest.

Kim, I would think that you’d want to support all of Bob’s work after working together on Supernatural, but how familiar were you with this iteration of Kung Fu? And what has it meant to you to join such an historic show for Asian Americans?

Kim Rhodes: It has been incredible. I was not as familiar with it as I should have been with a friend’s work, but I haven’t watched much of anything—I have a lot going on in my life. But once I started watching it, I was smitten. One of the things I truly love about Bob’s work is his ability to tell stories around family dynamics and redemption that are, at the same time, universal and still unique.

Stepping into a culture that I am not a part of means that I get to be a part of a story I’ve never been a part of before. I think representation is one of those things where, on the surface, we think the person benefiting from representation is the person being represented, but I will remind people that it also means that I get to hear and tell a story I’ve never heard before, because there is representation here that has not been seen like this before.

Tzi Ma as Jin Shen, Kheng Hua Tan as Mei-Li Shen, Krzysztof Bryjak as Neil and Kim Rhodes as Carrie (from left) Justine Yeung/THE CW

Kim, in September, you recreated a version of the Suite Life of Zack and Cody theme song with Olivia Liang and Shannon Dang, who play the Shen sisters on Kung Fu. What has impressed you the most about working with the younger group of actors on this show?

Rhodes: They are so glorious! They have reminded me so much about gratitude, joy and presence. It’s like bringing a puppy into a household where you’ve got an old dog. The old dog just finds all sorts of reasons to live again. The other thing that felt good to me is, these are young, incredibly skilled professionals that grew up with me mattering to them, and that just feels good. It feels good to have someone whose work I respect introduce themselves to me in a way that’s like, “Hi, you matter to me, and I already respect your work too.” So it makes it an environment where I really want to bring my A game—not that I ever don’t, but they made it easy to open up and play with that energy that they bring in.

Bob, how would you describe Carrie’s relationship with Mei-Li and the way she fits into the larger story this season?

Berens: In episode 2, when we met Carrie, Carrie genuinely respects Mei-Li. Mei-Li has this meeting with two representatives of this restaurant group, and the guy taking the lead is doing a hard sell, being aggressive. Carrie is assessing the situation and seeing that Mei-Li is smart and capable, and [she sees] the type of restaurant [Mei Li is running], which is a really wonderful place with really wonderful food. But she also sees that Mei-Li isn’t fully understanding how much power she has in that situation, so Carrie really sticks her neck out by approaching Mei-Li and giving her a little inside information about how she can make a deal that she can live with [when] bringing on these investors.

There’s a foundation of friendship there, but the bottom line is, especially in the case of Mei-Li, when you’re engaged in a project that is deeply personal—a restaurant that you’ve been running independently for decades—that’s a very complex thing. And when someone comes in with a different agenda, whether they’re a villain or a good guy or anything in between, that creates challenges. There are some really interesting differences between Mei-Li and Carrie’s perspectives, [which are] rooted in their different jobs and also in little issues of race, and there are dynamics that will emerge between Mei-Li, Sebastian and Carrie across the season. We’ve got some really big bad villains this season, and Carrie’s not a villain. She’s a person who comes into a really rich and grounded conflict with Mei-Li.

Supernatural might have ended a couple of years ago, but it’s safe to say that social media platforms will continue to breathe new life into that show for years to come, especially with the prequel, The Winchesters, premiering this week. What are some of your biggest personal and professional takeaways from working on Supernatural?

Rhodes: The takeaway is truly how beautifully humans can create things to love, [like] a work of art that expresses things that make people feel seen and heard and connected. [There is] a fandom that connects in a way that makes people seen and heard. It was magical how it all came together, and I think that magic is not reliant on the product, which is why it continues to come together. We’ve got people at these conventions—40 percent of the people have never been to conventions before, and it’s because they discovered the show during Covid, and they discovered the fandom in lockdown. When people connect and something resonates, that’s just the truth of humanity. And they’ve managed to find that in this beautiful, little show, so I’m not surprised that it’s not going anywhere.

Berens: Working on The CW and working on Kung Fu while these different branches of the Supernatural tree keep growing and living is meaningful to me. And to get a little personal, there was a spinoff [called Wayward Sisters] that we were going to do with Kim, and that was a meaningful project to me because I love the character of Jody Mills, and I love the actress. It was disappointing when that didn’t go to series and we didn’t get to explore that world and evolve my working relationship with Kim.

And when this character of Carrie came along and there was a possibility of Kim stepping into these shoes, it was a real full-circle moment for me, because I knew we would be able to play these dynamics with Kheng playing the role of Mei-Li. I realized that, because of Christina M. Kim and this show, I’d gotten to tell a story through Mei-Li that was, in some ways, some of the things I wanted to do with the story of Jody Mills—a really rich role in a genre space for an adult woman actress that was layered and interesting. So bringing those two women together, I had to step back when it came to the final decision-making time so that Christina could fall in love independently, but it was a joy to have that little space for that little reunion. Having Mei-Li and “Jodi” in scenes together was very fulfilling to me, personally.

Rhodes: After the most recent table read, I was texting Bob in the middle of it, and I cornered the poor writer in terror, possibly because I realized he was not familiar with my particular brand of passion. [Laughs.] And I told him how excited I was about this script. The things that I wanted to see for Wayward, I’m seeing in Kung Fu. I’m seeing the exploration of the full power of a female and what it is to identify ourselves as opposed to allowing the world to identify [us]. The writers are so brave in how human they allow the characters to be on this show, and I do say “allow,” because a lot of times, a lot of female characters are pulled back from the brink before they are really fully exploding into something that is dangerous or that is maybe not attractive, but [the characters on Kung Fu] are profoundly human.

Would either of you consider returning to the Supernatural universe in some capacity, or do you feel like you’ve closed that chapter of your careers?

Rhodes: The love I have for Supernatural, the people, the material and the fans will keep that door open until I die. There is an unconditional yes as an answer to the question of whether I would return if asked.

Berens: At the moment, I’m very happy and fulfilled working on Kung Fu, and it gives me a lot of pleasure to watch the Supernatural fandom and universe keep growing and taking new forms from afar. TV writing and production takes a lot out of you, and I believe, especially with serialized shows, there comes a point at which tilling the same field ceases to be as joyful and productive as it should be—where you risk diminishing the quality of your own output and not giving the best of yourself to the work. My pal Robbie [Thompson] returned to that world after a hiatus, fully recharged for The Winchesters. I spent seven years on Supernatural, so I think I’d need a bit more time away from those characters and that world before I could be a worthy contributor to those stories. But I love Supernatural and owe so much to the creators, producers, cast, crew, and fandom—basically I owe my whole career to Supernatural. So… never say never!

Nexstar Media Group recently acquired a majority stake in The CW. And just last week, Mark Pedowitz announced that he was stepping down as the network’s chairman and CEO. Bob, have you spoken with the new owners at The CW yet?

Berens: Right now, there are a lot of executives who are still in place at The CW that we’ve been working with for a long time, so it hasn’t really changed our process or our relationships with the network. But certainly, Mark stepping down is a big shift.

What was your reaction when you found out about Mark’s departure? And what does the future of Kung Fu look like on The CW?

Berens: The totality of my career, for the most part, has been working for The CW. I was a writer’s assistant on Ringer; I got to write some episodes that year in its only season. I met Mark Pedowitz on set producing my first episode of television. And then Supernatural for seven years, and now Kung Fu. So it is a massive end of an era, and Mark was really supportive of Kung Fu. He was a believer in it from the beginning. He was involved in the first season, and he was very supportive, especially of our most recent season. So we ended our relationship on a high, and what the future holds is very much an open question. I look forward to getting to know our new overlords and seeing where it goes. Right now, we’re just focused on delivering an excellent and exciting season of television, and we’ll see what happens next.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Kung Fu airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW. A ‘Supernatural’ Reunion on ‘Kung Fu’