Comedy Central has been on a small roll with its scripted comedies, including “Corporate,” “The Other Two,” and, before them, “Broad City,” not to mention the mid-‘10s sketch shows led by Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, and Nick Kroll. On Wednesday at 10:30 p.m., Comedy Central is premiering a new series, “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens,” that is a nice addition to that roll, if not among its best, yet.
Like “Broad City,” it’s about being in New York in your 20s and still unformed. And, unlike “Friends,” it’s about being young in a New York where the odds are against your financial success and independence. The premise is semi-autobiographical, as Nora (Awkwafina’s birth name) lives at home with her grandmother and her widower father, failing over and over again to launch. (That was, of course, before Awkwafina launched in a big way, with roles in “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Ocean’s 8,” and “The Farewell.”) When Nora is not spending time in her room, which is piled high with junk, including her all-important bongs and vibrators, she is a ride-share driver. Too bad she drives her riders crazy with her motor-mouth, one of her many neurotic qualities. She tries other kinds of work, too, which fuel most of the plots.
Lori Tan Chinn (from “Orange Is the New Black”) walks off with the show on a regular basis as Nora’s spark plug of a grandmother. In one subplot, grandma, who is Chinese-American (Nora, like Awkwafina, is half-Korean), drags Nora to Atlantic City on a bus with her cronies. Once ensconced in the food court, the older ladies get in a turf war with a group of Korean elders over an electric outlet. Grandma is manipulative and unpredictable and an essential element in the show’s success. In a strange way, she’s the Ilana to Awkwafina’s Abby (from “Broad City”). Bowen Yang is also a kick as Nora’s insufferable high-tech-based cousin.
But ultimately, the show is Awkwafina’s baby all the way, as she brings her own fearless twists to the slacker genre. She has the chops to anchor a series, and the wisdom to let other performers steal scenes.