Aziz Ansari doesn’t look like a star. Like me, he’s a short, brown man. But, that’s part of what makes his new Netflix series, Master of None, so pointed.
MON is a ten-part series in the vein of Louie, which stars Ansari as a fictionalized version of himself, an actor named Dev living in New York City. Like Ansari, Dev is from South Carolina and is the son of two Indian immigrants. Unlike Ansari, Dev struggles to find work, mostly acting in commercials for home improvement stores, Fruit by the Foot, and GoGurt. Somehow, this doesn’t seem to have any bearing on his living situation as Dev lives, seemingly without roommates, in a massive New York apartment.
Anyway, each episode of MON features a theme that stretches to elements that are present in our everyday lives. “Plan B” shows Dev babysitting a friend’s sweet but out-of-control kids and his thoughts about having a family of his own. “Old People” features Dev’s dealings with the grandparents of different acquaintances, each of whom approach life in a very different way. Each episode ends without pointing the viewer to a conclusion, but instead ends seemingly saying, “Meditate on this.”
“Parents,” one of the standout episodes in the season, approaches the dynamic between immigrant parents and their first-generation children. The episode opens with Dev’s father (played by Ansari’s actual father) asking his son to help with his iPad issues. Dev replies that he doesn’t have time because he wants to get to a movie early and “watch the trailers.” The viewer is then shown a flashback of Dev’s father’s life, first as a child being bullied in India, facing racism in the United States, in the hospital as Dev is born, and then giving young Dev a computer and seeing the delight on his face. Returning to the present, Dev’s inability to help his father with computer-related issues because of a desire to see something as unimportant as pre-movie trailers seems ridiculous.
As the first-generation son of Indian immigrants, the episode, and the show as a whole, touched on a lot of topics that regularly cross my mind, but are rarely explored in the media. Another scene in “Parents” has Dev and Brian, his Taiwanese-American friend, talking about how Asian and Indian parents are loathe to give approval, but white families are often loose with their praise.
Ansari seems determined not only to break stereotypes, but to show them to the audience and to spark discussion. Sure, Ansari is an Indian starring in a comedy series as, basically, a stereotypical young New Yorker, but audiences may not realize how unusual this is until it is pointed out to them. In “Indians on TV,” Ansari highlights racial biases in film and television that most people don’t think about. Characters in the episode ask questions like: “When was the last time you saw an Asian man kiss somebody on TV?” and “Why is every Indian on TV a scientist, a cab driver, or a convenience store owner?” These are good questions! Excluding Ansari’s characters, I can’t think of the last time I saw an Asian man kiss somebody on TV. I also can’t think of any Indian characters in TV or movies that aren’t depicted as super-smart or heavily-accented caricatures.
Master of None also tackles topics from Ansari’s book, Modern Romance, like the idea of being paralyzed by having too many choices or understanding that relationships are seldom perfect.
Ansari is still wacky, but more grounded, more of a leading man than out-of-left-field Tom Haverford. His chemistry with love interest Rachel (Noël Wells) is relatable and adorable. Tim Wareheim of Tim and Eric fame provides a great contrast to the show’s mostly sane cast of characters as Dev’s towering, bounce house-loving friend Arnold. The show’s most impressive performance, however, comes from Ansari’s father Shoukath, who is hilariously off-beat.
Master of None is fantastic. It’s funny, it talks about accessible topics, and it highlights issues that are real, but not yet relevant.
Ansari’s bandwagon is picking up speed. Jump on now.