When I first watched the Netflix original “Master of None,” I was immediately roped in by the stories that are seldom shown on TV. Season 1 Episode 2, “Parents,” hit home for many first-generation American viewers, including myself, as protagonist Dev Shah, played by Aziz Ansari, explores the history of his parent’s experiences as immigrants in the United States. Season 1 of “Master of None” received much praise for the fresh storytelling and day-to-day humor of Dev’s life as he finds love and navigates through his 30s in New York. To my own and others’ rejoice, Ansari reprised his role as Dev in Season 2 of “Master of None.” The long-awaited second season once again wowed viewers with new expositions, social commentary, a killer soundtrack and “Atlanta” style casual humor.
In Ansari’s own version of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” the season begins with Dev living in Italy and learning the ways of pasta-making after breaking up with his love interest from Season 1. The cinematography almost identically follows the classic black-and-white Italian film “The Bike Thief.” Dev anxiously searches Modena, Italy, in an attempt to find the person who stole his phone, with even more pressure to retrieve the newly acquired number of a beautiful British girl he met that day. The stupendously pleasing black-and-white scenes nicely blend with the predominantly Italian-spoken episode, a language which Ansari actually learned how to speak proficiently while researching the script for Season 2. Something noteworthy about the show is how Dev’s character strays far from the typical Indian TV-show archetype. Throughout television history, countless minority men, especially those with Asian backgrounds, have been desexualized and portrayed as weak, awkward individuals, or they’re solely in background roles such as corner store clerks, as seen in the show “Big Bang Theory,” for example.
False representations of Asian men in media has led to many real life repercussions and the development of negative stereotypes. It’s extremely refreshing to see a show in which minority characters break away from stereotypical archetypes and thrive in roles not traditional to their ethnicities.
Aside from breaking typical minority archetypes, “Master of None” oh-so-beautifully plays on cultural traditions and experiences. The episode “Religion” examines Dev’s experiences as a Muslim-American as he balances both cultures with his preferences and that of his parents. For Dev, it’s his taste for pork and other non-Islamic habits that conflicts with his mother’s wishes for him to strictly follow Islam, or at least act like he does among extended family. Viewers from any religion or background can share Dev’s experience of what it feels like to diverge from your parents’ idealized expectations and dealing with the fallout of having them face that reality. Nonetheless, Dev comes to terms with his mother’s wishes. Although he may not be who she wanted him to be, he still mostly respects his mother’s traditions and beliefs in her presence.
Aside from following the life of Dev and his journey for love, “Master of None” does an incredible job at seamlessly including narratives about unconventional characters. The “Thanksgiving” episode follows the coming-out experience of Dev’s longtime friend Denise over a series of hilarious Thanksgiving dinners that are embodied with the music and style of the year during which they take place. The episode highlights pivotal moments in Denise’s coming-of-age story, from the start of Denise’s rebellion against her mother’s proposed frilly dresses to the moment her mother comes to accept Denise’s sexuality and welcomes Denise’s girlfriend. The show does an excellent job at highlighting the experience of Denise’s progression with her sexuality as well as the pressure that Denise faces when coming out as a queer woman of color. Her mother is especially troubled by the fact that Denise’s life will become harder as a queer woman of color, perhaps more so than if she were just a lesbian. The episode is full of nostalgic and humorous family anecdotes, my favorite being Denise’s mother’s explanation of what a minority is to young Dev and Denise after Denise finds out Dev is Indian and not black.
Another favorite episode plays out like what you would expect an episode of “Humans of New York” would be like. All intertwined through a series of random encounters, the episode puts a spotlight on the life of different individuals of different socioeconomic, racial and handicapped groups. From a deaf couple signing their intimacy issues in a mute but hilariously played out conversation to doormen who witness and deal with all the drama that unfolds among the buildings tenants, the episode finishes with a couple of Rwandan taxi drivers just trying to look for a wild night out in the city. Ansari and other writers do an outstanding job of showing the lives of background and typically sidelined characters, the real humans of New York: the working class, non-glamorized New Yorkers.
Like cookie without milk or peanut butter without jelly, the show without its perfect soundtrack would leave something missing for viewers. “Master of None” understands how most modern-day viewers consume music; we fit it with our mood, with the moment and where we are. Similar to how we all have that friend who knows what song will perfectly fit the moment, “Master of None” is that friend. In “Thanksgiving,” the music is what sets the ‘90s setting, with “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like That)” in the intro to submerge viewers into the nostalgia of ‘90s rap jazz beats. Dev’s moment of childhood rebellion when he takes a bite of bacon despite his mother’s orders is righteously accompanied by Tupac’s “Only God Can Judge Me.” That moment of perilous contemplation that we have all experienced, when Dev sits in the back of an Uber thinking about the dreadful reality that he’s in love with an engaged woman, is melancholically paired with “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.” With music being the final piece in the puzzle, Ansari develops a show that is simply real.
As the quarter comes to an end and finals approach, cramming goes into full force and the library is filled to the brim. It’s important to remember that the most effective way to retain information is with 45 to 50-minute study intervals and 15-minute breaks. If you don’t wish to lose your table in those 15 minutes, consider watching half an episode of “Master of None.” Allow yourself to fall in love with the Italian countryside, the lives of average New Yorkers or a witty and lovable Dev Shah. The show does everything it aims to so well, and yet it doesn’t focus on just one thing. It reflects on growing up, love, music and family, but it also doubles as a comedy and drama. This show is truly a jack of all trades, but not a master of none.