TV Minus the TV: Aziz Ansari’s new show Master of None made us feel all the feels
Welcome to TV Minus the TV, a column full of thoughts about TV shows watched on laptops published on the internet for you to read on your phone.
Last Friday, Aziz Ansari’s new show Master of None became available to
binge-watch stream on Netflix and it’s already become the show everybody is talking about around the digital water-cooler. So, instead of letting only one writer get a chance to share all their feelings about this show, we had both Charles Bramesco and Jacob Oller (who we are happy to welcome to the Random Nerds writer ranks) put together a little somethin’-somethin’ on this captivating new series.#
Click titles to jump:
“Art, Where Dick Jokes and Heavy Shit Intersect” by Jacob Oller
“Aziz Ansari has Evolved into the Übermillennial” by Charles Bramesco
Art, Where Dick Jokes and Heavy Shit Intersect
by Jacob Oller (@JacobOller)
If Louis C.K.’s Louie draws from an unending well of hardened disillusionment, Master of None’s inherently entitled optimism sips its millennial angst from a Brita filter.
With Master of None, we see Aziz Ansari’s idea of how life should be lived evolve through the perspective of his fictional conduit Dev, observing and adjusting a modern New Yorker’s life. In the beginning of the series, Dev is a man that stops to get apple juice when buying his one-night stand a Plan B pill and is violently passionate about his frozen dairy treats. By the finale, he’s juggling questions of commitment, personal freedom, and career aspirations. Summed by Dev’s girlfriend, band publicist Rachel (played by the absolutely stellar Noël Wells), “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be doing any of this, but what am I supposed to do? I’m 30 years old. I can’t just start over.”
Ansari’s stand-up has juxtaposed an analysis of modernity with vulgarity since his first special, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening. Jerry Seinfeld is to airline food what Ansari is to Craigslist blowjobs and reading Facebook conversations from his iPhone. But from Dangerously Delicious to Buried Alive, from his fantasies about attractive waitresses to Modern Romance (the dating observation book he wrote with sociologist Eric Klinenberg), persistent introspection has steered Ansari’s stories to darker places. Over the years, an entitled single guy’s shyness-turned-bitterness towards women has morphed and matured into appalled feminism.# No longer simply joking that single girls at bars always go after douches like a fedora’d Facebook commenter, his comedic growth signals a broadening perspective.
He’s discovering that growing up isn’t always fun when reality is harsh.
In fact, omnipresent racism and sexism, stalking, death, abandonment of the elderly, and divorce are just some of the fun subjects covered in Master of None. Yet in signature Aziz fashion, there’s still always a sugar-coating of the absurd that tags along no matter the maturation of the topics or their observer.
And therein lies the genius.
Dick jokes don’t just have to be dick jokes, just like heavy topics don’t have to put you to sleep. The combination, the adjustment of one school of thought to a different point of view, is the intersection of art.
Yes, naming your genitals, loving bounce-houses, and possessing deep affection for goofy hip-hop lyrics can be art. In fact, immaturity serves as the diving board off which Ansari performs his best tricks. By utilizing a universal childishness as bonding material and springboarding off of it into earnest communicative exchange, Aziz invites us all to do the same.
Discussing fears with Rachel’s grandmother, Dev worries that he, as someone living a reality-detached life, won’t have stories from the real world to tell when he’s old. But even this minor insight, bereft of action, speaks to his development through the series. In an especially intimate episode, he thanks his parents (played by his real life parents in the best casting of the series) for the sacrifices they’ve made for him, and like a millennial My Dinner with André, Master of None lets these typically suppressed feelings crawl from the woodwork as the binding societal walls deteriorate through honest conversation.
The growth is more painful, however, when dealing with non-familial relationships. Throughout the course of the series, Dev sees marriages either crumble or bounce back from the brink while he struggles in commitment purgatory.
The problem of choice is one that has exponentially increased with the modern generation. How certain can you be that your current beau is the one for you when online dating and hookup apps make it inescapably apparent that hundreds of interesting, attractive alternatives exist? And that’s just the hot singles in YOUR area. Stemming from a sense of entitlement (why SHOULDN’T there be someone out there that loves me even more than who I’m with now?), this analysis paralysis encapsulates all the fears that we, spanning from Aesop to Ansari, disguise.
But Dev’s soul-searching journey in Master of None’s first season finale isn’t a middle finger to the teens photoshopping “wanderlust” onto American Eagle ads – it’s support. A beckoning finger, encouraging passionate experience in the real world, even if it’s about something as seemingly silly as expert noodlecraft.
The wonderful thesis of Master of None — something that bridges the gap between the dream world of online security blankets, enabled by the coddling hand of a media desperate for our clicks, and the real world of experience, choice, and possibility — is that even if you’re silly, scared, and sheltered, taking the first steps towards liberation from a life of complacent habit will be life sincerely better lived. Ansari sees that millennials can not only escape their acclimatized bubbles, but use their former bubble-lives as fuel. Just because you know Eminem lyrics instead of Tolstoy doesn’t mean your take on life is worth any less.
Absurd white-boy rap goofiness might just be the perfect pairing for the harsher flavors of life, and Ansari’s a world-class sommelier.
Aziz Ansari has Evolved into the Übermillennial
by Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse)
Millennials are the best worst generation until whatever comes along next, intent on destroying the world when they’re not busy saving it. Everybody seems to have their own equally shitty opinion about the new wave that’s been referred to as the iGeneration, Generation Selfie, and Generation YouTube. Our detractors paint us as lazy, spoiled, entitled, narcissists, and the most vocal champions of the millennial generation go too far in the other direction, spinning glowing characterizations of a league of moral crusaders stamping out the evils of the previous generations one safe space at a time. The very presence of the M-word in a thoughtpiece headline is enough to send most readers to the hospital with a bad case of Not Giving A Shit Anymore. And yet this generation, whatever we might call them, still represents a cultural force too potent to be ignored.
Thank god we’ve got Aziz Ansari.
At 32 years old, the comedian-turned-actor may be just on the cusp of the range that qualifies him as a millennial, but his challenging, insightful, deeply felt new Netflix series Master of None (co-created by writing partner Alan Yang) tackles themes unmistakably associated with the new batch of young people. The characters onscreen are in close proximity to reality, figures who speak and act in a fashion that the audience recognizes in themselves and their friends.
The metric of relatability gets bandied about a whole lot when a TV program is making the arduous journey from the conceptual stages to full realization, and Ansari and Yang’s show maxes out that gauge. Like Girls as created by an actual human being, the show directly courts zeitgeist not only by engaging with contemporary concerns, but with the overall attitude of good intentions and muddled results that defines the millennials. We throw around the declaration “voice of a generation” far, far too often, but there’s no ignoring the fact that Ansari and Yang get at some vital, timely truths with this one.
Dev, the 30-year-old actor that Ansari uses as an avatar for himself on the program, tries his hardest. He’s a millennial through and through, imbued with the generation’s virtues and shortcomings. In lights both positive and negative, Ansari and Yang work methodically through the various popular perceptions of millennials and deconstruct them with playful affirmation or gentle, patient refutation.
Dev, a boyish actor with a taste for elegant finery and foodie-friendly restaurants, is by no means perfect. For one, he’s over-reliant on technology, a fault so many among us are guilty of as well. Dev’s unable to sit down at any eatery he hasn’t thoroughly vetted through Yelp and a host of other food sites, and he obsesses over the phrasing in text messages down to the tiniest difference in diction. As the episodes roll past, each one better than the last, the show gradually reveals the indecision is Dev’s real flaw. He’s rudderless, only having fallen into acting incidentally and not feeling particularly passionate about his stalling career. He’s insecure about his relationship with Rachel (Noël Wells, a revelation), his witty, Annie Hall-perfect on-again, off-again girlfriend. He’s liable to snap at her or create conflict where there needn’t be any, as humans are prone to do. # In the largest, truest sense, however, it’s Dev’s difficulty with discerning a direction for his life, professionally or romantically, that resonates with a millennial audience. He doesn’t know what he wants, and is only occasionally sure of what he doesn’t.
The show on the whole reflects a millennial sensibility with uncommon fidelity as well, particularly the generational passion for justice along racial, sexual, and gender lines.
Much hubbubs has already been raised over the colorful cast of the show; not only does Master of None provide an Indian actor with a rare opportunity as a romantic lead on a TV show, but Dev’s best friends are the very much caucasian Arnold (Eric Wareheim, stealing scenes by the dozen and directing a handful of episodes as well), the Taiwanese playboy Brian (Kelvin Yu), and the wise, no-bullshit Denise (Lena Waithe), a queer woman of color. Ansari’s actual parents also portray their screen equivalents on the show, both demonstrating a pleasantly surprising knack for comedy.
Beyond simple representation, the show goes even further by devoting entire episodes to crucial social concerns. In one highlight episode, both Dev and Brian learn about the hardships that their fathers had to endure as immigrants to America, forsaking pleasures to that their next of kin may be able to enjoy them. In another, Dev gets entangled in a culturally fraught situation when a casting director accidentally CC’s him on an email containing an off-color joke pertaining to his Indian heritage. The episode uses that gaffe as a jumping-off point for a far more candid and fearlessly honest conversation about the grossly skewed media portrayals of Indians. Like a Tumblr post come to life, but with stellar writing and riotous comic setpieces, yet another episode breaks down the insidious forms that sexism can take when invading a woman’s life.#
You could see how a guy who wrote a book with a title as sweeping and ambitious as Modern Romance might swing for the fences in his debut as a TV auteur. The focus of Yang and Ansari’s darling comic creation doesn’t stop at the challenges of well-off thirty-year-olds trying to make it in the crazy swirl of New York City. Their comic investigations permeate themes, sensations and ideas known on a generational level.
Ansari’s Dev is at once the person we are, the person we don’t like to admit we might be, and the person we aspire to. Ansari and Yang will never be in want of material; they need only continue living.
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