Master of None is the first show I’ve watched since Mad Men ended where I had to pause the automatic play on Netflix because I just needed a moment of silence (or end credits) to appreciate what I’d just witnessed. I’ve been a fan of Aziz Ansari for years, but I don’t think I or anyone else could have fully appreciated his genius before this show, nor could anyone deny it after having seen even just one episode. Master of None is unlike any other show I’ve seen in how unpretentiously and successfully it critiques modern American society— The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt successfully works to a similar end, but the approach is totally different. Where UKS makes its point through absurdist, over the top humor and caricature, Master of None is more refined. Though there are still moments of hyperbole and absurdism, the show is grounded in reality.
As a million tired people have stated and restated, television is in the throes of an unprecedented period of flux and development as a medium, and as an art form. Art exists in the space between the artist and the viewer; it’s about creating and conveying a message that stirs emotion within that viewer, and Master of None hits hard with the emotions in every episode. This show is real. Comedy is mixed with honest social commentary through narratives and dialogue that are consistently refreshing and, at times, revelations— the episode “Ladies and Gentleman” is the most unabashed confrontation of male privilege and casual misogyny/sexism I’ve ever seen from a male show runner.
Aziz’s character Dev is an incredible caricature of the self-proclaimed “nice guy”— Aziz refers to himself as a “nice guy” multiple times, which I really appreciated; the self-awareness of this show is it’s greatest strength. Most of the time, Dev is sweet and well intentioned, but (intentionally) not nearly as self-aware as Ansari himself and lacking much genuine compassion. Dev can be kind when it suits him, but he can also be selfish and immature, as we see emphasized in “Parents” and “Nashville.” There are so many people— and men in particular, as the show emphasizes— out in the world like Dev, wandering around thinking they’re good people because they’re never confronted with the struggles others face and they’re contented with their ignorance. Ansari’s characterization of Dev is a pointed wake up call to them.
As a white woman born to families who’ve been in America a few generations back, I can’t speak to the representations of and commentary on diaspora families or racial issues, but I really admire how directly Ansari confronts racism in the film industry in “Indians on TV.” And from a storytelling perspective, both “Parents” and “Indians on TV” are personal and captivating, and Aziz’s decision to cast his own parents to play Dev’s mother and father is adorable. While some people may complain the acting isn’t fantastic, I would argue the casting is a brilliant aspect of the show, as it strongly adds to the realistic feel. I quite enjoyed the casual, earnest vibe of the non-professional actors, and the family’s affection for one another plainly shines through. Aziz’s father is particularly charming; when he says he’s proud of his son, it’s clear he means it.
(Vague, semi-spoilers ahead)
But as much as I loved the episodes featuring Ansari’s parents, my favorite chapter by far was “Ladies and Gentleman.” All the fire emojis, clapping emojis, bottle-popping emojis. Every man in America and probably the world should watch this episode of television for the sake of every woman with whom they interact—I do want to pause and note how sad it is how much fanfare this episode is getting, as it lays out pretty every-day, oft-said bullshit women have to put up with, but Master of None and Ansari do deserve fanfare because we don’t often see television shows in which women wrote and directed a story from a strong and realistic female perspective, especially with a male show runner. And (spoiler-ish) Ansari’s character gets totally schooled by his friends and his girlfriend, confronting him (and every male viewer) with the myriad of irritating, infuriating, and threatening things that men never have to think about— and are, in fact, often complicit in. The opening sequence juxtaposing the difference between what a “bad night” means for a woman versus a man is a fantastic piece of filmmaking, conceptually and in execution. Like Master of None as a whole, the opening mixes quippy humor with serious social commentary in an easily digestible and entertaining combination.
The episodes “Old People” and “Mornings” are beautiful and terrifying. Like every episode of this show, they make you laugh while throwing an uncomfortable or unhappy truth straight in your face. “Old People” reflects on the dwindling lives of grandparents who are neglected or forgotten by their families, and seemingly the world. You will cry or call your grandparents after it ends, maybe both; if your grandparents have passed, it will definitely wrench a few heartstrings.
For an idealistic 20-something starting to date, “Mornings” is a 30-minute horror flick. It sucks you in with moments of sweet romance, then turns around and dickslaps you with the harsh reality that relationships are complicated and hard; that you can love someone and sometimes that love isn’t enough, or it isn’t the right time. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t, for myriad reasons small and big— you can’t control what someone else needs at a certain time in their life.
But despite the rollercoaster that is “Mornings,” by the end of “Finale,” you feel like things will probably be okay either way. Because that’s life, right? It goes on. There’s always another chapter. I don’t know if there will be more chapters of Master of None, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Ed. note: we accidentally ran an earlier, non-final draft of this piece first. Please forgive us.
Equally well versed in the intricacies of The Lord of the Rings and The Black Album, Caroline is a Virginia-bred writer/filmmaker living in Brooklyn. She is strongly opinionated about French fry variations, Ciara, underrated animals (lemurs, goats), and gender issues. Her personal essays can be found on her website and Femsplain; her shorter and more belligerent musings can be found on Twitter @CPConrad