Television Review: Master of None

My favourite thing about the number of viewing options available nowadays is the fact that I can watch shows like Master of None, which is a Netflix Original Series by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. I started watching it when it was released, and then Jessica Jones dropped, and suddenly it was a race to finish that show, because everyone talked about it. I finished watching Master of None yesterday evening because I was in the midst of Melbourne’s first heatwave for the summer (with a surprisingly pleasant Friday evening), and it was way too hot to leave the house. Rather than start anything new (that’s what Boxing Day is for), I thought I’d finish this show that I’d watched half of and loved.

Aziz Ansari’s Tom was my second least favourite part of Parks and Recreation, after everyone making fun of Jerry. It had nothing to do with Ansari, but more with the way the character was written as a perpetual man-child. It wasn’t until critics started receiving screeners of Master of None that I even knew it was a thing that existed, and it was getting praise, so I did a bit of research before I watched it. I’m so glad I watched this show, which feels less like a television show than a dramatic rendering of conversations Ansari has had before, as he tries to figure out how the world works.

What’s great about Ansari and Yang’s writing is that it never feels like it’s preaching. Yes, it comes from the perspective of children of immigrants and what it’s like to be an Indian actor, but the episode about female harrassment also acknowledges Ansari’s privilege as a man. It’s sophisticated writing, and it never feels forced. The episodes that deal with discrimination, “Indians on TV” and “Ladies and Gentlemen,” look at the issue not as one of bigotry, but as privilege, and how institutional but unconscious discrimination works. Ansari’s character Dev refuses to do an Indian accent auditions, because it’s important to him that he doesn’t play cliched characters with the full knowledge that it’s costing him work. Meanwhile, when he’s doing the Home Depot ad, he meets a woman who was followed home from the same bar as him the night before. When he brings the issue to Denise and Rachel, they both mention that they’ve been followed home on more than one occasion. Dev also wants to do his part to improve these situations, even though it can end up costing him. He sees his friend Ravi at an audition and explains why he never does an Indian accent – which is partly related to his discovery that the Indian character on Short Circuit 2 was a white man in brownface – and Ravi stops auditioning with Indian accents as well. When he spoke to th director of the Home Depot commercial about how the ad plays to stereotypes, his part in the ad has changed, and then he’s cut out of it because he’s too short – and Ravi is his replacement.

I love all of these things about Master of None, but perhaps its greatest achievement is its portrayal of Dev’s relationship with Rachel, played brilliantly by Noël Wells. I hadn’t seen Wells in anything prior to this, but I did know she was a casualty of SNL’s cast reduction a year and a half ago. She’s great, and I love that Dev and Rachel are both written as real people. The sixth episode of the season, “Nashville,” which follows them on a weekend getaway for their first date, shows them getting to know each other. I’d heard critics say they knew the relationship would be doomed from this point, and it’s not because Dev made them miss their flight back to New York. They lived together for over a year, but it wasn’t until that stage that they even discussed plans. Well, they actually discussed their dreams when they were in Nashville, but that was ages ago. Rachel really wanted to live in Japan for a while – her sister always said she was going to live in Paris for a year, but then she ended up married with children before that could happen – and Dev was questioning his whole life up to this point. His career wasn’t going well, and despite loving Rachel, he didn’t know if he wanted to marry her. In television breakups are big dramatic things where one person makes a mistake. This happens in real life, but a situation where two people love each other but want different things from life isn’t uncommon. I also think it’s really healthy that Dev and Rachel are thinking about who they are as people outside a relationship, rather than just Dev and Rachel, which was extremely refreshing.

Master of None is one of the most thoughtful show I’ve watched in 2015, and it’s on my Top 10 list which I’ll probably publish at some point this week (probably Christmas Day, since it’s already half-written). It explores social issues with thoughtfulness, and it never feels preachy, and the characters are like human beings. There’s no word just yet on whether there will be a second season of Master of None, but I hope there will be. I don’t know what that show would look like – would Rachel even be in it? – but I know it’ll be great.

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