If there’s a show right now that has a target audience exactly like myself, then it’s Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s first show, which runs on Netflix. It’s made for binge-watching and consuming in a way that feels natural and convenient for the so called Millenials – a group I belong to. It has been available for a bit over two weeks now and I didn’t think I’d have watched all of it by now, but alas, I was wrong about that. The question is – why the heck haven’t you?
The original Netflix sitcom, developed and written by Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari, who met on Parks and Recreation and got close fast, centres around thirty-something Dev (Aziz Ansari), son of Indian immigrants in New York. Rounded out by executive producer Michael Schur from Parks and lots of writing and jokes by the late and great Harris Wittels, Master of None tackles topics surrounding Dev and his friends in the filter bubble that is Millenial lifestyle, question of diversity and of looking at life from different angles.
Dev works as an actor in commercials and small roles in movies and seems to do well for himself – he has a nice apartment, a couple of good friends. His parents live in New York and have lived the life of immigrants from the state Tamil Nadu in India that many more have lived before and after them. His circle of friends is made up from a diverse setting: Arnold (Eric Wareheim), a tall caucasian bear of man, Denise (Lena Waithe, your new best friend and funniest BFF all around), a black lesbian, who works as a theatre critic, and Brian (Kelvin Yu), an immigrant’s child like Dev, who shares the same cross-cultural background by way of being a second-generation immigrant.
The ten single episodes of the first season always focus on one topic, introduced at the begin of each with the heading „Master of None presents“ and then the topic, such as „Parents“, „Ladies & Gentlemen“, „Indians on TV“. The episodes are connected by a causal narrative thread, but each episode could also stand for itself. The topics revolve around a broad set of ideas and are presented through the life of Millenial Dev.
The second episode „Parents“ for instance tackles the issues of immigration and being the child of immigrant parents, with lovely and heartbreaking flashbacks to Dev’s and Brian’s respective parents ways from India and Taiwan, their reasons for leaving and their life in the States. The cross-cultural perspective, heightened by the double narrative thread with the parent’s flashbacks and their current life with their children in New York, strikes a deep and resonant chord. Dev’s parents, who are portrayed by Ansari’s real parents, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari, brought their culture with them and wanted to give their child everything he’d have lacked in India.
The intergenerational dynamic between both points of view, the parents’ and childrens’ angles, is depicted in a way that’s both truthful to a vast number of immigrant’s children the same age of Ansari right now as it is moving.
When I skimmed over Twitter reactions to Master of None, there were so many viewers that pointed out how this show was the first one to honestly show how the life of a second-generation immigrant’s child really felt like. When I think of the current TV field, there’s only one or two shows, like Fresh off the boat for example, that spring to mind in way of showing that demographic.
The specific feature that stands out is how Master of None shows the dichotomy between the children’s perspective on their parents – being out of touch (generational conflict) and sticking to traditional values from their home countries as well as adapting to the new lifestyle, although they feel their parents must’ve had plenty of time to acclimatise to the new culture – as well as the parents’ perspective concerning their life and their children.
For them their children don’t show the sort of respect they should be showing, based on their cultural upbringing as well as on the hurdles they had to overcome in order to start their new life in the States and the sacrifices they had to make on that way. Dev doesn’t feel as if his father supports him enough, his dad’s critique weighs heavy on him – but his father is proud of him and just comes from a different cultural and educational background. He doesn’t declare his pride vocally with “I’m proud of you, son”, as his peers would have heard at home, but he still is very proud nonetheless.
The most memorable quote in the parent-child interaction lies in the sentence Dev’s father delivers: „Fun is a luxury only your generation has.“ It sums up where he comes from and what he wanted for his son, but ultimately doesn’t comprehend.
What doesn’t let this conflict get out of hand is how Dev and Brian try to get where their parents are coming from – both culturally and mentally. They make the effort to find out more about their ways to the States and the sacrifices they had to make. Additionally, their parents are not without flaws – when Dev presents his father with a gift of a thing he never got as a child and continually dreamt of, he initially is delighted and appreciative. But when Dev finds out he hasn’t been taking his gift as seriously as he had hoped his dad would, the latter only shrugs it off.
A couple of days after Master of None aired, Ansari posted the following picture on Instagram.
My dad took off most of his vacation time for the year to act in Master of None. So I’m really relieved this all worked out. Tonight after we did Colbert together he said: “This is all fun and I liked acting in the show, but I really just did it so I could spend more time with you.” I almost instantly collapsed into tears at the thought of how much this person cares about me and took care of me and gave me everything to give me the amazing life I have. I felt like a total piece of garbage for all the times I haven’t visited my parents and told them I wanted to stay in New York cause I’d get bored in SC. I’m an incredibly lucky person and many of you are as well. Not to beat a dead horse here and sorry if this is cheesy or too sentimental but if your parents are good to you too, just go do something nice for them. I bet they care and love you more than you realize. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the Parents episode of our show. What’s strange is doing that episode and working with my parents has increased the quality of my relationship to my parents IN MY REAL LIFE. In reality, I haven’t always had the best, most open relationship with my parents because we are weirdly closed off emotionally sometimes. But we are getting better. And if you have something like that with your family – I urge you to work at it and get better because these are special people in your life and I get terrified when my dad tells me about friends of his, people close to his age, that are having serious health issues, etc. Enjoy and love these people while you can. Anyway, this show and my experiences with my parents while working on it have been very important in many ways and I thank for you the part you all have played in it.“
The multiple immigrants’ narratives that we see are based on real interaction and feelings between the show’s writers and their parents. You can see and feel their reality – and still get a good laugh out of it.
The beauty of it all
The beauty of Master of None lies in this strength. It’s a really funny show about lots of things, but it just feels real (for a certain set of people, I get that). The intergenerational conflict is not only played out in the Parents episode, but also concerning grandparents and grandchildren, a timeframe in which not only technology, but also moral and ethical codes changed. In one episode Dev spends time with his girlfriends grandmother, who lives in an old peoples home and is bored to death.
Don’t get me wrong, the purpose of Master of None is not to educate with focus on a certain world view. But even if Dev or the viewer doesn’t get the opinions and beliefs of his counterparts, the episodes make him and eventually the viewer think about the different perspectives and views of the world. That’s not a small feat and I relished that aspect.
The show engages in broad topics – „Ladies and Gentleman“ for instance focuses on experiencing the world as a woman, with living gender as a defining factor. The episode starts off strong with the juxtaposition of the different experiences of walking home from a bar after a long evening – Dev and his friend casually get home, while a female friend of his is being followed home (up until her apartment door) by some „nice guy“ who just wants to „talk“. The different experiences are emphasised by a different mood and setting: Dev and Arnold walk home unharmed with upbeat music playing in the background, while the woman’s walk home is underscored by harrowing music and sound effects taken straight from horror movies (think Psycho). The next day at brunch the disparity is further underlined by the comments Dev and his girlfriend got on the same Instagram food picture: While Dev got a „Yum town – population: Dev“, his girlfriend got the comment „I want to fuck your face“. The episodes can feel didactic, but only because they bring home the points they want to make.
Master of None – Jack of all trades
Master of None’s excellence lies in the casual diversity in all aspects – Dev’s friends are a group of different characters, where their homosexuality or colour of the skin is not for giggles or focus of a broader inspection of life. It’s more the observations of the different episodes that focus on gender, age, diversity, but not by expounding the problems based on puns and issues of these particular people, but in a broader sense.
Their stories show the questions thirty somethings right now face, if they don’t follow the obligatory path of getting married and having children before turning thirty (or even still then, just watch Episode 1 right now). Dev and his friends are somewhere in their life, but they’re not quite there yet. Whatever there is – it’s defined by each and every character in their own life situation. How? It’s defined by themselves and their assumption of where they could and should be as opposed to where they are right now based on their cultural environment und upbringing. Their questions revolve around the life of a ‚younger‘ adult, being a second-generation immigrant, diversity, generational differences between parents and grandparents, app-enabled dating and technology, selfishness vs. giving, marriage and children, achieving something – only to name a few.
Ansari is a non-white/non-black actor and comedian in a still dominantly white and black TV landscape. He is voicing his opinions on his own show, and while he’s not pointing the finger, he’s making you come to your own observations.
Even if there’s things and tough story lines that might drag you down, the actors shine and make you deal with it appropriately.
Also: there’s so much good music, food and laughs.
Go and watch this show.
Master of None is out on Netflix.
image credit: Mike Petrucci, via unsplash.com