By: Esther Lee
Photos courtesy of Master of None
Stand-up comic and writer Aziz Ansari is probably best-known for his role as Tom Haverford in the mockumentary Parks and Recreation, but he has surprised us all with his new comedy series Master of None, recently released on Netflix. In the show, Ansari plays Dev, an ambitious actor whose most successful gig to date is a Go-Gurt commercial. The show chronicles Dev’s everyday experiences as he faces various obstacles while navigating life in the city. Similar threads tie together Ansari’s character in Parks to his character in Master of None – most prominently, their satirized Millennial-esque social media savvy and delectably goofy humor. But what stands out about Dev is his more thoughtful approach to life, and we find the character faced with much more poignant issues than the flat, one-note character Tom in Parks.
Each episode of the series focuses around a central issue, from racism in Hollywood to sexism to life as a second-generation child in America. The episodes play out somewhat like case studies, each exploring an issue in nuanced and refreshing ways. All of this takes place in the city of New York, which Ansari uses as a sort of springboard for each characters’ adventures, accented by the city’s hipster foodie restaurants, constantly bustling night life, and diverse cultural undertones.
One of the best episodes early on in the series is “Parents,” in which Dev and his Asian-American friend Brian, played by Kevin Yu, learn about their parents’ sacrifices and struggles as immigrants. The episode initially depicts two separate interactions between the sons, Dev and Brian, and their respective dads. Dev and Brian decline their fathers’ small requests for help due to their own shallow and superficial desires, which are highly contrasted against the flashbacks of their immigrant fathers, who now meet their sons’ selfishness with stoicism. The contrast is clearly supposed to elicit laughs from its viewers, but the episode also serves the larger purpose of fleshing out cultural and racial stories in the US. Though these themes have the potential to alienate some viewers, the episode plays well on the universal familial bonds that transcend generational and cultural gaps. However, Ansari’s take on this immigrant story was also notable in its choice to compare Asian and Indian experiences—rather than the typical cultural comparison made between one minority and the dominant white culture.
Race is also explored in the episode “Indians on TV,” which criticizes Hollywood for its “There can’t be two” motto regarding casting minorities in sitcoms. Throughout the series as a whole, race is also an undertone observed in Dev’s dating life, which arguably serves as the show’s foundational plotline. In the show, Dev’s love interests are pretty racially limited, with the exception of one bad date with a non-white girl he meets online, played by Annie Chang. However, it seems like the mere existence of these interracial attractions are still pushing racial boundaries on TV. Ansari was further able to touch upon some racial notions in his character’s relationship with Rachel, played by SNL’s Noël Wells. Though the relationship appears to be virtually unaffected by Dev’s non-whiteness, in the episode “Mornings” – which depicts their fizzling relationship via a montage spanning months – there is a clear distinction between Rachel’s and Dev’s levels of communication with their parents about their relationship, caused primarily by familial cultural differences.
The diversity in the rest of the cast – one of our favorites being Dev’s friend Denise, played by Lena Waithe – is one of the factors that really sets the show apart from other comedies currently worth streaming. Not only is it refreshing, it’s also the avenue through which many of the show’s themes and situations develop. Besides being able to negotiate all of these deeper social issues and more, the show itself is also genuinely funny. If you haven’t already, we strongly recommend that you check out Ansari’s Master of None —it’s guaranteed to improve your next Netflix binge session.