HomeTelevision'Awkwafina is Nora From Queens' Can’t Quite Fill Our Broad City Shaped...

‘Awkwafina is Nora From Queens’ Can’t Quite Fill Our Broad City Shaped Hole 

Awkafina is Nora from Queens
Photo Credit: Zach Dilgard

Hot off her historic win at the Golden Globes for her role in The Farewell, there couldn’t be a better time for Awkwafina to have her own show already in the pipeline. After stealing scenes as a supporting character in films like Ocean’s Eight and Crazy Rich Asians, Comedy Central has tapped her to help fill the void left behind after the ending of the channel’s most popular series of the last decade, Broad City. But does Nora From Queens live up to the hype and the expectations that Comedy Central has for its newest series? 

Awkwafina is Nora From Queens (Nora being the real name of the actress we know as Awkwafina) is a semi-autobiographical show about what it was like for Awkwafina growing up in Queens, New York. The central conflict appears to be that Nora, at age twenty-seven, has had enough of being seen as a directionless slacker and becomes motivated to move out of the house she shares with her father (BD Wong, Mr. Robot) and her grandmother (Lori Tan Chinn, Orange Is The New Black). Though the two are very supportive and nurturing of Nora, she feels a little bit of competition with her well-to-do cousin Edmund (Bowen Yang, Saturday Night Live), who works in tech and appears to be the favorite of the family due in large part to his success. 

What’s interesting about this being the central premise of the series (that a twenty-something millennial slacker is looking to move out on her own for the first time) is that it’s not that uncommon. In Nora’s world, everyone else has done more and made more of a name for themselves, leaving her to feel like a loser. But in the real world, one in six millennials Nora’s age are still living at home with their parents. In the real world, we probably wouldn’t even bat an eye at the daughter of a low-income Asian-American family still living at home, but in the world of Nora From Queens this alone is supposed to be all the proof we need that Nora is a failure. 

The show does go to a little bit of trouble showing us some of the other ways Nora is a loser, however. She’s a hoarder who can’t bear to throw away any of her trash, she owns a flame-covered car. She was using this car so she could work for a ride-share app, but her employment is suspended after she causes an accident. Eventually, the car gets towed, but not before she burns down her friend’s apartment and chooses to live inside it rather than going back home and admitting defeat. Nora struggles through a series of misfortunes that can all be attributed to the fact she lacks actual motivation and can’t seem to take anything seriously. 

Perhaps there’s charm to be found in all this that is supposed to make Nora more likable, but the character comes off too selfish and unmotivated in the first episode to attract me to her. Take for example how she burdens her friend by moving in without paying rent, and almost immediately breaks the only rule her new roommate gave her by breaking into a forbidden second bedroom where she learns of her friend’s secret identity as a cam girl. Nora’s anger towards her friend seems misdirected, and the fact that the friend was concealing this from her and lying about being a lawyer makes absolutely no sense and doesn’t get the amount of attention required for pulling any kind of explanation out of the argument. Why would someone who went to law school and took the bar exam be embarrassed to admit to Nora, who has been fully established as a slacker and a bit of a sad sack, that she’s living this lifestyle? 

The issue of Nora as an unlikable protagonist may run far deeper than just the way she doubles down on her bad behavior in this pilot episode. Despite the attention and the praise Awkwafina has received for being an Asian American role model and breaking barriers for Asian actresses, a lot of controversy has followed her as well. Criticisms of racial stereotyping and appropriation, use of a “blaccent” and co-opting Black culture are some of the most prevalent criticisms Awkwafina has received, and all of them have been raised with some merit. All of these criticisms stem from the fact that she has used and co-opted Black culture for her rise to fame and now that she’s profited and benefited off of it, she seems to have rejected it, finding that it no longer suits her. For this reason she’s a tricky role model to support, and beyond just looking to her as someone who is paving the way for Asian American representation, it also adds to the lack of understanding we have for the character of Nora. 

It’s unfair to even attempt a comparison between Nora From Queens and Broad City, which seems inevitable given that both shows featuring young women living in New York City. There’s a vaguely reminiscent Broad City-esque aesthetic that permeates Nora, for better and for worse. While I’m sure Comedy Central would love for this to be the follow up to their former sacred cow, it is not clear if that’s the most likely outcome here. Nora From Queens has promise, and it has the potential for relatability, but it needs to scale down the protagonist and make her human in a way the actress she’s based on has never been. 

Rating: 6 out of 10 

Awkwafina is Nora from Queens airs Wednesday nights on Comedy Central.


Melissa Jouben
Melissa Jouben
Melissa Jouben is an enthusiastic young writer who can usually be seen performing or enjoying live comedy in New Jersey and New York. She has a very limited range of interests which can be summed up by the following list, in no particular order: comedy, cartoons, toy collecting, wrestling, limited edition varieties of soda, and Billy Joel. She was born and raised in New Jersey and can’t wait to leave so she can brag to all her new neighbors about how great the ocean smells at low tide.


  1. If you are Asian, and grew up in Queens as a millennial, then you grew up with black and brown people. And you would know that Awkwafina’s portrayal is accurate. I find her character perfectly likeable, realistic, and idiosyncratic, but I am not white and from Queens. I find it disingenuous when white folk attempt to examine cultural appropriation in non-white contexts. BTW, I strongly recommend that you stick to covering white shows for white folk. Have a great day!

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