Aziz Ansari gets it. That’s the first thing that came to mind after finishing all 10 episodes of his Netflix series Master of None on Friday night. And just what is it that he gets? Well, a number of things actually. The absurdity of racism in Hollywood, the complex landscape of modern dating, feminism, and the concept that marriage is an outdated institution are just a few of the things he tackles.
While many shows today may be touching on these points, as are the publications who review them, there’s been a surprising lack of frankness in how stories are presented. But tackling things in a straightforward way is just what Ansari and series co-creator Alan Yang have done. Master of None is a thoughtful, well-written and fully realised series that hits the ground running (a brilliant accomplishment considering most shows take a few episodes to find its feet).
The idea that Master of None is unlike anything I’ve seen before could be a surprising statement to hear for those who know the synopsis. Put simply, the series follows Dev (Ansari), a struggling actor trying to navigate love, friendship, parents and work in New York. While the idea of a ‘struggling something’ trying to ‘make it’ in the Big Apple is a familiar premise, the execution of Master of None is completely unique and refreshing. There’s no beating around the bush. Bullshit is called where bullshit is seen.
One of the strongest examples can be seen in episode seven ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ where the realities of male privilege and inequality between the sexes are addressed in a frank way. Very early on in the episode, a subtle but powerful sequence reveals the difference in how men and women deal with walking home at night. The scene intercuts between Aziz and his buddy Arnold (Eric Wareheim) strolling home together after a night out drinking, and a young woman who is followed all the way to her apartment by a man she met at the same bar. Something inconsequential for Aziz and Arnold is shown as being a frightening experience for the woman. It’s these simple concepts told in hilarious and confronting ways that makes Master of None so…well..masterful.
Another standout episode, ‘Indians on TV’, is a great example of how Ansari and his team employed a no holds barred approach to a crucial topic, and one that’s certainly been gaining media traction the last few years. Ansari actually based the episode on real life experiences from his auditioning days in Hollywood, and while the episode was extremely funny, it didn’t dance around the issue.
The episode began with a montage of the cringe-worthy Indian caricatures that have haunted television and film for years including Apu from the Simpsons, Mike Myers’s Love Guru and of course, Ashton Kutcher’s PopChips commercial. During an audition in the episode, Ansari’s Dev refuses to put on an Indian accent for a small part in a crime drama, leading to his rejection. Dev then finds out that he and another American Indian actor missed out on two roles in the same sitcom as the producers didn’t want the series to be “an Indian show”. Ansari later goes on to make the very good point that when two white actors are in a show, it isn’t referred to as a “white show”. What’s absolutely heartbreaking is that he is 100 per cent correct. Heck, we’re only just starting to see television shows casting more than one person of colour in leading roles. Sadly the mentality still remains that when a show like Empire exists, it’s a ‘black show’. This ignorant, small-minded view needs to stop now, and thanks to Ansari and Yang, the issue will become even harder for decision-makers to ignore.
Make no mistake — it’s not in spite of these strong dramatic elements that Master of None is a funny show; it’s because of them. Yang and Ansari can rest easy knowing they’ve done television audiences proud, serving society some much-needed wake-up calls in the process. However, I hope they don’t rest for too long…I’m itching for a second season.