In the penultimate episode of season one for Nora From Queens we saw Nora (Awkwafina, whose real name is Nora Lum) and her eye-rolling Silicon Valley cousin Edmund (Bowen Yang) released their new app Scrubr only to have it go down in flames with a Fyre Fest-esque launch party. At the end of the episode, investors from China decided to acquire the app and that sent Nora to Beijing to work on the project — so she thought.
Once she arrives, Nora immediately realizes that life in Beijing is wildly different than it is in Queens. First off, there is no Instagram and secondly, weed is not as accessible as it is stateside. Nonetheless, she is welcomed with open arms by Grace (Celia Au) who immediately deems her as her BFF.
Nora is treated like a queen with a huge apartment and a corner office at the new Scrubr headquarters. She then learns that she won’t be doing any work at all and that she is just the “American Face” of Scrubr. Feeling left out and a little lost as to what she is supposed to do, she tries to immerse herself in Chinese culture — by eating KFC. befriends ex-pats that offer her a menagerie of drugs and a lifestyle of partying that she is used to.
Still, Nora seems to have no purpose in Beijing rather than being an “American Face” for Scrubr. The more time she spends in China, the more she misses her family and feels like she doesn’t belong — but at least she has Grace.
When Grace realizes that she will never be promoted at her job, she turns to Nora for comfort. Nora invites her to go partying with her ex-pats and Grace agrees — which doesn’t go as planned. She goes crazy at the bar and gets wildly drunk. Cops raid the bar and find drugs on Grace. Nora takes the fall for her and is deported back to the U.S.
Before she leaves, Grace thanks her and says one final goodbye before she boards a plane back to New York where her grandma (Lori Tan Chinn) has been fostering an injured pigeon. She is surprised to see that Nora has returned — but Nora is happy she is back home. However, Edmund isn’t. He arrived to Beijing right when she was deported and has to, as he says, clean up her mess.
Finally back at home, Nora tells her dad (B.D. Wong) that she is moving out to her own place with the money she earned from her short time in Beijing. They are happy to see her growth and grandma tells her, “When a bird leaves its nest, it always knows where its home is.”
As the first season of Nora From Queens comes to a close and season 2 begins to shape, show co-creator, writer and executive producer Teresa Hsiao talked to Deadline about the journey of the show, plans for season 2 and how the comedy sheds light on the seldom-told narrative of being Asian American vs. Asian. We also take a look at Asian stereotypes, “fobby” accents and the importance of representation in a time when the Asian community in the U.S. is being subjected to racism as a result of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
DEADLINE: When you were planning the series, did you already know that you wanted Nora to end up in Asia in the season one finale?
TERESA HSIAO: We had a general idea. Nora and I met up and talked about what we wanted and the big tentpoles we wanted for the season. We knew that we wanted to have a big move for her. In the pilot, she tries to move out of her house, but can’t so we wanted her by the end to do this big move but always realize that there’s always something drawing you home. Sometimes you just can’t leave the place you’re comfortable with.
In the beginning, she sort of starts off as a loser. She’s this person who has no prospects and has never been successful. In the end, she gives up all this success because she realizes she didn’t earn it and it’s so far from. She literally comes full circle because she physically ends up back where she started.
DEADLINE: When Nora is in Beijing, she gets a corner office and seems to be ready to work, but Grace then tells her she doesn’t have to do anything and she is just “the American face” of Scrubr. She then meets all these non-Asians and bonds with them. As the episode unfolds, we start to see this interesting — and seldom told — narrative about being Asian versus being Asian American. Was a lot of what happened in this episode based on real experiences from people in the writers room?
HSIAO: A lot of the story is based on when Nora was in college and when she went to study abroad in Beijing. She talked about this idea of being Asian American — it’s hard to place yourself in a specific area. In America, you’re not considered American. Obviously, we’re seeing a lot that now which is really sad. In Asia, you’re not considered Asian because you can’t speak the language so you’re caught in this limbo. We thought it was interesting. We did it on purpose to show what it’s like when Asian Americans go back to Asia. That’s not something a lot people see or understand until you are in that situation. When we go back to Asia, people recognize us as outsiders. Many Americans look at Asians as all the same because they can’t tell where we’re from. There’s this feeling of alienation when you’re American in Asia even though you look the same as everyone else.
DEADLINE: As this is the first season, the show is developing its identity and what kind of show you want to be. The show modestly pushes the envelope when it comes to storytelling. There was a Korean drama-centric backstory episode for her grandma and the queefing episode was definitely risky. What stories were you excited for and did you have any hesitation with others?
HSIAO: We always wanted to do a backstory episode for the grandma and we were excited to do that. When we were figuring out the format for that episode, we thought it would be really fun to do a K-drama. The exciting thing about that was learning about the cultural revolution — talking to parents and grandparents about their experiences which some don’t like talking about at all. It was good to have a little authenticity through these true-life experiences. It was moving for me personally to learn about that because it was something I didn’t learn about growing up.
I was hesitant to do this queefing episode (laughs). Nora had this idea about using her body as a musical instrument and I thought it was crazy! We talked to the network about it and they also flagged it as a little bit crazy. But Nora, to her credit, put on this impassioned defense for it. She basically said it wasn’t just about queefing, it’s about ownership of our bodies. After that, I said we are going to lean into it really hard because I love that aspect of it. In the beginning, we were definitely a little bit more hesitant, but she talked us into it — she’s convincing.
DEADLINE: In the season finale, we get introduced to Grace, played by Celia Au, who is Nora’s host in Beijing. Her character is very fun, memorable and has an Asian accent — but some people may call it a “fobby” accent. Were you afraid of how that would be perceived?
HSIAO: In the room, there was a discussion with how Grace was going to be and if she would sound “fobby”. Well, to be honest, people who are from China, this is the way that they talk. English is a second language for them. I know there is a lot of pushback from anyone “sounding fobby” in America, but at the same time, people don’t bat an eye when someone is speaking in a Southern accent or a Long Island accent.
I feel that there has been lots of policing of people of color and the way we talk. We have to speak so perfectly for other people to prove our American-ness. For some, they learned a whole second language and you’re going to yell at them for not speaking English perfectly? It’s so crazy to me. I know there is a hesitancy in the community of showing people who don’t speak perfect English but I’m also like, this is what some people sound like. Unfortunately, because Asians have been caricatured in a bad way by media in the past, but we can’t shy away from it.
DEADLINE: Considering the racist treatment of Asian Americans during this unfortunate pandemic, how do you think a show like this or any other Asian-fronted films, TV series and stories empower the community in a moment like this?
HSIAO: In general, we grew up seeing people who did not look like us on TV. We empathized with them and saw ourselves through their lens. I think now, for a show like this, it’s allowing a lot of people who haven’t seen Asian Americans before on television to say, “Hey, they’re just like us!” which I think is important. We do the same things everyone else does, but our family is different in these little ways which bring about cultural learnings that we have to explain to others. With more representation on TV, the need for explanation will lessen and with that lessening, people will see us more than the “crazy foods we eat” or “crazy things we do”. This is an insane situation we are in right now. It’s not about “these people who eat these crazy things brought this upon us”. It’s more that we are all in this together because we are all Americans — we are all humans.
DEADLINE: What can we expect from season 2? What kind of adventures will Nora be going on?
HSIAO: We have started the room up and we have been working on season 2 since the end of January. It’s going to be more about Nora navigating her journey through queens and a little bit less focused on her career as season 1 was. It’s going to focus on her love life and people around her.
DEADLINE: Any special guest stars?
HSIAO: No one has been confirmed (laughs) — so it’s hard for me to say all these people we wish to come on — but we will see more of how Wally and Brenda’s relationship is progressing. We’ll definitely see more of Dumbfounded (Jon Park), Chrissie Fit and Bowen, of course.
DEADLINE: When it comes to representation, marginalized communities are quick to dissect and criticize film and TV that portrays them. What kind of responsibility do you feel with Nora From Queens — especially since it’s a comedy?
HSIAO: Since there aren’t that many shows with Asian American leads, we’re always going to be under a microscope. We basically try to write and do the show as authentically as possible without trying to think we have to dodge all these landmines of stereotypes and whatnot. Most other shows aren’t asked to represent for an entire community. They aren’t asked to bear the “burden” of being the only one. We didn’t want to do that either but we are one of the few shows that has that flag. We wanted to tell the true authentic story of Nora and her family’s experience and so there may be things that are stereotypical that the community doesn’t like or don’t want us to show. Hopefully, people can see that this is just one point of view and one person’s story and everyone is different.