Awkwafina is Nora from Queens is a family comedy about Nora Lin, a young woman who lives with her father and paternal grandmother in Queens, New York. The show is warm-hearted, upbeat and sometimes surreal.
The comedy mostly follows the adventures of Nora. She’s a cheerful, lively soul who’s struggling to find a place for herself in the economy. Surrounded by successful people, she can’t help comparing herself with them. Although she often feels down, she takes an upbeat approach and tries to “live in the moment.”
Nora is played by the rapper and actor Awkwafina (a.k.a Nora Lum). You might’ve seen her in any number of movies, including Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s 8 and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
It’s no coincidence that Nora Lin is acted by a woman whose real name is Nora Lum. The show is inspired by Lum’s own upbringing. After the early death of her mother, she was raised by her father and grandparents in Queens.
Nora’s father Wally will definitely look familiar to you. He’s performed by BD Wong. BD Wong’s many tv and movie credits include 143 episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the original Jurassic Park and the Jurassic World trilogy.
Lori Tan Chinn, who plays Grandma, appeared in Orange is the New Black. However, she has had a difficult career due to lack of parts for Chinese-American women. She has often lost out in auditions to white actors going up for Asian roles. Before winning the part in Nora from Queens, she almost gave up acting. (Read about Lori Tan Chinn’s career in this Time magazine article.)
Thank goodness then that the TV gods smiled on Lori Tan Chinn. She is absolutely brilliant as Nora’s rascally Grandma. The character’s wicked sense of humour, bright smile and feisty attitude are a delight to watch. As much as I love Awkwafina as Nora, for me, Lori Tan Chinn is the star of the show.
Grandma’s not only feisty, she’s also a style icon. As this article for The Hollywood Reporter explains, many of Grandma’s clothes were brought to set by Lori Tan Chinn herself.
No description of Nora from Queens is complete without mention of Grandma’s posse of equally lively Asian-American grandmothers. In this interview with The Mary Sue, Lori Tan Chinn talked about how the show gave her fellow actors a chance to have some fun after decades of limited roles. She said: “So that’s what made me feel very good, that they got to do something instead of just shuffling around in the background, which in their 20 year careers they have been forced to do background work.”
There’s no news yet about whether the show will be renewed for a third season. If it’s not, I very much hope that Lori Tan Chinn, Awkwafina and the grandmothers will appear together in something else.
Readers in Britain can see the first two seasons of Awkwafina is Nora from Queens on the BBC iPlayer. It’s available for another 11 months.