TV TATTLE

Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens is too reminiscent of Broad City

  • "Comedian and actress Nora Lum, better known as Awkwafina, has reached the Insecure-Girls stage of her fame, anchoring a semi-autobiographical half-hour perfectly timed to follow the recent Golden Globe win for her performance in Lulu Wang’s The Farewell," says Alison Herman "But in practice, Nora From Queens doesn’t feel much like the introductions created by Issa Rae, Lena Dunham, and Awkwafina’s fellow Globe winner Ramy Youssef—total immersions in a specific point of view, designed to familiarize the audience with the persona of its creator-star. Instead, the show seems transparently modeled after Broad City, the groundbreaking, five-season friendship saga that concluded last year. By the end of the five episodes sent out to critics, the viewer comes away with less of a sense of who Nora is than how much she isn’t Abbi or Ilana." Herman adds: "It’s hard not to worry that the network has put the cart before the horse. Nora From Queens’ namesake is a familiar archetype, a 27-year-old slacker living at home with no discernible direction in life. But she—and the show—is familiar in more targeted ways than the time-honored trope of an actor playing a version of themselves sans the drive, talent, and motivation to make a TV show. Like Broad City, Nora From Queens uses animated interstitials in lieu of a credits sequence, furnished with New York hallmarks like speeding subway trains. Like Broad City, Nora From Queens trades in broad (no pun intended) stoner humor; in the pilot, Nora pauses mid-hug to rip a bong. Like Broad City, Nora From Queens delves into the scrappier side of urban existence. A quite-possibly-haunted impound lot in Nora could easily be next door to North Brother Island."

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    • Awkwafina’s greatest strength as an actor is in physical comedy: "Her funniest moments in Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens see her using her whole body to create a heightened sense of comedic reality that evokes the great silent-movie masters," says Katie Rife. "Even when the show’s comedy relies more on its scripts—written by Awkwafina, Family Guy’s Teresa Hsiao, and Portlandia’s Karey Dornetto—Awkwafina’s highly expressive face is still the star of every scene. So perhaps it’s of a piece that the show is at its best when it stays small, losing its specific point of view when it ventures into generic tech-industry satire later in the season. It’s much more fun to hang out at home with Nora, Grandma, and Dad (BD Wong), or to follow Nora as she fumbles her way through odd jobs, like her brief stint on a site called 420camchicks.com and her Adderall-infused quest to help a family friend sell a condemned building haunted by 'Cantonese ghosts.'"
    • Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens is as good or even better than predecessors Girls and Broad City: "Even with its subversive packaging," says Jeva Lange, "Awkwafina's new show is as funny — if not funnier — than its predecessors. While the 31-year-old rapper-turned-actress made it big in 2018 with roles in Ocean's 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, and this year won a deserving Golden Globe for her part in The Farewell, the semi-autobiographical Nora from Queens looks back to a less-glamorous time, when Awkwafina (whose real name is Nora Lum) was unemployed and living with her father (played on screen by BD Wong) and grandmother (the always-memorable Lori Tan Chinn) in Queens. The majority of Nora from Queens' 20-minute episodes revolve around scenarios in which Nora attempts, often rather pathetically, to grow up."
    • Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens is missing something: "Awkwafina is all charisma, and while many jokes and scenarios land expertly, Nora From Queens is missing something," says Gabrielle Bruney. "The pompous and fussy Frasier Crane may not have been able to support his own show if he hadn’t been paired with the more pompous and fussier Niles, who allowed Frasier be be both a ready madcap and capable straight man. But lacking some of the push and pull that makes for the best sitcoms, Nora floats almost listlessly through her world, all bongs and vibrators and ill-advised dye jobs. It’s not that Awkwafina the actress needs the tempering effects of a more sober costar; The Farewell proved that she may actually be a more skilled dramatic performer than she is a broad comic. But Nora Lin so far doesn’t possess the range that Nora Lum does."
    • Awkwafina's comic ceiling feels higher when she’s the only one onscreen: "It’s easy to understand why so much of this sitcom is just the Farewell star out there on her own. Not only is she in the middle of a big pop-culture moment (even sans Oscar nomination), but the show is unabashedly true to her life," says Alan Sepinwall, adding: "Enough works in this season to make it feel like a smart next phase in Awkwafina’s acting career. But when Nora returns for a second season (it’s already been renewed), she and her fellow producers would do well to figure out exactly who this fictional Nora is, and whether she’s best out on her own, or as part of a buddy act."
    • Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens is fine. Dumb, but fine: "Pretty dumb, though," says Rob Harvilla. "It is plainly striving for Broad City–style lovable-loser vibrance and plainly doesn’t get there, in part because it can’t hope to manufacture anything approaching Abbi-and-Ilana chemistry. (It’s definitely no The Other Two, either.)...Awkwafina herself, meanwhile, radiates a rapturous and seemingly brainless off-kilter charm that burns brighter the subtler it is...This broad and erratic show is a hell of a time to absorb the lesson that the mantra Less Is More applies to this person especially, though The Farewell already proved that in dramatically different, and in fact nearly incompatible, circumstances. What I’m saying is that it’s awfully jarring the first time Nora calls her tiresomely profane Comedy Central grandmother Nai Nai."
    • It’s hard not to feel, a bit, like we are watching something more invested in mythmaking than in entertainment: "The show attempts to make the case that Awkwafina wasn’t always Awkwafina," says Daniel D'Addario. "But its star is so incandescent that it hardly seems like a case worth making. Can’t we just enjoy her company without being told, at an increasingly frenzied pitch, that she’s just like us?"
    • Awkwafina is a little bit Broad City, a small dash of Insecure and a bit of High Maintenance -- but not as insightful or as fully realized: "It’s mainly a low-impact visit with a deeply absurd, underachieving woman and her nevertheless supportive family. The revelations are next to nil and the big laughs are not as frequent as a viewer might hope," says Hank Stuever, adding: "What prevails — what may be the only theme here — is that Nora is at her best when everyone and everything around her will just let her chill. In that regard, it can be fun to watch her work so hard to get nowhere"
    • Awkwakfina Is Nora From Queens needs to find its own identity — and fast: "While plenty of fans are desperate to fill the Broad City-sized hole in their hearts (and queues), its time as a web series provided enough opportunities to iron out the problems seen in Nora," says Ben Travers. "(Abbi) Jacobson and (Ilana) Glazer had something to say, and the audience could feel their passion in every joke, inflection, montage, music choice and yes, every cut. It was as precise as Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens is awkward, from the title to the closing credits."
    • The real pleasure of Nora From Queens is in how elegantly it avoids the traps so many other TV shows about immigrant families fall into: "Either dwelling on the ways in which the characters diverge from some imagined American norm or erasing all cultural specificity," says Judy Berman. "There are no so-called tiger parents among the Lins. Instead, Lum gives us a story line in which a gang of Chinese grannies spend a full day in Atlantic City in order to cash in the free casino chips that come with their bus tickets. It seems only fitting that a performer who has played such a distinctive role in Hollywood’s recent Asian-American renaissance would use her own auteur project to push the movement further."
    • BD Wong say he's never been in a show like this: "All it takes is a visionary person, who is the central energy to the whole project and shares this fantastic, contagious energy," Wong says. "Let's just do a show and put those things in it. Let's just make sure Asian Americans play a huge role in creating it as writers. And you get something that's really different from what you would normally get in a formulaic, corporate configuration."
    • Nora from Queens is trying to book Ali Wong, Sandra Oh and Daniel Dae Kim for Season 2
    • Does Awkwafina feel she needs a sitcom when her film career is taking off?: "I definitely see that and it was something that I asked myself," she says. "Is my trajectory supposed to go like this? Then I realized that my trajectory doesn’t make any sense. I have no idea if this is literally going to end tomorrow. I’m definitely prepared for end times. I want to do this sitcom for that reason. It was something that was on the radar and that I wanted to finish. It was also like my second project as the lead and one of my first forays into executive producing. So it was learning all those duties. It was forming this amazing group of people and feeling togetherness with them. Those things were really special and I never had the ability to do them before."

    TOPICS: Awkwafina is Nora from Queens, Comedy Central, Broad City, Awkwafina (Actress/Musician), BD Wong, Karey Dornetto, Teresa Hsiao




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