From the first time I saw Awkwafina in “Crazy Rich Asians” to her groundbreaking and Oscar-winning acting in “Farewell,” I knew that she definitely had the capacity to deliver another amazing performance. Premiering quite recently, “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens” follows scrappy protagonist Nora through, you guessed it, Queens. Coming into this, not going to lie, I had seriously high expectations to see something that would make me genuinely laugh at least a few times (but hopefully more).
The pilot opens with a close up of Awkwafina’s face, a chorus of angelic sounding voices drifting behind against a stark backdrop of blue. Zooming out, we see her centered in the sky, wearing a flowy white robe as if she were an off-brand sort of angel. I immediately started laughing as the voice of Laverne Cox cut through the dreamy sequence, claiming she is in fact, God.
After juggling between a somewhat candid conversation regarding Nora’s life on earth (shaming the fact that she still lives with her father and grandmother at age 27), she proceeds to call God a “b*tch.” God, obviously offended, throws Nora out, and we are quite literally thrown into the overcrowded and messy setting of Nora’s room.
Her grandmother points out that there is a Fruit Roll Up stuck to her lampshade and H-Mart shopping baskets littered in various spots around her room. For those of you who don’t know, H-Mart is a cult-favorite Asian food store. I immediately thought of how Marie Kondo would feel to get her hands on Nora’s bedroom; this situation could definitely strike a chord with many messy millennial Americans. It was refreshing to see how real her situation was, and there was no sugar-coating it. I felt like I had stepped into an actual family home in Queens, New York.
Nora immediately began to feel like a “fun aunt” as she encountered her teenage neighbor also taking out the trash with a chorus of “420, blaze it, want to hit my dab?” I found it comical and endearing how hard she was trying. From casual one-liners sprinkled all throughout the episode with genuine delivery, it was hard not to root for such a low-key goofy protagonist.
Eventually, after we follow Nora throughout failing 1-star Commute (basically Uber) rides, she starts brainstorming ideas for a real job with the help of her seemingly successful lawyer friend, Shanise.
Awkwafina’s background in comedy shines right through the whole episode. One of my favorite lines that she said, counteracting Shanise’s suggestion that she should work at an old folks’ home was, “Nah, I can’t do that, I remind them too much of ‘Nam.” It was so dry and casual that I could not stop laughing.
It was also heartfelt and touching to see the very close relationship that Nora has with her grandmother. After learning something she wasn’t prepared for, she retreats to the bathroom (or her “bedroom” at Shanise’s house for the time being) to be sad on the toilet. Receiving a Facetime call from her grandmother, she immediately asks what is wrong because she knows Nora is taking a “sad sh*t.” Even though they were apart, you could tell that the two have a very strong bond that’s likely been through many obstacles. It’s alluded to later that Nora’s mother is no longer around and it left me wondering if we would learn more about her in later episodes.
After the final scene faded out, showing Nora hugging her mountain of stuff shoved into her closet, I found myself smiling to myself. Her unconventional journey, littered much like the H-Mart baskets with obstacles, leading her all over Queens in her red (and golden dragon embellished car), is nothing short of endearing. We want Nora to find her place in the world, even if that means tucked away in her family home for now. Awkwafina delivered a performance no less than what I expected from her and I wait with anticipation to see the next carefully crafted episode.