TV Review: Awkwafina is Nora From Queens (2020)

Posted: April 12, 2021 in Comedy
Tags: , ,

Episode 1: Pilot

Nora Lin (Awkwafina) lives in Queens with her father, Wally (BD Wong) and her grandmother. (Lori Tan Chinn) Nora doesn’t have a job, and her room is a mess. But things are looking up, she got a job with a ride share company, and Nora’s friend, Chenise (Mekeda Declet) says she can stay with her. Are things turning around for Nora? Is she on her way to independence from her dad?

Slacker comedies are nothing new. Kramer was the king of the slackers in Seinfeld, and Chris Elliot played a newspaper boy living with his parents in Get A Life, so this is Awkwafina’s take on a slacker comedy, Awkwafina can be hit or miss, she was way over the top in Crazy Rich Asians, but she gave a sensitive and understated performance in The Farewell, so this tv show is anyone’s guess.

The first episode is very funny. She has to compete with her cousin, Edmond, (Bowen Yang) who she can’t stand. Her roommate is not who she appears to be, and she is a lousy driver. There is a universality to Nora, even though there are telltale signs of Asian overachievement lurking, Nora is someone everyone can relate to. Lori Tan Chinn is very funny as Nora’s grandma, but she has some touching dialogue as well. The surprising part of this comedy is how sincere the emotions are.

Episode 2: Atlantic City

Nora is talked into going on a bus trip to Atlantic City after her grandma gives her a guilt trip. While there. She runs into an old friend from her high school days, Melanie. (Chrissie Fit) How is Melanie doing? Grandma wants to have a quiet time in Atlantic City, does she get her wish?

Awkwafina almost doesn’t get caught up in the Asian gambling stereotype, but then she does. Both Nora’s storyline and grandma’s storyline are meandering, and they are ultimately pointless. This whole episode was not nearly as funny as the first one. Awkwafina seems to have fallen into another comedy writing trap, the precocious elderly person. Instead of having a precocious child saying all the smart, witty, outrageous things, an elderly person says those things. An elderly person saying and doing outrageous things may seem like a fresh twist, but it goes back to characters like Granny in the Beverly Hillbillies, or Sophia on the Golden Girls. Hopefully, Awkwafina will make her Grandma character multidimensional and not just a human punchline. She did a good job of humanizing all the characters in the first episode. Let’s hope the multidimensional characters continue in future episodes.

Episode 3: Savage Valley

Wally is tired of Nora’s video game obsession, so Wally and Grandma help Nora land a job as an assistant with a real estate friend named Nancy. (Deborah S Craig) Nora goes from slacker girl to overachiever with a little pharmaceutical help. What happens when the pills run out?

This episode has the feel of an after-school special. Remember kids, just say no to prescription drugs. The whole episode is predictable and not very funny. It’s somewhat strange that Nora is hanging out with kids a lot younger than her. Awkwafina is 32, and she’s playing someone who seems like a recent high school graduate, and playing video games with children. It’s not cool. Again, grandma is used as a human punchline. But BD Wong is consistently solid as Wally.

Episode 4: Paperwork

Nora looks to cash a check from Nancy and gets drowned in a sea of paperwork. When she tries to get into a cash payment only business, will it work or will Nora get in even deeper over her head?

This is more like what the show should be about a slacker facing difficulties with things that most people take for granted. This episode is reminiscent of the Honeymooners. Ralph always had good intentions, but the results didn’t always turn out well. The resolution of Nora’s issues showed Grandma’s sensitive side. Good writing.

Episode 5: Not Today

Nora decides to dye her hair, and finds out that cousin Edmond is back in New York. Wally goes to a single parent coping group, on the anniversary of his wife’s death.

The hair color routine is a comedy trope by now, but the rest of the episode is solid. Another strong performance by BD Wong as a parent dealing with grief and Edmond is humanized in this episode, not just made the object of scorn and jealousy. Good writing again, from Awkwafina’s staff writers.

Episode 6: Vagarina

After her New Agey aunt Sandra’s (Ming Na Wen) son Arlo (Zihan Zhao) turns hyper on sugary drinks, Nora suffers a vaginal injury which causes vaginal flatulence. Melanie’s new boyfriend, rap producer Rat Lung, (Peter Mark Kendall) wants to sample Nora’s sound, but says he won’t use It publicly.

This episode gets an A+ for creativity, but an F for too much information, and oversharing. No one needs to know what vaginal flatulence is, and other than Wally meeting Brenda in the middle of a bad Tinder date with another woman, this episode doesn’t advance the main storylines at all. Ming Na Wen is wasted in a superfluous role, as a hippie type. Arlo is a precocious kid, another sit-com trope.

Episode 7: Grandma Loves Nora

Edmond and Nora start out competing for Grandma’s affections, but when Edmond can’t come up with a new idea for his app, and does a lousy presentation, he turns to Nora for help. Does she help? Wally tries to get on Instagram to impress Brenda, one of them turns out to be embarrassing, what does Wally do?

This episode has two storylines which feed into each other well. There is nice synergy in the writing and that helps this episode. Everyone is working towards the same goal.

Episode 8: Grandma And Chill

While Nora is sick, Grandma tells the story of how she met Grandpa. In China, Young Grandma (Jamie Chung falls in love with Garbage Boy. (Simu Liu) After escaping China for America, Young Grandma falls in love with Doc Hottie (Harry Shum Jr.) When Garbage Boy reappears in America, who will Young Grandma choose?

This is a very funny episode with a Chinese history lesson thrown in for good measure. It has all the twists and turns of a good soap opera, with a few cliches, and many twists and turns. Jamie Chung is very good as the superficial Young Grandma, but Stephanie Hsu steals this episode as Grandma’s best friend Shu Shu.

Episode 9: Launch Party

Edmond and Nora hold a launch party for their new app Scubbr, which quickly goes south. But is there a silver lining? Wally has a bad first date with Brenda, but what does Grandma think is going on with Wally?

This was more pf a conventional episode, like Ralph as the Chef of the Future, on the Honeymooners, or Lucy doing Vitameatavegimin on I Love Lucy. And the bad first date is a standard comedy premise, but there is a twist in the Scrubr storyline, which leads directly to the final episode.

Episode 10: China

Scrubr is bought out by a Chinese company, and Nora goes to China without Edmond. In China, Nora meets Grace, (Celia Au) her translator and assistant. Meanwhile, back in America Grandma adopts an injured pigeon, which embarrasses Wally.

This was not the way to end a season. Grace was clingy in an uncomfortable way, but her devotion to Nora was sweet as well as sad, but the writers weren’t happy with Grace, so mid episode, they change her and not for the better. The grandma storyline was a sloppy metaphor for Nora leaving and coming home. The china storyline resolves itself messily, and the grandma storyline is overly sweet and sentimental.

My Impression of Season 1:

Season one of Nora from Queens is surprisingly funny. At its best, it’s laugh out loud funny with caustic wit, it even tries to be educational about Chinese culture, at its worst, it’s derivative, slow and unfunny. Luckily, for the most part, the good outweighs the bad in this show. It’s somewhat disappointing that the last two episodes are two of the weaker episodes. Awkwafina only wrote the pilot, but her staff writers are pretty funny, and very culturally attuned to the character’s voices. It was also disappointing that there was so much drug use, Nora smoked a lot of pot, but she also inadvertently used coke and Ecstasy and there’s nothing funny about hard-core drug use. There were also times where the show went for shock-jock humor, but for the most part, the writing was funny, and not shocking.

The characters are well-developed. Yes, Nora is a slacker, but she is really trying to be an average person, get a job, earn some money, it is that earnestness that honestly saves the character because if she was just on the couch smoking weed, Nora would be a boring one-dimensional character. The grandma character says and does a lot of outrageous things, but they also gave her a backstory, friends, rivals, and a good relationship with her granddaughter. The key character in this show is Wally, a hard-working straight-laced help desk guy, who tries to keep Nora on the straight and narrow while mourning for his wife, and trying to build a new relationship. It’s an important character in the show, because Wally is the one grounded in reality. The only recurring character that hasn’t been developed at all is Edmond, who is still as annoying as he was in episode 1.

The acting is great. Awkwafina is essentially playing herself, but she’s good at it, she’s done it in two movies and now her own tv show. She has obviously struggled cashing a check and keeping a job, so she draws on what she knows. But she tries to play a version of herself that’s younger than herself, playing video games with much younger kids, and talking about high school much too often. Her voice is somewhat grating, so she is smart enough to share this show with many talented actors. Lori Tan Chinn doe a fantastic job playing Nora’s grandmother, she could have easily been a one-dimensional wisecracking granny, but the writers were smart enough to give her a more three-dimensional character, complete with a backstory, and the viewer feels the sincere affection that she has for the Nora character, and that’s what makes Chinn’s performance complete. The best performance in Nora From Queens is by BD Wong, he injects a healthy dose of reality into Nora’s slacker life, and challenges her to do better. What Wong does better than that is convey a sense of loss over his wife, and they awkwardness of trying to meet someone new as a widow, it’s really convincing. If Nora From Queens was a network show or an HBO show, BD Wong would e up for an Emmy, he should be anyway, his comedic timing is flawless. The guest stars were ok, Ming Na-Wen is wasted as a flighty New Agey type, the writers should have written a better role for her. Jamie Chung fared better as Young Grandma, a spoiled little rich version of Nora’s grandma. Chung had a role with better writing and she made the most of it.

There were little to no directorial flourishes in this show. It’s a low budget comedy that aired on Comedy Cental, which means no money for visual trickery.

Nora From Queens: Hard to Ignora

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s