Or, my alternative title for this post: Feminism 101, Immigration, Defying Racism & The Best Relationship Advice You’ll Ever Get: Master of None is Perfection and You Should Be Watching it Right Now
In fact, I’m not sure why I’m not watching it right now instead of writing this post. The best way you will understand how this show manages to be so effortlessly awesome, is by going and watching it right now. Incase you have already seen it, or just refuse to take my incredibly good advice, then I guess I’ll carry on writing.
Master of None is Aziz Ansari’s new baby. Ansari, possibly the most underrated actor on Parks and Rec (if Tom Haverford isn’t your favourite character then you’re doing life wrong, my friend), has previously spent his time on the stand up comedy scene. Something which he is incredibly good at. Master of None actually seems to take a lot of inspiration from his stand-up and sort of visualises the scenarios he talks about. The narrative is simple: struggling actor living in a city, group of friends, rocky love life, gets into lots of hi-jinx but ultimately things generally work out okay for him. Yep, it sounds very similar to many comedy shows out there, where an actor essentially plays an onscreen version of themselves acting out scenarios that are probably funnier than anything that’s happened to them in real life, and writes/produces the show too. Yes Tina Fey, Louie CK I’m looking at you. So what is so unique and revolutionary about what Ansari is doing in Master of None. Honestly, I asked myself that question when I heard the show was coming out. Yes, Aziz Ansari is hilarious but do we really need another comedy about how hard it is to be a rich actor playing an alter-ego of yourself? It turns out we actually do, because Master of None is so so so radically different that it’s barely on the same planet as things like 30 Rock’ and Louie. So, I guess actually what I am saying is we don’t need another show where the showrunner spends 80% of the time sending themselves up, because that is exactly what Master of None is not. Get it? Let me explain…
Master of None isn’t really about Aziz Ansari or about his character Dev. In fact, Dev is pretty secondary to most of what happens throughout the series. Each episode is focused around one particular issue or topic, and so it is more a case of using Dev as a window into this topic than about Dev as a person. It’s a really interesting way of creating a series, and in Master of None it allows for a truly in-depth discussion about typical taboo topics that rarely make it onto our screens. I’ll come back to that a bit later, but I just want to reflect on how unique the setup of Master of None is. In 90% of comedy shows, the main character is surrounded by the same group of friends, they drink at the same bar, they go to the same places and week in, week out, the stories remain pretty much the same. In Master of None, we are constantly introduced to new people in Dev’s life and it all feels pretty natural. He has several different groups of friends, sometimes he hangs out with Denise, Arnold and Brian together, sometimes he hangs out with just one of them. It’s very casual, effortless and a lot like real life. Dev also gets into strange situations, but often they have no conclusion or punchline. They just sort of happen. In ‘The Other Man’, Dev goes to hang out with his strange co-worker (Colin Salmon, played by Colin Salmon). Dev arrives and he finds out that Colin has set up a huge domino run waiting to be knocked over. Colin asks Dev to start it off. Dev starts it off. It’s a beautiful moment. Colin announces he is going to bed and Dev leaves. That’s it. Often, like then, nothing actually happens during episodes – but the beauty of this is that Master of None feels so real. Sometimes nothing much happens in real life too. The show also has a real focus on visuals, something which a lot of sitcoms/comedy series tend to lack. There’s this idea, in comedy, that the script carries the weight of the show and it really doesn’t matter how visually interesting the frame is. What a load of crap. If cinematography is your thing then Master of None has got you well and truly covered. From minute long tracking shots, to perfect symmetry, to the fantastic use of colour – Master of None takes time to relish the frame, to involve you in it. It’s constructed and beautiful.
So as I said earlier, each episode sticks closely to one subject. Personally, the best episode award goes to ‘Ladies and Gentleman’ for it’s no nonsense introduction to being a male feminist. In fact, ‘Ladies and Gentleman’ probably has the best cold open in any show I’ve ever seen. It begins with Dev and Arnold at a bar, drinking. At the same bar is one of Dev’s colleagues (Diana) being hit on by a guy. We don’t know that Diana and Dev are colleagues yet, but we see how differently the night progresses for Arnold and Dev compared to Diana. Dev and Arnold walk home (to a light happy melody, whistled), talking about menial things and the worst thing that happens is Dev treading in dog shit. Diana is pursued by a man who wants her to drink a tequila shot that she didn’t order, gets pissed off at her for not wanting to drink with him and then proceeds to follow her home shouting ‘but I’m a nice guy’. I, like most other women, have been there. And you know what was so great about that opening scene? It was funny yes, it was lighthearted yes, but above all else it was real. It wasn’t Ansari telling us the difference between how men and women are treated, we saw it through the eyes of Diana. I’ve never related to anything so much in my entire life, and I’ve never been so grateful to the writers of Master of None for putting it on-screen so everyone can understand it. Later in the episode, Dev and Denise make a citizen’s arrest on the subway, the perpetrator being a man masturbating in public. Dev and Denise feel great about what they’ve done. After this occurs, Dev’s boss introduces himself to Dev and Arnold at the bar, but not to Rachel and Denise. Whilst Dev sees the masturbator as an obvious sexist and derogatory act, he doesn’t recognise Rachel’s annoyance at Brad not shaking her hand. Dev learns, like a lot of men that identify as feminists, that the only way to recognise sexism, or to understand just how it is ingrained within our society is to listen to those that suffer from it. Dev’s first instinct is to dismiss Rachel because he wants to think the best of his boss. But sexism is internalized and appears in places we don’t expect it to be. It’s a steep learning curve, but one thatMaster of None gets so right. ‘Ladies and Gentleman’ is also directed by Lynne Shelton and was written by Zoe Jarman… who are both women. Aziz Ansari, you’re great. Thanks for putting stories about women back into the hands of women. Honestly, I could write about this episode forever.
There are several other standout moments of Master of None. ‘Parents’ is a beautiful and moving episode exploring what life is like for second generation immigrants. Dev (second generation Indian) and Brian (second generation Taiwanese) rekindle their relationships with their respective parents, and ponder on how their lives would be so different had their parents not made the sacrifices they did. Not only is it wholly relatable for everyone (particularly the tech conversation that Dev has with his Dad), ‘Parents’ highlights the struggles of immigrants (particularly to the U.S.) and the disconnect that children of immigrants may feel. It’s not something that I’ve ever seen on a television show before. It will also make you want to sit down with your parents and actually talk to them like human beings. Which, in my opinion, is a huge plus.
As I said before, Ansari wants us to talk about things we don’t normally – topics that have become almost taboo to discuss on tv or in film. ‘Indians on TV’ is a perfect embodiment of what Master of None is really about; breaking the traditional rules of comedy tv. In ‘Indians on TV’, Dev auditions for a role, only to be told he needs to be play the role ‘more Indian’. We then find out that this is a regular occurrence, for both him and his actor friend Ravi. They are both frequently asked to put on an accent or to play roles which are harmful stereotypes of Indian people. An accidental email uncovers the insidious racism at play within the TV industry, which leads to a confrontation. The producers argue that they can only cast one Indian actor, as a show with any more Indian characters will either not be watched or not be ‘any good’. The irony, and the message Ansari is shouting to us, is that HI, YOU ARE WATCHING A SHOW WITH 2+ INDIANS AND ITS GREAT! And, it is. The inherent fear of non-white protagonists in the film and tv industry is proved to be completely unfounded and quite frankly, plain old racist. We’ve known this for a long time, but Ansari has gone ahead and proved it. Damn.
At the risk of doing the whole ‘and here’s another thing that’s great…’ (which I am totally aware is what I’m doing),Master of None also gets a 10/10 for relationship advice. So often comedy shows fall into flat and lazy stereotypes when depicting relationships but Master of None steers well clear of this. When Dev has a relationship with a married woman (Claire Danes) and her husband finds out, we expect the couple to have an extended and messy break-up. However, Dev runs into them a few months later and they reveal that the affair was needed for them to reevaluate and fix the issues in their own relationship. Similarly when Dev and Rachel go through problems, Benjamin (H. Jon Benjamin) tells Dev that you can’t be 100% in love with someone all the time. Your feelings for someone change all the time and that is okay. The show basically reminds us that everyone is unique and there is no correct way to have a relationship, no matter what television may tell us. And yeah, don’t ever ask someone to write down in percentage form how much they want to be with you. Ever.
On a little side note, you should probably watch this series in one go because Master of None is essentially a five hour long film. It works, because every episode delves into a completely different area and it isn’t constrained to talking about the same thing every episode. Instead of using the same setup every episode to extract cheap laughs from the audience, Master of None plays the long game. It totally pays off. I hope there is a second season, but to be honest the first season ends so perfectly, I would also be happy if there wasn’t. The series wraps itself up quite nicely, and although I want more – it’s fab just the way it is.