It’s been nearly a year since “Broad City” concluded its run, leaving a hole in the heart of anyone who watched — especially for Comedy Central. The apparent heir to this is “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens” which should fit in just fine, once it settles down. After Awkwafina’s recent string of success in high-profile films like “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Ocean’s 8,” and after becoming the first Asian-American woman to win a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her role in “The Farewell,” she now steps into what could be her hardest role yet: filling the shoes of both Abbi and Ilana.
It’s extremely difficult to judge a show based on its pilot, as that first episode serves as an introduction into the show’s universe rather than an actual episode of the show. But, in attempting to establish the various relationships and dynamics of “Nora From Queens,” the similarities to “Broad City” become unavoidable — and they really just make me wish I was watching “Broad City” instead. Rather than focusing on the relationship between friends in their twenties, it’s Awkwafina and her family. One thing that remains the same, however, is that it’s a comedy about an entertainingly oddball young woman trying to make meaning of her life as she works strange jobs, gets high and makes the most of living on a tight budget.
Comparing the show to “Broad City” is not the issue at hand. After all, imitation is the highest form of flattery. Once you stop comparing them, however, the problems become apparent. The editing and fast pace are supposed to provide the show with a sort of comedic energy, but Nora’s storylines are almost too short to become invested in. Fans of Awkwafina will feel her personality and creativity through some goofy montages, but that isn’t enough to stop the show from burning out fast.
Nora lives with her widowed father, Wally (BD Wong, “Jurassic Park”), and her unfiltered grandma (Lori Tan Chinn, “Orange is the New Black”). After being mocked for her hoarder-like messy room and made fun of by a neighboring teenager for still living at home, Nora decides it’s time to move out. She’s going to get a job, an apartment and live the life she set out to live a decade before … except, she’s not! After a predictable set of escalating twists, she ends up right back at home by the end of the episode.
In all fairness, this first episode gives us a taste of what’s to come. Nora’s failure to show any sort of growth tells us that her family will play a major role in the series, making this an ensemble comedy.
The scenes with her family got the most laughs from me and present the most possibilities for humorous interactions, which is why I have a feeling the show will improve. The pilot relies on Awkwafina to carry all the comedic weight in far too many of the scenes. This is mostly a function of her character trying to be something she’s not — an adult — which results in the episode being something the show isn’t going to be — a show about her becoming an adult on the fly.
As I tried to make meaning out of the various roadblocks, in some instances literal ones, it became increasingly clear there was no meaning to make. Far too many storylines led to dead ends rather than open up possibilities for Nora’s character. “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens” should be able to find its footing, escape the similarities to “Broad City” and hopefully find its own path forward, but it’s going to take Nora much longer than it took Abbi and Ilana to grow up.