Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens

3 out of 5

Awkwafina annoyed me without me knowing anything about her.  I don’t tend to like crass humor, and the whole in-yer-face offensiveness shtick seems pretty tired by this point.  The name is funny for a sketch, but seems dumb as a semi-permanent nom de plume, and when I saw posters for the hyuck hyuck self-aware titled ‘Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens,’ TV show, it did nothing to dispel all of these pre-judgements.

I’ve listened to a few Awkwafina tracks since watching – and enjoying – the TV show, and I’m glad I saved them for afterwards: the persona she commits to for her rapping syncs with what had assumed my informed disdain.  And that’s present on the show, as well, but one reason I think it works in that format is because it’s grounded in her surrounding reality, making the ‘I’m a regular person rapping about ridiculousness’ joke more reliant on juxtaposition.  There’s the juxtaposition of Nora herself – frumpy, fretful, talking in hipster slang but perpetually out of touch – and then the juxtaposition of her actions with the world around her.  She’s surrounded by a good balance of equally outlandish characters (her grandmother, played by Lori Tan Chinn) and straight men/women (like BD Wong, playing her father), and the show bounces between blowing normal situations out to hilarious extremes (Nora has problems finding a place to live; Nora has problems cashing a check – both episodes cowritten by Awkwafina) and the situations that are just sort extreme in the first place (such as an episode solely dedicated to Queefing, which I’m sure is echoed in the song ‘Queef’ off of Awkwa’s ‘Yellow Ranger’ album, which I’m not planning on listening to).  The former tend to be more inventive and funny, with the latter following a usual sitcom escalating hijinx format, but in both cases, the performer’s representation of ‘Nora’ feels like a relatable mess, and tends to make things funnier than they might be in a different show, with a different cast.

Which would be my main criticism here: that excepting some standout moments, that feel very rooted in Nora Lum’s – aka Awkwafina – personal experiences, spiced up with her own brand of loose-lipped and rambunctious humor, this is just another re-skinned Comedy Central show, in which a main character stumbles in to uncomfortable situations.  Its resused the intro and interstitial animation style from Broad City, and when not authored by the performer, could likely be swapped out as an episode on any given 30-minute comedy aimed at millenials.