Awkwafina is Nora from Queens shows star’s comedic prowess

Courtesy of Zach Dilgard | Comedy Central
Awkwafina is well known for her roles in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians.

Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer

01/30/20

Awkwafina is Nora From Queens debuted Wednesday, Jan. 22 and all indications are that Comedy Central hit a home run with this series. The series has already been renewed for a second season, and after watching the pilot, I can understand why.

This show, is like nothing else I have ever seen, yet oddly familiar. For Comedy Central, whose many shows, like South Park and Tosh.0, border on bold and odd, Awkwafina is Nora From Queens fits in quite well. Yet, the show distinguishes itself because it blends slice-of-life storytelling with a multiple shotgun-like blasts of information.

In one scene alone, Awkwafina starts driving for a rideshare service only to take viewers on a montage of embarrassingly uncomfortable small talk she has with her passengers. Another moment that embraces the show’s unique style is when Awkwafina is sitting in a restaurant with her more successful cousin talking about getting a new job. This, of course, goes horribly wrong like the rideshare experience.

Overall, the show portrays bizarre takes on mundane situations that give viewers a sense of déjà vu with a Dutch angle. Something always seems a little off no matter what scene you are watching, and usually, the culprit is Awkwafina. Yet, similarly to FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, things always seem to work out for the main character, regardless of what stupid or dangerous thing they do.

As absurd as this show is, and the fact that most daily interactions never take these peculiar dives into the strange, there is a kernel of truth in every scene. There is almost a deadpan humor portrayed by Awkwafina that takes real-life situations to the extreme to demonstrate the absurdity of certain lines of thinking.

Awkwafina’s encounters with racism, a common theme for her across all artistic media, is something she often discusses using this deadpan style. In one of the previews for later episodes, one woman tells Awkwafina her English is really good, assuming she is not from the US because she is Asian. While this is played for laughs, it also gets at the truth of the matter that assumptions are often tied to judgments made on images. Everyone can do better at catching and reframing these stereotypes as they arrive in their mind.

A less obvious example of this deadpan style calling into question stereotypes is when the show opens and Awkwafina is lying in her cluttered room smoking. Her grandmother calls her a hoarder and Awkwafina associates the idea of hoarders with deadbeats. This leads to her later asking her father if she is a loser. Her father responds by comparing her to her more successful cousin, assuring her she is not a loser. The messages are obviously mixed in that conversation.

The answer her father gives her then propels the plot for the rest of the pilot as viewers jump from scene to scene of not-quite-right scenarios. Overall, this demonstrates Awkwafina’s mastery of comedy because she is able to play with expectations so well on a subliminal level that it would take careful and detached analysis to point out what her setups are in every scene.

Awkwafina is Nora From Queens is a smart show even if it appears absurdly stupid to viewers at first glance. Comedy Central clearly recognized the potential this show has after seeing the viewing numbers for the pilot alone. Overall, for anyone not acquainted with Awkwafina in the past two years, appreciating the show will be much more difficult. For anyone on the fence about whether this show is worth watching, it is.

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