‘Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens’ Review: A Perfect Blend Of Heartfelt Asian Family Dynamics And Millennial Stoner Angst

Dino-Ray Ramos

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Awkwafina is Nora From Queens can easily be a spiritual sequel or a spinoff of Comedy Central’s wildly popular series Broad City. Although the show from the newly minted Golden Globe winner lives in the same universe as Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson’s trend-setting BFF comedy of female empowerment, Nora From Queens is in a world of its own. It not only continues to showcase Awkwafina’s talent but puts a thoughtful lens on Millennial journey in the 21st century as well as Asian identity and culture — but don’t get it twisted. It’s still bubbling over with Awkwafina-laden humor that are rooted in her days of “My Vag.”

Debuting January 22 on Comedy Central, the first season of Nora From Queens is inspired by Awkwafina’s own life growing up in Flushing, Queens with her super-chill, activewear-clad dad Wally (played by Emmy-nominated actor BD Wong) and her feisty grandma (Asian trailblazer and Orange Is The New Black standout Lori Tan Chinn). The pilot episode plants seeds of what we can expect in the 10 episodes that explores the life of the title character (in case you didn’t know, Nora is Awkwafina’s real name).

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We are introduced to Nora in a dream sequence where she is in the afterlife and talking with the voice of God (Laverne Cox). She admits that she will miss her dad and grandma as God calls her out for being almost 30 and living at home. She wakes up to the sound of her grandma calling her a hoarder and lovingly nagging her to clean her room. This is a set up to a series that paints a perfect picture of this existential Millennial saga of unconditional familial love, Asian identity and the comedic, offbeat hijincks that ensue.

It makes sense that Nora From Queens gives off Broad City energy because executive producer Lucia Aniello worked on both shows. As she pointed out at TCA, the two shows deal with universal themes and follow the lives of twentysomethings in New York trying to figure things out. “What’s great about the show is that it takes existential questions and explores them in different ways through Nora’s lens,” said Aniello. “People who love Broad City will love this as well.”

At its core, Nora From Queens is a family comedy grounded in Asian culture and identity. It’s a different kind of Asian family that further moves the needle, showing audiences that the culture is not a monolith and, believe it or not, the Asian experience varies for everyone. With Nora From Queens, Awkwafina breaks ground as a singular Asian American female leading a comedy. She steers Nora ship well, navigating a heightened New York reality that is a hysterical high as much as it is heartfelt. In its own way, the series continues Awkwafina’s role from The Farewell as it follows the special relationship between Nora and her grandma — except this one is a tad bit more comedic, obviously. We see an authentic bond between the two characters play out hilariously thanks to the undeniable — and dare I say adorable chemistry between Awkwafina and Chinn.

We also get to see the bond between Nora and her dad — something I would love to see breathe more in the second season. Awkwafina and Wong play with an authentic dynamic that spotlights Wong as one of Hollywood’s most versatile actors as he plays Wally, who could easily take the trophy for coolest dad on TV. There’s also Nora’s overachieving, smug Silicon Valley cousin with a vestigial tail Edmund, played with shade-throwing gravitas by Saturday Night Live cast member and rising star Bowen Yang.

As an unemployed ITT school graduate who lives at home, Nora is tech-savvy and ambitious, but could still be considered a “slacker”.  In reality, she is just living the familiar uncertain life of a Millennial. Nora has ambition even though it may sometimes be clouded by bong smoke. Throughout the 10-episode series, she goes through peaks and valleys as she tries to get on the adulting track and move out of her dad and grandma’s house. She is immersed in gig culture as she drives her rice rocket for a rideshare app, works and gets wiggy at her family friend’s real estate company and, on occasion gets involved in some trouble that only Nora could get into — all of which are too familiar to the current Millennial landscape. But no matter what happens, she goes back to her family as a support system and there are heartwarming moments that cut through the wackiness of Nora’s life.

Peppered throughout the series are a recurring motley crew of eccentric characters and guest stars that add the vibrancy to this cannabis-infused comedy including Pitch Perfect‘s Chrissie Fit as Melanie, her friend from high school who is going through a struggle of her own; rapper Jon Park (aka Dumbfoundead) as her fellow stoner bud; The Boys’ Jennifer Esposito as Wally’s fellow single parent friend and The Daily Show‘s Jaboukie Young-White as Edmund’s charming doorman. We also see guest stints from Ming-Na Wen, Michelle Buteau, Celia Au, and Matt Rogers as characters that leave a memorable stamp on the show (with hopes that they will return). And in a very special episode, we are treated to a different kind of immigrant story with a flashback of grandma’s life with Jamie Chung, Harry Shum Jr., Stephanie Hsu and Shang Chi himself Simu Liu in all of his shirtless glory.

In addition to its diverse cast, the show continues the female-fronted legacy that was left behind by Broad City with a predominantly executive producing team including Awkwafina, Aniello, Karey Dornetto, Teresa Hsiao with Peter Principato and Itay Reiss of Artists First representing the male ally contingent. The episodes were also helmed by mostly women including Natasha Lyonne (who also appears in an episode) as well as Aniello, Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader) and Anu Valia (The Other Two).

From Asian senior citizen trips to Atlantic City to focus group scams to jabs at Marie Kondo to full-frontal female flatulence, the comedy is a combination of family-oriented, hilarious and enjoyably vulgar. Awkwafina is funny on her own, but with this roster of talented actors, her star shines even brighter. With cultural nuances folded in, Nora From Queens may carry the Broad City torch, but it stands on its own as a heartfelt, yet unconventional female-led comedy that gives a delightful look at the Asian American experience from a different angle.

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