Ensemble cast brings great strength to ‘Nora from Queens”

Rick's Reviews

Ensemble cast brings great strength to ‘Nora from Queens”

Television comedies are generally built around a single person but the secret sauce those shows need to become great are all of the supporting players. You can see it in the best TV comedies from “Seinfeld” to “Ted Lasso.”

Add “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens” to that list. It is certainly the comedic hurricane of Awkwafina who drives the show but it is the standout supporting cast that makes the show so completely rich. How well the ensemble works together can be seen as episodes from the second season can be seen at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Comedy Central.

The series comes from creator and writer Awkwafina (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”) and wasinspired by her real-life growing up in Queens, NY. Nora leans heavily on her family as she tries to navigate life and young adulthood in the outer borough of New York City.

Two of the members of this strong ensemble cast are the veteran actor Lori Tan Chinn who plays Nora’s spunky grandmother and Bowen Yang who has taken on the role of Nora’s cousin.

Yang realized after wrapping the first season that while all of the cast members come from very different backgrounds – from stage to sketch comedy – they all found the right connections.

“The fact that we are able to converge on this is so special,” Yang says. “We all trusted each other and that is a rare phenomenon.”

Yang is an Australian-born Chinese American actor, comedian and podcaster who has been working as a writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live” since 2018. Along with his role in “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens,” he is a writer on the Apple TV+ musical comedy series Schmigadoon! 

He found going from “SNL” to “Nora” felt very different while at the same time came across like a good fit.

“I am still part of an ensemble cast. Still doing comedy,” Yang says. “The differences are also very interesting. In this show there is a lot of improvising while at “SNL’ we stick to the cue cards.

“I am just very lucky to have been able to switch back and forth.”

Chinn, who is best known for her role as Mei Chang on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” has been working as a professional actor since making her Broadway debut in 1970 in “Lovely Ladies, Kind Gentlemen.”

Her lengthy career has given her the opportunity to see how important a strong cast is as well as good writing when it comes to comedy.

Chinn says, “It’s all a mixture. You start off with the writing and go with it. Then suddenly, improvisation comes in. You want to add more to it.

“The other person hears what you are saying and they add more. It’s just like a cooking thing where everyone gets to be a gourmet.”

The combination of the strong ensemble cast with the comedy freedom has made every episode of the series fun for Chinn. She describes herself as being a writer at heart and knows she can depend on the other members of the cast to handle any improvisation she does.

Both Yang and Chinn agree one of the best parts of being part of the “Nora from Queens” cast is getting to work with Awkwafina. Chinn describes the experiences as “fun” and “a surprise every minute.”

On a more serious note

The new Discovery+ series “The Program: Prison Detox” takes a first-hand look at how one small town is handling the worst drug epidemic in American history and turning the tables on the justice system.  The staff of the Sevier County, AR jail piloted a program to save its community – devastated by drug addiction – by offering qualified inmates the unprecedented chance to walk free if they graduate from a three-month drug rehabilitation program.

To date, more than 150 inmates have taken advantage of the program.

Robert Gentry, Sheriff and Co-Creator of the Sevier County Residential Substance Abuse Treatment program, didn’t know what to expect when the program launched in 2017.

“We actually started this without a playbook, so we really didn’t know what experts we needed.  We just got started and when we saw a need, we reached out within our community and we found our experts here in our community that have stepped up and helped us,” Gentry says. “We rely a lot on our local churches and pastors to step up because one thing we did find that there is a plethora of people in this community that are experts in something.

“Prior to the COVID hitting, we had 53 registered volunteers that came into the jail every week at their allotted time and they didn’t miss.”

The first three episodes will premiere on the streaming service on Aug. 25.

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