Review by C.J. Bunce
If you need something to laugh at–and who doesn’t?–a quick fix can be found with Comedy Central’s new series Nora from Queens (full title Awkwafina is Nora from Queens), the latest of that niche New York neighborhood local comedy show. The series was produced by Comedy Central, but airs across several cable channels, including MTV2, which is airing all ten episodes beginning this afternoon. The series of half-hour episodes is a semi-autobiographical look at Awkwafina, stage name of rapper/actor Nora Lum, who switches up her name slightly to Nora Lin for the series. Viewers will find a lot of truth with Nora, whose real-life persona won a Golden Globe best actress for The Farewell, and she’s had breakout roles in Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and Jumanji: The Next Level. Just don’t let the kids in the room–Awkwafina’s humor is over-the-top, all-out vulgar at times, and right there with Sarah Silverman’s stand-up comedy, even evoking some Cheech and Chong ghosts of comedy past.
As with the real Nora, Nora in the series was born of a Korean American mother (who died when Nora was young) and Chinese American father, and raised by her father and grandmother. Here BD Wong (Jurassic Park, Mr. Robot, Awake, Gotham) plays her amiable dad, a single father whose own mother lives with him and Nora (creating the core of the humor). Looking for a girlfriend, he sets his sights on a woman he meets at a single parent support group, played by Jennifer Esposito (Spin City, The Boys). Nora is frequently entwined in chaos with her nerdy but somehow more successful cousin, played by Bowen Yang (Saturday Night Live), who proclaims 2020 as “Year of the Ass.” He couldn’t be more on point.
But the best of the series is Nora’s sweet, mouthy, and feisty grandma, played by Lori Tan Chinn (Roseanne, Spin City, Orange is the New Black). Chinn has all the range, and gets the best writing and dialogue in the show, crude and endearing at the same time, like Ruth Gordon in Every Which Way But Loose. Grandma goes to the casino, but not to gamble, instead to watch Korean dramas with her friends. She picks fights with Korean Americans, and a highlight of the series is a flashback episode centered on her meeting Nora’s grandfather, all produced as a melodramatic Korean drama.
Nora/Awkwafina is the real deal, able to slip in and out of accents, emotions, and physical comedy. Her character is a complete disaster, her car gets impounded, her bank account is canceled, she’s jealous of her cousin, gets too much into a new job, and experiences other more… vulgar… personal problems. Her relationship with her dad and grandma feels real, and much of the show’s success is due to the chemistry of the main cast.
Nora from Queens is has bits and pieces in common with quick-fix, comedy series of the past like Daria, The Nanny, Angie Tribeca, Beevis and Butthead, and Roseanne, but also updated with something more to say about the trials of life, like in Russian Doll (whose star Natasha Lyonne has a guest spot on one episode). Also look out for guest actor David Krumholtz (The Santa Clause, Numb3rs), and two episodes written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (The Orville).
Viewers can approach Nora from Queens as raunchy comedy or a drama about a few days in the life of a young woman getting by (but it’s mostly comedy). Pop cultural references abound, almost on par with a Joss Whedon script. Awkwafina has a real star factor, great screen presence, charisma, and charm, even when she goes to cringeworthy lengths for humor.
Ten quick half-hour episodes of the first season are now airing on Comedy Central, with another season already in the works. Set your DVR, or keep an eye out for a marathon of all ten first season episodes of Nora from Queens, beginning this afternoon on MTV2.