News

Is Master of None the Most Socially Intelligent Comedy on TV Right Now?

by | November 24, 2015 | Comments

During the season finale of Master of None, Netflix’s new comedy from Aziz Ansari, Dev (Ansari) finds himself at a friend’s wedding with a date. It’s a perfect, sunny day at a fancy New York City location, with a waterfront view of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

As the couple enjoys their drinks and the sights, the father of the groom walks up to Dev and greets him by name. Then the man, Mr. Ryan, introduces himself to Dev’s date Rachel (Noel Wells).

Mr. Ryan then decides to open their slice of cocktail conversation with, “Aw, that’s nice. I love seeing ethnically mixed couples. You two are beautiful together.”

After that, he turns to Rachel – who happens to be white — ceasing to acknowledge Dev altogether. “Had you ever dated an ethnic man before this, Rachel?”

It’s exchanges like this that make Master of None possibly the most socially intelligent comedy series on TV right now. That’s because Ansari and his co-writer Alan Yang don’t make a big deal out of these moments and others like them; they’re just part of what Dev and his friends encounter in daily life.

Master of None premiered in early November and has since received wide critical acclaim, particularly for two episodes: “Indians on TV,” in which Dev navigates a brutal audition process that exposes him to the racial barriers imposed within the entertainment industry; and “Parents,” which takes a poke at first-generation kids who underappreciate the struggles faced by their immigrant parents. (“Parents” also made minor celebrities out of Ansari’s father Shoukath and his mother Fatima, who stole the show as Dev’s dad and mom.)

But Netflix doesn’t promote Master of None as a show about what it means to be Indian in America, or about any kind of racial prejudice, because it isn’t. This bears pointing out, not just because racial tensions have once again hit a boiling point — something a broadcast network, NBC, attempted to capitalize on this season with its comedy Truth Be Told. That show is a standard network half-hour sitcom featuring two best friends – one white, and one black – who joke about race all the time. (And truth be told, its initial episode order has been cut from 13 to 10; the series currently is gasping for air on Friday nights.)

Ansari’s viewpoint in Master of None, in contrast, makes the challenges of cultural relations part of a broader conversation about the bounty of choices available to thirty-something urbanites. If Seinfeld, still considered to be a quintessential New York-based series, was a show about nothing that featured unlikable people, Master of None is a comedy of microaggressions, one that mirrors urban life as it truly is, with diverse cultures and socio-economic groups rubbing shoulders with one another and still failing to blend with ease.

Master of None also is intentionally diverse, an issue about which Ansari has been vocal while promoting the show, even in front of audiences as broad as that of CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Dev’s main clique consists of his friends Brian (Kelvin Yu), Denise (Lena Waithe), and Arnold (Eric Wareheim). Brian is Asian, while Denise is black and, we eventually discover, a lesbian. Arnold is a childlike, awkward white giant, creating a stark contrast with Ansari’s short, wiry Dev.

Dev’s friends look as if they’ve been hanging out for years. And in the same way that their individual relationships with Dev appear natural and genuine, the situations they deal with — and the microaggressions that come out of them — feel equally realistic.

Dev’s exchange with the well-meaning if casually bigoted father of the groom was a brief scene in an episode that examined the meaning of commitment.  Yet to stand back and think about this moment and others Dev faces in aggregate, these tiny doses of ignorance speak volumes about where we are as a culture. In that conversation, a man Dev obviously knows reduces him to a category, “an ethnic.” He’s no longer his son’s friend, but an exotic spice that the nice white girl decided to sprinkle into her life.

“I think his heart’s in the right place,” Dev remarks after Mr. Ryan walks away, “but he really shouldn’t be saying ‘ethnic’ that much.”

So, as one character put it…there’s a thing.

The beauty of Ansari and Yang’s approach is that it demonstrate that these small slights, intentional or otherwise, are part of human nature. Everybody gets to be a target, and even Dev finds himself as the aggressor, or an accessory, at various points during the season.

The episode that best demonstrates this, “Ladies and Gentlemen,” isn’t about racism, but the covert sexism and dangerous objectification women have to deal with on a regular basis. Rachel becomes angry at Dev when he refuses to acknowledge that a guy intentionally ignored her and Denise as he stopped to shake the hands of the men around them.

“Seems like you might be reading a bit much into it,” Dev tells her.

“We’re telling you that this is something that definitely happens to women, all the time,” Rachel retorts, “but, fine. Deny our perception of the world.”

A subsequent observation drives home the message of witnessing all of these small snubs and how they affect Dev and others: “There are a lot of subtle little things that happen to me, and all women, even in our little progressive world. And when somebody, especially my boyfriend, tells me that I’m wrong without having any way of knowing my personal experience, it’s insulting.”

Thankfully, Master of None also shows us that every offender can learn from his or her mistakes. Upon meeting Rachel’s grandmother for the first time, Dev admits he was afraid that she’d be prejudiced about him at first sight, to which she replies with a smile, “Oh, I see. You assumed I was a racist just because I’m old! That’s nice.”

Again, this is a blip in a larger story about Dev and Rachel’s grandma. The pair go on to have a wild time hanging out together, telling each other stories about their lives, and eventually indulging in one of Dev’s favorite pastimes: eating pasta.

Life is full of barbs, and all of us toss in our share of sharpness in one way or another. But as Master of None proves, sometimes the best that we can do is acknowledge these stumbles and keep moving along to get to the good stuff.

Melanie McFarland is a Seattle-based TV critic and an executive member of the Television Critics Association. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

 

Tag Cloud

movie 73rd Emmy Awards 4/20 Nickelodeon leaderboard crime drama Hallmark Christmas movies CBS All Access Esquire Showtime Character Guide hispanic Sony Pictures Teen political drama jamie lee curtis monster movies Cosplay Alien The Walt Disney Company Toys chucky halloween tv zero dark thirty VICE football aliens Fantasy Infographic hidden camera elevated horror cartoon Winter TV book Disney+ Disney Plus Paramount Network Tubi Sundance Now series sag awards festival Wes Anderson all-time Hear Us Out OneApp golden globe awards comic CBS diversity Animation target Netflix zombies AMC Plus Photos Red Carpet Drama streaming movies rt archives cancelled TV series MGM Music Pixar Mindy Kaling HBO Max 2018 45 IMDb TV wonder woman franchise 2017 hollywood Film Festival Elton John 94th Oscars Biopics godzilla space worst movies Academy Awards 72 Emmy Awards Winners casting archives Mary poppins miniseries VOD Musical Crackle streamig Country Emmys dexter Cannes Emmy Nominations TCA blaxploitation TNT summer TV preview Chilling Adventures of Sabrina adaptation Fox Searchlight remakes social media revenge Prime Video live event Film Awards 71st Emmy Awards Turner Masterpiece comic book movie Reality Competition 007 Mudbound crime laika Oscars Exclusive Video medical drama Disney ratings Thanksgiving Ghostbusters OWN sequels Oscar ABC Family Tokyo Olympics Christmas Sneak Peek what to watch dreamworks sequel rom-coms Summer prank cinemax Song of Ice and Fire Syfy Disney Channel strong female leads Logo razzies New York Comic Con Nat Geo technology werewolf Legendary blockbuster The CW science fiction indiana jones classics Turner Classic Movies Ovation trailers independent Nominations stop motion Disney streaming service YouTube Premium GLAAD critics Freeform Watching Series Universal FOX scary movies venice posters streaming First Reviews festivals Ellie Kemper Podcast romantic comedy true crime Star Wars historical drama halloween mission: impossible docuseries based on movie marvel comics Shondaland First Look The Academy Star Trek Lucasfilm Hallmark quibi LGBT rotten movies we love south america gangster DC streaming service Adult Swim Election FX on Hulu YA emmy awards Mary Poppins Returns Avengers Tomatazos kong Horror TCM saw Year in Review book adaptation Universal Pictures YouTube Red summer preview basketball reboot ViacomCBS DC Universe screenings HFPA know your critic harry potter comic books Apple spider-man sopranos spy thriller Kids & Family 2015 SXSW 2022 GoT Sci-Fi Columbia Pictures adventure Arrowverse summer TV lord of the rings action-comedy The Walking Dead australia Schedule 90s mob king kong Travel Channel DirecTV Pop slasher marvel cinematic universe BAFTA spanish 24 frames directors Fox News anime Tags: Comedy A24 TV renewals TLC serial killer jurassic park Paramount japan travel screen actors guild Broadway 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Pirates toronto WarnerMedia Anna Paquin spanish language Apple TV Plus Chernobyl Discovery Channel comic book movies Writers Guild of America kids History HBO Marvel Television police drama feel good Lionsgate international versus biography twilight telelvision Captain marvel dramedy BET asian-american Baby Yoda cats Rocky black comedy unscripted composers supernatural child's play deadpool SundanceTV TCA Awards tv talk mockumentary live action 79th Golden Globes Awards transformers children's TV PlayStation Awards Tour Cartoon Network El Rey YouTube Polls and Games video on demand Warner Bros. documentary TV One crossover thriller TV movies SXSW documentaries hispanic heritage month HBO Go comics game of thrones MCU Comedy Central french DGA Hulu CW Seed Pacific Islander die hard justice league Valentine's Day Pride Month Disney Plus Certified Fresh American Society of Cinematographers breaking bad Best and Worst scary Best Actress cops worst video The Purge james bond Sundance TV Marathons vampires japanese sports PBS animated E3 dark President Lifetime latino debate Starz IFC Films disaster fast and furious batman black Trivia A&E See It Skip It Tarantino San Diego Comic-Con USA RT21 olympics NBC art house Lifetime Christmas movies CNN Endgame rt labs critics edition name the review 93rd Oscars Hollywood Foreign Press Association NYCC ABC Tumblr vs. ABC Signature Best Actor Musicals natural history singing competition golden globes Funimation WGN Creative Arts Emmys critic resources indie Interview finale superhero Mystery nbcuniversal Western TV Land Vudu criterion TBS 20th Century Fox TruTV Grammys women Heroines Walt Disney Pictures USA Network comedies scene in color Comics on TV Fargo GIFs Opinion adenture Best Director Box Office cars MTV new york Epix renewed TV shows ghosts genre Television Academy Rocketman richard e. Grant psycho Shudder boxing Comic-Con@Home 2021 2020 period drama high school LGBTQ Trailer zombie Image Comics popular Classic Film Countdown game show VH1 facebook SDCC spain free movies Fall TV stand-up comedy Amazon Studios dogs binge new zealand Video Games dragons The Arrangement Peacock Stephen King fresh a nightmare on elm street cancelled TV shows E! young adult Sundance Spectrum Originals IFC toy story crime thriller joker 2021 Paramount Plus canceled universal monsters Spike ESPN rotten mcc ID witnail Neflix Television Critics Association South by Southwest Film Festival stoner Holidays 21st Century Fox heist movie Rom-Com X-Men Amazon reviews Acorn TV films parents satire CMT aapi new star wars movies television Britbox canceled TV shows award winner doctor who rt labs RT History Comic Book BBC One The Witch psychological thriller cults theme song biopic romance robots Pet Sematary obi wan discovery TV foreign suspense Black History Month Amazon Prime Video legend Holiday Extras superman concert Comedy Brie Larson Trophy Talk Calendar politics Mary Tyler Moore trophy nature Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt christmas movies dc FXX anthology Women's History Month green book PaleyFest Bravo 99% APB best Family cooking TCA 2017 scorecard AMC BBC America Superheroes king arthur kaiju obituary Apple TV+ Netflix Christmas movies movies royal family mutant National Geographic ITV cancelled television Amazon Prime Marvel Studios pirates of the caribbean DC Comics teaser Set visit TIFF blockbusters italian Superheroe NBA 2019 Dark Horse Comics cancelled sitcom 2016 Instagram Live Rock Best Picture Action docudrama BBC Food Network Pop TV comiccon Crunchyroll Spring TV Reality BET Awards Binge Guide Martial Arts dceu Quiz spinoff nfl Black Mirror MSNBC FX spider-verse TCA Winter 2020 1990s war boxoffice Marvel Premiere Dates news talk show Super Bowl hist slashers