Show You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: Master of None

I’ve said it before on this blog, but I’ll say it again. I watch a lot of television. Like, I have an app on my phone to help me remember when everything is on so I don’t miss anything type of obsession. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of programs in my day, but nothing has quite affected me like Master of None.

Basic Plot

Loosely based on Aziz Ansari’s life, he plays Dev, a 30-something actor in New York City, navigating between his professional and personal life, romance, and identity.

To be honest, after first watching the trailer, I was just expecting another comedy from Aziz Ansari. I knew he was re-teaming with Parks and Rec alums  – creator Mike Schur, writers Alan Yang and the late Harris Wittels – to produce it, so I knew if anything, the writing was going to be fantastic. I didn’t think twice about the actors and subject matter he chose to feature. I knew I was going to watch it no matter what, but I was pleasantly surprised by the content matter and show as a whole after watching the pilot.

Like the trailer above, the first scene of the series features Aziz and former SNL featured player Noel Wells mid-coitus. The setup feels akin to a Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow joint (no pun intended), but as you watch the rest of the episode unfold, you realize it’s much more than that.

Dev, a single guy, goes to his friends’ kid’s birthday party in the same ep, and a show you initially thought was going to be a crude look at relationships, turns into a deeper look into friendships with friends who have children, friendships with friends who have no children, the inner debate of whether you should or are even mentally able to have children, and so on and so forth.

In fact, the evolution of the series itself was somewhat similar, in that when Aziz and Alan originally conceived the show, they focused more on dating as a 20-30 something (Modern Romance, anyone?), but then both of them realized they could speak volumes if they just wrote about their own experiences, personal journeys and backgrounds.

“Neither of us are older white guys. We’re younger minorities, and that does inform our world views in some ways. Not everything is viewed through that prism, but it does affect how we move through society, so we want to be honest about that and put that in the show.” – Alan Yang {x}

And honestly, the way Alan described how he and Aziz viewed Master of None is exactly what I, as an Asian-American millennial, want to see represented in the media. Yes, minorities’ culture should be accurately depicted onscreen, but does that mean I want to see a person of color going on a long, laborious, slightly embarrassing rant about how the white man is trying to take us down? No. But does it mean I would like to see a person of color awkwardly walk into a room of all unexpectedly white people in a professional setting? Yes.

A while ago, I wrote about Fresh of the Boat, and how that show needs to stay on the air for the sole purpose of representation. And luckily it has. FOTB is a comedic take on a Chinese family with immigrant parents in the 90s, and everyone can relate to their dynamics no matter their background. However, it is a sitcom in the truest form, in that it doesn’t necessarily feature the more serious issues that minorities in America deal with daily. Shows like FOTB are like a gateway drug into another culture, letting viewers in middle America slowly get a peek into a different world they might not be familiar with, one joke at a time.

But then there’s something like Master of None, which portrays a culture in a serious light (even though it’s a comedy), in a way that is real and moving, and has a cast that rivals even Shondaland. As previously mentioned, Aziz plays Dev, an Indian-American, and he has a Chinese-American best friend, Brian, played by Kelvin Yu. Their friend circle includes a black lesbian, Denise (Lena Waithe) and Arnold (Eric Wareheim), lit’rally the “token white friend”. Just the mere fact that a TV show has more minorities in the lead roles than white people is already lightyears ahead of most of the programs already on TV. And because it’s created by Aziz and Alan (and probably a lot to do with the fact they’re on Netflix and not a network), they’re not afraid to talk about the lack of POC in media, either.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, this speaks to the fact that personal identity isn’t how we view ourselves all the time, it’s just one thing about us that makes us see the world in a different view than others. But it also touches upon the state of media today, and, full circle, what Viola Davis said during her Emmy Award speech in September.

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

People like Shonda Rhimes and Mindy Kaling and Aziz Ansari are creating the roles for POC to break through those barriers, because no one else was creating the content that provided the platform for people like them to shine. No one was developing a show that was featured the life of children of immigrants in an honest fashion, so Aziz and Alan did so (PS: if you haven’t read Aziz’s article in the NY Times about this, do it now! Or I mean, after you finish reading my post. Come on.)

Which leads me to the second episode of Master of None titled Parents, and perhaps the single most important episode of TV I’ve seen in my life. I don’t want to give too much away, but it basically deals with Dev and Brian airing out their grievances about their parents’ requests (‘Fix this thing on my iPhone’, ‘Pick up rice on your way home’), and it’s juxtaposed with their parents’ lives in their native countries prior to immigrating to America. Dev and Brian realize they don’t really know about much about their parents, and spend the second half of the ep learning more about them.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I started crying within the first five minutes of this episode. It hit so close to home, in a way that I’ve never felt about a piece of media before in my life. I’ve obviously related to TV characters such as Lane on Gilmore Girls, but that was because I felt like my parents were the most like the immigrant, super religious, strict Mrs. Kim, not because I was an Asian girl with glasses. In this Parents episode, I saw myself in Dev & Brian’s position, wanting to shrug off my immigrant parents’ simple requests, and often forgetting just how much they gave up to give me a better life. I don’t want to turn this blog into a therapy session, but the episode brought up issues I had already felt lingering before, so to see it manifested in front of me on screen felt like a punch in the gut. A good one, of course.

After watching the episode, I went on Twitter (as one does) to just let the Interwebz know how great and life-changing the show is, even if I was only on the second episode. Lo and behold, look who responded to me:

Photo Nov 08, 12 35 39 PM

Yeah, it’s cool that people are liking his show, but I imagine it’s got to have an even bigger impact on a show creator when viewers are truly connecting with the art they’ve created. To know that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life must be a rewarding experience.

And for Aziz, it seems to be. Yesterday, he posted this sweet post on Tumblr about his dad, who was happy to use almost all of his vacation time to shoot the show. They appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, and Aziz’s dad told him, “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.” Aziz wrote, “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.”

He went on to say how he is “overwhelmed” by the response to the Parents ep, and how writing the ep and filming it with his real parents (who play Dev’s parents) ironically made his relationship better with his parents IRL. If that doesn’t tell you just how powerful the storytelling is in this series, I don’t know what will. I hope this show will be able to reach people like me, who can strongly relate to Dev and Brian, but also, and maybe even more importantly, reach the people who don’t have a similar background. With everything that’s going on in this country on college campuses and in the streets, I think it’s more important than ever to get a sense of what people are going through from “the other side”. Empathy is the catalyst for change and acceptance, and if something like this show can do it for people, then I’d say Aziz certainly is the Master of One.

The entire 10-episode season of Master of None is now streaming on Netflix
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6 thoughts on “Show You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: Master of None

  1. The Parents episode was one of the most touching things of I’ve seen. I totally relate being first gen kid. People don’t really know or show how hard it is to communicate with your parents or that barriers that go up when you get older. A lot of it reminded me of my parents but I def know a lot about them growing and how much they did to get me here. But it was just a great episode to kind of give tribute to that. I finished this in two days, love binge watching, and it was just such a refreshing show. Loved every episode.

    Like

    • Agreed! And I think that’s one of the big reasons why I had such an emotional reaction to the episode, because, also as a first gen kid, like you said, other people who aren’t first gen aren’t familiar with that communication barrier, and that’s because you don’t really see it being represented on TV or movies in such a real way. The Parents ep was perfect to showcase that dynamic. (also, don’t tell anyone but I’m trying to make my viewing experience last as long as possible, so I’m only halfway through!!)

      Like

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