Saturday, April 4, 2020
April 4, 2020

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Awkwafina’s sitcom ‘Nora from Queens’ is a winner


Nora (Awkwafina, the comedian, rapper and movie star — “The Farewell,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) lives at home in Flushing with her grandma (Lori Tan Chinn, “Orange Is the New Black”) and her dad (BD Wong, most recently, “Mr. Robot”). She’s struggling to figure stuff out, or how to move out, but jobs are hard to come by. At least grandma and dad are patient. This series — which Comedy Central just handed a second season to — is based on the life of Nora Lum, aka Awkwafina.

MY SAY: “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens” poses one of the great questions of our time, specifically this one: Will millennials watch a TV show with commercials in it?

You probably remember those kind of shows. They “air” on “commercial networks” and were the sort of shows everyone used to watch, until shows started to stream, and cords started to get cut, and millennials fell off the Nielsen radar. The world changes fast, really fast, and even “Broad City” feels like some relic from a distant age. That, by the way, ended just last year.

In some ways, “Awkwafina” is the next “Broad City,” full of the same vitality, the same dislocation in the same city, where “gigs” rule and a steady paycheck is for parents (or grandparents), and hardly for someone who’s still trying to find themselves at the age of 27.

Mostly though, “Awkwafina” is next Awkwafina, or the logical extension of those considerable gifts she already has and which we’ve already witnessed elsewhere. What’s so good about this, however, is that she has doubled back on the world she knows, and the life she’s lived. Lum is the perfect person to play the heightened version of her own story, because only she can fully appreciate how absurd that life can be for a Chinese American bisexual woman in Flushing, circa right-about-now.

Or how funny. This is a situation comedy bound by the oldest of rules — situations — but in the same sense that “Seinfeld” was once bound by them. Nora’s world is so specific that they almost seem to write themselves. The grandmother who takes her to Atlantic City to spend the promotional $67 voucher on free food. The pompous high-tech cousin (“Saturday Night Live’s” Bowen Yang) who may have a “vestigial tail.” The high school friend with the Emerson MFA who got laid off from BuzzFeed, then from Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s production company, then from her own ill-fated Snapchat series, as if the trajectory of millennial life was a tragicomic downward spiral, or exactly like Nora’s, in fact.

Nora’s own response to adversity is on the other end of a bong pipe. But even when stoned, she’s still self-aware enough to know that life (like TV) does move pretty fast. If you stop to look around too often, then you could end up as a hoarder in Queens, playing online video games with tweens on the other side of the world, and “borrowing” someone’s old bottle of ADHD meds.

But anyway, the answer is obviously yes. Millennials will watch, and you will too because this is the best new comedy of the brand-new decade. (Just don’t be surprised if you wait until it ends up on Hulu or Netflix, however.)

BOTTOM LINE: “Nora” is a unbridled joy.’