Comedy Central’s ‘Awkwafina is Nora from Queens’ is one block away from being a smash hit
Episode 1 — “Pilot” Review:
After a meteoric ascent to the Hollywood A-list this past year, including a Golden Globe for Best Leading Actress in a Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, Awkwafina (born Nora Lum) is far from saying Farewell to the spotlight. To ring in 2020, the actress, comedian, rapper, and now executive producer takes up the torch from the recently canceled Fresh Off the Boat to deliver more quality, Asian-centered cable programming, albeit for a slightly different audience. Awkwafina is Nora from Queens is TV-14 content for deadbeat 28-year-olds and everyone else who still needs to get their shit together.
At the start of the pilot, our meta-titular character wakes up in what is Comedy Central’s version of The Good Place. Laverne Cox is a welcome guest to berate Nora offscreen as the voice of God, who is imagined here as an all-knowing, all-powerful director of HR. One scathing wake-up call later, you’ll realize that the casting for this show is spot-on. From Lori Tan Chinn (Orange is the New Black) as the doting and very transparent grandmother to Bowen Yang (Saturday Night Live) as Nora’s insufferable Bay Area tech cousin, the cast carries the show’s home run in its portrayal of a multi-generational Asian-American family.
And this family embraces their American side wholeheartedly: the Lin elders are laid-back, foul-mouthed, and openly caring to their indolent daughter, despite her ill-fated attempts to secure any sort of bag. It’s a welcome change from the tight-lipped, poised exterior that Asian families are usually vilified for. The lived-in atmosphere also serves as the perfect environment for Awkwafina to pay homage to how far she has come, including literally stepping out of a towed car with her genitals in full display. In an absurd reference to The Farewell, Nora randomly addresses her grandma in Mandarin after holding their entire conversation in English, prompting a hilarious “What are you doing?” from her onscreen dad, played delightfully by an unusually chill BD Wong.
It’s a shame, then, that not all the jokes are as funny. The best joke in the pilot (which involves some dragon-themed shenanigans) will definitely catch some fiery laughter. Fans of Broad City’s Ilana Wexler will be pleasantly surprised to find her soul sister in Nora. But for this budding sitcom to secure its three million viewers–the highest ratings for Comedy Central in three years–it’ll first need to shed the formulaic tropes we all know it can outgrow.
“Pilot” verdict: 3.5 / 5
Header photo: Zach Dilgard. Courtesy of Comedy Central.
Karen Jaranilla is a visiting contributor for From the Intercom. A proud Filipino-American, she credits her parents for raising her on R&B, jazz, disco, and house music. When she’s not on Spotify, she enjoys salsa dancing, reading, and very round ducks.