Comedy Central knows its audience is primarily made of (but not limited to) bong-slurping, couch-surfing, startup-working, change-making millennials, which is why many of its scripted shows follow (or appeal to) bong-slurping, couch-surfing, startup-working, change-making millennials too. Broad City, Idiotsitter, Detroiters, South Side, and others are all about young hustlers hazily and lazily struggling in a world where the odds are stacked against them, and Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens is the latest comedy to not glamorize the challenge of being broke af.
The comedy stars Awkwafina/Nora Lum — the timing of which couldn't be better; she just won a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in The Farewell — as Nora, a 27-year-old New Yorker who can't hold a steady job (she drives for a ride-sharing app for cash) and can't catch a break, mostly because she can't stop screwing things up for herself. And given the amount of bong rips she takes, she doesn't seem too intent on trying to fix her problems. So in many ways, down to the Day-Glo-like animated title card and interstitials, Nora from Queens feels like a continuation of Broad City and the other shows it spawned.
But how do new entries in this growing genre stand out from being merely more jokes about dank weed, Tinder, and other things that send shivers down boomer spines? Nora from Queens has two things that give it its own identity: It's told from an Asian-American point of view, and its hero still lives at home with her father and grandmother. That first bit is obviously a boon to diversifying television, especially since it focuses on a group that's still woefully underrepresented on TV (Fresh Off the Boat sails off into the sunset after its upcoming season), and to hear that jook is on the table for breakfast in a show about a 27-year-old is a plus for representation. But it's the fact that Nora still lives at home that gives Nora from Queens its shine and adds to its relevancy.
Millennials are screwed, we all know that. Previous generations have bottlenecked their ability to make a decent living wage and find full financial independence, and statistics show somewhere between 15 to 25 percent of millennials live with their parents. But Broad City's Abbi and Ilana, skint as they were, never shacked up with mom and dad. Nora from Queens embraces staying in the nest not to create a family comedy — despite the screentime that Nora's dad Wally (BD Wong) and grandmother (Lori Tan Chinn) get — but as an opportunity to upend the typical depiction of a TV family relationship by highlighting the dire straits of millennials today, and also to show off the multi-generational living situation that isn't abnormal in Asian-American households.
Wong and Chinn's characters are more Nora's roommates than family. There's very little nagging or pressure for her to move out, and Nora even wants to hang out with them. She's especially close with her grandmother, who is a scene-stealer (what's up with Awkwafina and cool grandmas?) and proves Chinn really should have had more to do in Orange Is the New Black. In the second episode, the two take a trip to Atlantic City and Grandma and her other elderly Chinese friends get to fight with older Korean ladies over the only available outlet so Grandma can charge her iPad to watch more Korean soap operas. Grandma cusses, dances, and dresses like she rolled through a thrift store covered in glue, all with Chinn's irresistible grin filling the screen and her nasally cartoonish voice filling your ears. Give her Grandma of the Year already!
But make no mistake, Awkwafina is the star, and Nora's difficulties in adulting make up the bulk of the show. In early episodes, Nora's clearly the problem as she doses Adderall to hold a temp job and plays online games with tweens instead of looking for employment, but as the series matures, it shifts its focus on Nora being helpless in an antiquated system full of unnecessary red tape. For example, after getting paid by check for some work, Nora tries to cash the check, which fills an entire episode because who the hell uses checks anymore? All the while, Awkwafina's quick-burst temper and micro-tantrums keep things humming along, and we really can't blame her. Being a grown-up in today's world is hard. Fortunately, Comedy Central knows how to make it funny, too.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens premieres Wednesday, Jan. 22 at 10:30/9:30c on Comedy Central.
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