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Awkwafina was Nora from Queens
When one TV show ends...
In January 2020, Comedy Central released the first episodes of Awkwafina is Nora from Queens on YouTube. This was the tail end of comedians' TV series based on their pre-fame selves (think: Louie, Master of None, One Mississippi, Ramy, Better Things, Insecure, maybe Whitney, Atlanta). Following mainstream media metric success of Fresh off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians, and Awkwafina's dramatic lead in The Farewell, why not put her on TV?
The first season follows Nora as she tries various schemes to move on up and out of her home in Forest Hills. Early conflicts often touch on "adult-ing", such as trying to get money ride-sharing, or reactivating a bank account when her ID's expired and she forgot her SSN. Awkward adult-ing into chaos was a throughline in Broad City, but fellow millennials had been growing with that show (2014–2019). In 2020 I was failing to renew my drivers license and loved the episode, but I was a digital nomad outlier.
With Nora from Queens airing in 2020–2021, it was awkward timing for an NYC-based comedy to get its legs. Season 2 ends with Nora rushing home from a feminist cult in New Mexico amid Covid (this was strange enough that it must be a true story?).
The show evolved, and in Season 3 Episode 7, Nora finished traveling through alternate realities and met the real-world Awkwafina. She officiates a family wedding. At the end of the episode, seeing Nora content in her reality, we pan to Awkwafina turning off the stage lights.
The top comment on the series subreddit was:
Did I miss something? Was this a series finale?!
We aren't going to know the numbers, contracts, whatever happened between Comedy Central and Awkwafina. Minimal promotion. Returning for seven episodes instead of another ten. One episode filmed in Iceland? This can happen organically when bigger media contracts are in the works (Awkwafina recently joined the MCU in Shang-Chi, played an introvert in a starring role in Quiz Lady, and was announced in the next Kung Fu Panda; Bowen Yang filmed separately a lot after joining SNL).
With the show fading from memory, I'd like to throw some appreciation to:
- The time travel episode, Stop! Nora Time is wild and intricately designed for a time travel adventure packed into one episode. When I rewatched, I noticed that's Chloe Fineman from SNL!
- The episode China where Nora is brought to China to be an American face in an important meeting, and still ends up causing trouble for her attentive fixer, is pure facts and I had to take time to process it.
- I like the grandma character, and there is a lot of hype around her 'young grandma' episode (early Daniels and Stephanie Hsu collab).
- The bank / SSN episode was directed by Natasha Lyonne!
- Season 1 gave us Awkwafina's 7 train announcements; everyone hated this as an ad platform, though.
- Season 3 shows creative freedom - when creatives have autonomy they reach either for the surreal or the art film. And the ending felt real and heartfelt and final. It makes it believable that Awkwafina made the show with nostalgia for her chill homebody self.
From some random on Twitter:
nora from queens is actually pretty good and i think its cause awkwafina knows ppl will hate watch it and her character is truly written for the haters
I wrote some retrospectives here but was only repeating myself.
Awkwafina - do the Shang-Chi sequel, try making an animated show for kids, or maybe roll up all those grandma mafia plotlines and Cultural Revolution flashbacks? Teach a master class in New York City about New York City. Open a celebrity CBD restaurant in Flushing and maybe I can convince my relatives to leave Manhattan. Reboot The Santa Clause by pushing Tim Allen off a roof IRL. Just get out of Comedy Central and get that Hulu money.
Awkwafina is Nora from Queens is on Max or you can buy individual episodes.