Posts Tagged ‘Ming Na Wen’

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

Episode 1:
A Mandalorian bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) is given his next assignment by a somewhat shady Client. (Werner Herzog) The Mandalorean easily picks up his first fugitive, Mythriol (Horatio Sanz) and disposes of him just as easily. The bounty hunter then goes after the client’s target, in a heavily guarded sector, he meets a moisture famer named Kulli (Nick Nolte) who just wants the warring to end. The Mandalorean also meets a droid, IGII, (Taka Waititi) to help him fight the people guarding the bounty. Does the Mandalorean defeat the people guarding the bounty? Does he take the bounty dead or alive?

This is a good introductory episode to a Star Wars series. It’s set five years after Return of The Jedi. Yes, there are a lot of redundancies. There’s a barroom scene, the Mandalorian is a bounty hunter, of course, because Jango and Boba Fett aren’t enough to quell the Star Wars fan appetite for stories about bounty hunters. But what writer Jon Favreau does well is make this more like a serialized Western from the beginning of movies. This episode has a reveal, and what a reveal. For a Star Wars fan, any Star Wars fan, this leaves fans wanting more. This episode is reminiscent of The Magnificent Seven, with one fighter protecting the townspeople instead of seven. The acting is good Pedro Pascal plays an understated anti-hero very well, and Nick Nolte also underplays his role as a member of the output who just wants to return to a quiet life.

Episode 2: The Child
The Mandalorian is stuck on the same sector with Kulli and many Jawa. The Mandalorian’s ship has been stripped by the Jawa, and they want a trade in order to give the Mandalorian the components of the ship. What do the Jawa want in return for the Mandalorian’s ship components? What about the bounty? What does the Mandalorean do with the Bounty?

This episode is not a filler, more like a bridge between one segment of the story. The viewer learns more about the bounty, there is more to him than just being a price on a head or a reward, and delving into the bounty’s character makes it interesting. The writing by Jon Favreau is better than most movies, it’s better that most Star Wars movies. The Mandalorian character is essentially a blank slate, as is the bounty, and the viewer gets to fill in the blanks with each episode. It’s sci-fi but it really has the feel of a Western. The Mandelorian character is part sheriff part gun for hire.

Episode 3: The Sin
The Mandalorian returns the Bounty to the Client and repairs his armor with the payment for the Bounty. But then, he does something to draw the ire of Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) head of a bounty hunters guild. What does he do?

This is where the conflict begins. The Mandalorian is expected to do something, and does something completely different. So now he’s going against the grain, and he becomes a wanted man in a sense, so it will be interesting to see where it goes from here. Carl Weathers brings less to his role than he did as Apollo Creed in Rocky.

Episode 4: Sanctuary
Looking for a place to rest, the Mandalorian finds an isolated, densely forested planet named Sorgan, and decides to rest for a while with his bounty in tow. His restful retreat doesn’t last long as the Mandalorian lands in the middle of a skirmish, between village farmers and raiders. The raiders have a small armored walker, which the plan to unleash on the villagers, but the Mandalorian may have the help of a shady mercenary, named Cara Dune. (Gina Carano) The Mandalorean has also attracted the interest of a widowed mother, named Omera (Julia Jones) who seems ready to train to fight under the Mandalorian’s tutelage. What are the Mandelorian’s plans? Does he plan to stay with Omera after the battle? Will he leave? Does Cara Dune help the villagers? What does he do with his bounty?

The similarities between this episode and the American invasion of Vietnam is unmistakable, a technologically superior species attacks a village of Asian-looking villagers, but this time the good guys are on the side of the villagers and not fighting them. Gina Carano handled the action scenes well, as she should, being a former MMA star, but she also handled the dialogue relatively well, and that was a nice surprise. Julia Jones does a nice job as a potential love interest and eager warrior; she was good enough for a recurring role.

The episode was directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, and there is nothing notable about it, the pacing is rather slow, nothing visually arresting about it, just further proof that nepotism is alive and well in Hollywood. Hopefully she can make the most of her opportunity.

Episode 5: The Gunslinger
After a dogfight with an unidentified fighter, the Mandalorian stops off on Tatooine to get some urgent repairs for the ship. The female mechanic Pelli Motto, (Amy Sedaris) takes quite an interest in the Mandalorian’s bounty, and looks after it, while the Mandalorian looks for another bounty to pay for his ship’s repairs. Luckily for him, there js another bounty out there for him to hunt down, a woman named Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) a fugitive, who has a price on her head. But this time there is competition for this fugitive, a man by the name of Toro Calican (Jake Cannivale) who wants to be part of the Bounty Hunters Guild, and sees capturing Fennec as his ticket to the guild. He actually teams up with the Mandalorian, but with Mando is away, Fennec tries to entice Toro with some information. Does Pelli Motto get her credits? Who gets the fugitive? Does anyone?

This is a fantastic episode, the story is simple, but also tense and exciting, there are twists and turns, a little comedy thrown in and the resolution to the story is not revealed until the very end. There’s even some nostalgia in this episode, because he lands on Tatooine, the home planet of Luke Skywalker.

The acting is very good as usual, Amy Sederis provides the comic relief as the ship’s mechanic. Jake Cannavale displays a laid-back quality on the outside, but he has a burning intensity to be part of the Guild, and he shows that intensity later on. Ming Na-Wen is also very good as the duplicitous fugitive Fennec Shand, she plays mind games with Cannavalle’s character, and that gives her character a devious edge. Ming-Na started out in the soap-opera As The World Turns. And finally, there’s an uncredited surprise as the voice of one of the droids, he does a lot of voice work, so it’s not really a surprise, it just adds to the nostalgic feeling of this episode.
The direction, by Dave Filoni, who also wrote the episode is excellent, the dogfight scene is action packed the pacing is good, the acting is great, and Filoni is steeped in Star Wars lore.

Episode Six:: The Prisoner
The Mandalorian transports mercenaries, Mayfield (Bill Burr) Xian (Natalia Tena) and Berg (Clancy Bown) to break out a prisoner named Qin (Ismael Cruz Cordova) from a maximum-security prison guarded by driods.
This is probably the worst episode of The Mandalorian to date, the mercenaries are derivative, one look will give away who they’re based on.

The action is forced, the writers and directors shouldn’t try to make The Mandalorian an action series, at its best, it’s a character driven and plot-driven drama. There is alsso a deliberate attempt to make the Mandalorian less squeaky clean, and more edgy and dangerous. All of these non-so subtle shifts seemed very transparent and painfully obvious.

Episode 7: The Reckoning
Greef Karga has a proposal for the Mandalorian. Mando agrees, but brings backup, on the form of Cara Dune, and Kuill, along with the bounty Greef has his own team to back him up, what happens when the Mandalorian meets Karga? Does Karga double-cross the Mandalorian or does he keep his word?

The series went from one of the worst episodes to one of the best, this was a character and plot driven episode with some action elements thrown in. The characters behave largely as expected, but there are lots of surprises and the last few seconds of the episode are the most exciting. Gina Carano is not the best actress, but performs her role well, and Nick Nolte returning is a welcome reprisal of his role.

The direction, by Debrorah Chow is excellent, not especially flashy, but the pacing is good, and she saves the best scenes for last, and the way she presents the last few seconds of the episode is very well-done. The finale should be great!

Episode 8: Redemption
The bounty has disappeared, one of the Mandalorian’s allies is dead, Greef Carga, Cara Dune and the reprogrammed IG-11 are trapped in a cave. A new enemy, Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) has emerged and he means to kill The Mandalorian, does he succeed?

A finale episode has two purposes, resolve a cliffhanger, and set the stage for the next season. this episode achieves both goals and then some. There is also an engrossing backstory about the Mandalorian that clarifies his mindset in caring for the Bounty. Add great character acting by Giancarlo Esposito and Taika Waititi to the compelling storyline, and the end result is a very satisfying finale. This episode was written by Jon Favreau who wrote many of the episodes in season one, and wrote the captivating movie Chef.
The direction, by Waititi is a good blend of action and storytelling, the pacing is good and the final seconds of the episode leaves the audience thirsting for a second season. This series shows how good Star Wars can be when executed almost flawlessly.

My Impressions of Season One:
The writing is very good, for the most part, instead of making it a big epic story, like the movies, they concentrated on small stories, which work better on the small screen and work better in the episodic genre. The stories remind me of early serialized American Western radio and tv shows and movies like The Magnificent Seven, and the Seven Samurai, where an outsider comes in and solves the problems of the townspeople. Many of the episodes follow this format, but the better ones incorporate the Mandalorian’s bounty, and the best episode, Redemption, does an exceptional job of blending in a backstory, and blending it in with the narrative, and incorporating elements like the Bounty. Jon Favreau writes many of the episode and keeps the themes constant and the main characters intriguing

The Mandalorian is basically a good guy, trying to settle wrongs on different planets between the local populace and outside forces. He sometimes does morally questionable things, but in the end, he fights for decency. The supporting characters were less nuanced, they’re either good guys and with Mando or they’re bad guys and they fight Mando. It would have been preferrable to have supporting characters with more gray area, and less black and white. The recurring characters were not the most interesting characters, either.

The acting on the Mandalorian, depending who’s doing the acting. Pedro Pascal is a good actor, apparently from the Clint Eastwood minimalist school of acting, he uses an economy of words to convey a lot. His understated delivery fits the Western motif perfectly.
There are actors in recurring roles, and some of those performances are good. Nick Nolte is surprisingly good as Kuill, a character sympathetic to the Mandalorian, Nolte shows his empathetic, sensitive, side. All the recurring roles were not as good Carl Weathers is average as Greef Karga, and his casting seems to be a case of nostalgia casting, not a case where Weathers deserving the role. His delivery is wooden, even missing the life he had as Apollo Creed. Gina Carano is slightly better as Cara Dune, she handles the action sequences well, and has a more natural delivery than Weathers. But if these were recurring roles the writers and producers should have put more thought into the casting.

There were good guest performances too. Ming Na Wen was good as a shady fugitive, Amy Sedaris was also good in a small comedic role in the same episode, as was Jake Cannavale as a wannabe bounty hunter. That whole episode was made better by the acting. Giancarlo Esposito is very good as Moff Gideon, and will be returning for season 2.

The direction also varied greatly, because there were many directors for these eight episodes. The best episodes were directed by Dave Filoni (The Gunslinger) and Deborah Chow (The Reckoning). There were no really fancy visuals in either episode, other than an early dogfight sequence in the Gunslinger episode. The emphasis was on the story and the characters, as it should be.

Director Rick Famuyiwa’s episode (The Prisoner) is somewhere on the other end of the spectrum. It tries to force action where it doesn’t belong, and really uses stock characters that bear no resemblance to Star Wars characters.
Hopefully, season two of The Mandalorian will continue to be a story-driven character-driven series, and doesn’t get carried away with the Mandalorian vs Moff Gideon storyline.