Aziz Ansari’s Master of None is not your usual romantic-comedy because usual romantic comedies often do not talk about your parents, your best friends or about how great or bad you are at your job. Master of None does all of this and more. What differentiates it from all other comedy films or even TV shows is that despite having a continuous plot, each episode works like an independent set; much like episodes in our lives might look like following an overarching narrative but they indeed are moments spent by us in a particular time and place. Both the seasons follow Dev Shah, a 30 something millennial New Yorker’s life. At a glance this seems like every dramedy ever, but here’s the thing: diversity is the key in this show.
Dev’s best friends are a tall white guy Arnold (Eric Warheim) and childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe) who is black and is a lesbian. Dev is an Indian Muslim and this show tracks his job(s), relationships, parents and just about the daily issues of millenials who often find themselves at crossroads when it comes to decisions and experiences in life. Season 1 is introductory, you get to know bit by bit about everyone who plays a part in Dev’s life. The most brilliant and path-breaking episode is the one with Dev’s parents where they have a dinner with his Taiwanese friend Brian’s father. We come to know about the issues migrant parents face, but they are charmingly dealt with: they are simply put and not thrusted upon as preachy memorandums. Aziz’s own parents natural way of talking and lack of acting skills add to the realistic, comedic and organic portrayal of parents. Master of None communicates issues and questions problems but it does it the way we often do it in our lives: brings it up in a restaurant conversation, while watching TV or while going to sleep. To top all of it, Dev is a struggling actor and we get to see Hollywood through the minority’s perspective: racism and sexism are both dealt with in sardonic and nuanced ways. Women have their own parallel plots running alongside Dev’s life, and more often than not the scenes pass the Bechdel test. Dev and Arnold as men challenge hegemonic masculinity in different ways: they do struggle at times to keep up with the conventional ideas of what it takes to be a man but as daily life passes by, they unwittingly challenge perceptions.
Season 2 is much more mature, developed, nuanced and what it also brings to us is more cinematography and develops on a trope and makes it a major backdrop: food. Food is an important part of both the seasons and we see Dev in Italy learning to cook pasta, but it is also got to do with showing experiences beyond America (how Dev’s idea of spending some me time is classic American and the Italian friends find it lonely!). Food becomes Dev’s map to different places, it becomes a distraction from problems in life and even becomes a profession. The problems women have to face in patriarchal setups are taken up even in this season. Season 2 is sprinkled with many important episodes: Denise’s sexuality and family is beautifully explored, different racial experiences with various intersectionalities are presented but they never seem to have a distant appeal. They are living and leaving, breathing and sleeping and are quite close to us; their problems are explored the way they come in lives: unexpectedly, routinely and often without noise. Ample references to Italian cinema, Italian food and Italian people are made throughout the season; the cinematography of the first episode is reminiscent of Italian New Wave Cinema, especially there is a direct homage paid to Bicycle Thieves in both content and recreation of scenes. Only here Dev is fighting a first world problem and is struggling to speak in Italian. He struggles to find love in this season too, and takes recourse to the messiah of modern romance: the dating app. This brings in a variety of experiences that would not be alien to most of its viewers.
What makes it unique is that it is very close to our lives not necessarily in content but in the manifestation and depiction of it. The softness, low-key attitude of the show is a very interesting way to depict daily soft to direct racism, sexism, homophobia, relationship troubles and at the same time to bring in the stories of those characters you have often seen in the background or have never been made privy to: make-up artist, receptionist or even a cookery show host. It makes us cognisant of the diversity of experiences we often miss out on when we take account of the world; it sifts through the creamy layer and shows what’s beneath the surface. Master of None should be watched not because it has path-breaking humour, because humour is subjective and there’s a particular brand of comedy Aziz Ansari presents to us which might or might not appeal to everyone. Filled with non-sequiturs, frequent improvs , awkward, deadpan and stilted expressions seems like a stylistic choice for portraying daily life routineness and absurdity which might come out as just weak acting to many. Nonetheless, its relatable quotient, poignancy and the very diverse premise makes it a master of storytelling.