Where can you find it? NETFLIX (10 episodes)
Created By: Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang
Prod Co: 3 Art Entertainment, Universal Television
Recommendation: WATCH IT!
Master of None is a scripted comedy in which Dev (played by Aziz Ansari) tries to make it as an actor in NYC. Doesn’t sound too ground breaking right? Critics, audiences and I disagree. The genius of the series comes from Aziz’s portrayal of Dev, as well as the humor and themes that revolve around racism, sexism and the experience of a 1st generation American.
While sometimes the situations and dialogue are frustratingly on-the-nose (aka unsubtle & direct), it ultimately always ends up charming. One episode that encapsulates that dynamic perfectly is Episode 2 “Parents.” The episode clunkily jumps right into: “Gee, I don’t know much about or appreciate what my parents went through to get me where I am today. I should spend more time with them.” But it moves past being a sentimental PSA to feel raw and authentic because Aziz chose to cast his own parents Fatima and Shoukath Ansari as Dev’s parents. It’s best to watch it to see what I mean. As more and more people have watched the episode, Shoukath has gathered quite a following. He stole the show from Aziz when they appeared on Colbert together. And hearts melted when Aziz announced on Instagram that he burst into tears after his father said he appreciated being on the show because it helped him spend more time with his son.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to the show. What I call stiff and on-the-nose, other reviewers call “candid” and “journalistic.” It’s possible that my bar is a bit high because of my familiarity with these topics. Whether it is fiction (like The Namesake) or non-fiction writing, blogs, movies or even my own observations among friends and family, the identity struggles and experiences of first generation Indians is something I’ve explored. What Aziz is saying simply sounds too familiar to feel ground-breaking to me. Note: I’m not saying I’ve experienced these things, but observed/read/watched quite a bit at this point.
Despite all of this, I watched all 10 episodes in a weekend and you should too.
One thing that rang so true – it struck right to my core- was the relationship between Dev and Rachel, a Caucasian music promoter who Dev has a year-long relationship with (in the course of a few episodes). I was so appreciative that there was no glaring scene of racism or a goofy scene where Rachel eats something too spicy – oh no!!! The only difference besides their relationship and a non-multi-cultural relationship was a few subtle jokes. Even the main twist familiar to most narratives about Immigrant/White relationships – the “You haven’t told my parents about me!” twist – wasn’t too over-dramatic. It barely lasted an episode, and I was happy for it. I was a “secret girlfriend” TWICE. In one case, it ended before we told his parents. The second time, the reveal turned out well. (Honestly, I’ve found that parents’ universal desire to see their children married and producing grand-babies overrides a lot of cultural issues…) Also, check out Ravi Patel’s Documentary Meet The Patels for another example of media tackling this topic.
To top it off, the relationship dynamics spoke much more to our generation’s feelings about love and dating than intercultural dating. When they have a stand-off in a later episode about how “sure” they feel about each other, and how “sure” you’re supposed to be to stay with them, I felt the writers had reached directly into my brain and put it on the screen. I won’t spoil anything, but the last episode was literally cathartic as I related it to my own experiences.
All this led me to wonder how a first generation Indian American might feel about it. So I asked a close friend (a bridesmaid in fact), who is also single, dating and in the entertainment industry, how she felt about the series… and there’s not much to report. She stopped after the first episode, because she didn’t quite get the humor and didn’t know where the story was going. She promises to watch a few more episodes and get back to me. But the conversation did bring up an interesting point. While it’s great that there are tv shows breaking tired Indian stereotypes, she thinks you can also go too far. She said something similar to: “If they seem too white-washed, it’s just not real. If you have Indian immigrant parents, then it’s in your DNA. Sure, you don’t walk around wearing salwar suits, but you still do cultural things.” Specifically, she pointed out The Mindy Project, which frustrated her and and some of her friends. It’s not until Season 3 that you even know or see that she has Indian parents. She thinks Mindy’s character is just too whitewashed for her to buy it. I have a feeling that if she watches a few more episodes of Master of None, she won’t have the same complaint.
Hmmm… all very interesting. I’ve got a few more reviews on their way that aren’t so on-the-nose for the blog: Chennai Express & Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
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