All 10 episodes of Aziz Ansari’s new show “Master of None” rolled out onto Netflix last Friday. I’m two episodes into the new half-hour comedy and I think I’m committed to seeing it through the end of the season. The show is good. And perhaps the most endearing, the show seems very authentic to Ansari’s life experiences, and seemingly at the very least semi-autobiographical.
Similar to Louis C.K.’s show “Louie”, Ansari plays a character loosely based on experiences from his past as a struggling actor in New York City named Dev whose biggest career accomplishment thus far is a Go-Gurt commercial. He’s in his early 30’s and is also good friends with Brian played by Kelvin Yu, an Asian-American (I realize I shouldn’t reduce characters to their race, but it’s an important factor in this series).
The first episode, “Plan B” deals with navigating life in your early 30’s in the city and introduces the audience to Dev’s circle of friends and their young kids. Dev suddenly gets stuck babysitting the kids of a friend who rushes off to another commitment. After an exhausting day running around with the two kids, Dev is left wondering if he really wants children, a narrative tie to the episode’s opening scene when Dev is seen having a sexual encounter with possible future love interest Rachel, played by Noël Wells, whom with he later rushes to the pharmacy to get the Plan B pill after the condom breaks.
The opening scene is really striking, not only initially because of the sex scene, but because it’s an Asian-American sex scene, and even further, an Asian engaging in sex with a Caucasian woman. The races of the couple is only noteworthy because you rarely see it in Hollywood, where Asians and Asian-Americans are often reduced to asexual beings, placated to roles as lonely sidekicks whose personal lives are irrelevant. The most egregious current example is Han Lee from the CBS sitcom, “2 Broke Girls” where his effeminate character is the butt of many jokes. “Master of None” deftly flips the script, a tone and point-of-view in its narrative that reflects the show’s co-authors, Ansari and Alan Yang, both formerly of “Parks and Recreation”.
The second episode, “Parents”, is an unabashed love letter to Ansari and Yang’s parents, perhaps as a thank-you for all the sacrifices that their immigrant parents had to endure in order to provide their kids with lives whose biggest hardships revolve around their smartphones. Scenes from the past of Dev and Brian’s parents are spliced into the episode and underline the cultural differences in the two generations. Dev and Brian’s parents didn’t have time or money for leisure activities like learning how to play the guitar; instead, they were working hard to take care of and provide for the family, all while suffering racist remarks about their subpar English skills.
As a first-generation child of immigrant parents, I couldn’t help but be moved by this representation—one that I could really resonate with and one that’s largely missing from network television. I’m now in my 30’s and much more cognizant of their sacrifices and more aware of the difficulties of upending your life to assimilate into a foreign culture, all in an effort to give your children a better one. I’ve also been heartened recently that there are more representations of Asian-Americans on television that go beyond caricatures, where actors are normally regulated to small inane parts like computer nerds, ninjas and convenience store employees. I was delighted with the premiere of ABC’s sitcom “Fresh off the Boat” (of which I remain a loyal viewer), a comedy that revolves around a Taiwanese-American family and shows like “Master of None” continue to give me hope.
The show harps on the unique set of problems like Asian-Americans encounter, albeit not too seriously, which makes it so effective and likeable in its nuanced humor. Ansari and Yang have also made a show that touches on the universal themes of a coming-to-maturity story about pursuing a career in show business, navigating the world of social media and entering an adulthood that involves kids. If the show has a weak point, it’s the casting of Ansari’s real-life mother as Dev’s mother. Ansari cast both of his parents as his character’s parents. The father is a natural on screen, but his mother’s delivery, sadly, is often wooden and brings many scenes to a halt. Apparently, according to Deadline, he told Netflix that his father was “uniquely funny” and had to coerce his Mom to play the role despite her initial resistance. Still, those are minor grievances and the show will likely to deliver throughout the rest of the series.