Master of None (Season 1)
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Netflix Original Series
Created by: Aziz Ansari and Adam Yang
Starring: Aziz Ansari, Noël Wells, Eric Wareheim, Kelvin Yu, and Lena Waithe
Master of None is a show about a 30-year-old actor Dev Shah (Ansari) trying to get his big break while facing the increasingly complex world of relationships, racism, and Yelp reviews. Last night, Aziz Ansari and Adam Yang's hit Netflix show Master of None won an Emmy for "Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series" (for the episode "Parents"). The win is well earned: the show is very well written and hilarious. But what sets it apart are the risks it takes. Everything from the characters, situations, and humor would not be considered "mainstream." The show would have an incredibly difficult time getting picked up by a major network, and not without changes that would make it unrecognizable (so let us say again: thank goodness for Netflix).
Yes. the show is laugh-out-loud hilarious most of the time. But the show is also incredibly dark. Dev and his friends are confident, capable individuals, but that doesn't mean they win every battle, or come out looking better in every episode. In fact, many of the episodes revolve around their failures in both personal and professional life. These aren't super awkward situations like you might expect in shows like The Office or Parks and Recreation. Some of the earlier storylines openly discuss the terror of raising children, having affairs, the selfishness of youth, inherent inequality in supposedly progressive industries, and the almost callous nature of the modern urban dating scene. Even the cinematography is dark. Most scenes occur at night in bars or apartments with minimal lighting, windows wide open displaying the tireless streetlights and brightly-lit signs of Manhattan. It's a constant reminder that Master of None is not an uplifting feel-good show. But it's this darkness that gives the show its brilliance. Ansari and Yang clearly don't care if you're uncomfortable, and they shouldn't either. What they've created is deeper and funnier than the majority of trash that the standard network fare.
There's an internal conflict occurring in Master of None, which relates to the show's theme of the millennial generation re-learning the lessons of life as they adapt to the changing world. The Emmy-winning episode "Parents" exemplifies this conflict as the cultural shift between the millennial generation and the older generations that came before. In "Parents," both Dev and his friend Brian realize that they have been putting off quality time with their parents, who have led lives filled with struggles and achievements that their children take for granted. The episode ends with Dev and Brian's growing respect and appreciation for their parents and what they've been through, and this lesson is really what this show is about: re-educating themselves about what's important in their lives.
The world that Dev lives in is fluid and uncertain, where what is ethical, successful, or even appropriate have changed right under their noses, and it leaves the main characters unsure of where to go from there. Sometimes they rediscover tried and true methods of the older generations, and sometimes the right answer goes against outdated conventional wisdom. The episode "Indians on TV" which is probably the most brilliant episode in the series, has Indian actors debating whether to compete for their limited roles (as has been the norm for many minorities in entertainment), or ban together against the racism inherent in their industry. Another episode, "The Other Man," actually has Dev consider whether or not he should be the man in another woman's affair. These are not the standard issues you'd expect in a typical comedy, and the unconventional nature simply highlights the differences between the new, upcoming generation, and the old standard-bearers who are losing their grasp on the world. Dev expects his friends to support and guide him as he works his way though these misadventures, and each character has a different approach based on their own experiences and personalities. The point isn't that someone is right or wrong: it's that even the most confident ones aren't completely certain if they're doing the right thing. They're all trying to get by, just like the rest of us.
I could spend a lot of time writing about the hilarious situations, excellent guest stars, and endlessly quotable lines (that are, in my home at least, repeated daily), but that would be a waste of my time and yours. Your time is better spent actually watching the show in all of its dark and hilarious glory. Don't go into it expecting happy endings and easy digestibility like other sitcoms. This is a show that deserves your attention and earns your laughs.