Master of None: Reflecting Our Modern Messes
It's taken me a hot second to reflect on shows, but since we live in a binge-watching society, I feel like theres still relevance to a lot of shows even if they've come out a while ago. And in HONOR of Aziz Ansari winning Best Actor in a TV Show at the 2018 Golden Globes last night, I feel like it's the best time to talk about his show Master of None, and how it still continues to be one of my favorite TV sitcoms about modern love and emerging adulthood. Overall, the show became one of my favorite Netflix shows after I saw it -- but especially after the second season. I enjoyed it so much that I don't even really mind if he doesn't continue with a third...(although it wouldn't be the worst thing ever @AzizAnsari).
So here's my analysis on why this show absolutely killed it and why Aziz totally deserved that award and should, in my opinion, get another for writing it as well. Btw, I'm going to go ahead and attach the Spotify playlist of the second season's soundtrack, because it's so good and you should listen to it while reading this.
It's really hard for shows in today's age to have a "modern take" on the world we live in -- when it comes to our professional lives, social norms, relationships, love, etc. These are parts of our lives that are already messy enough as it is, but they become even harder to navigate as we enter the "real world" and have to deal with us changing, as well as the world around us. It's hard for directors/creators to get it right when writing about the younger (20s, 30s) generation of people who are living in this ever-evolving, technological age where we're all confused over what it means to be happy, successful and fulfilled. We all have different expectations, different hopes and dreams, and of course different pressures coming from family and friends. This show really narrates the struggle that a lot of young adults experience while also showing diverse perspectives of things we all go through. In so many ways, this show gets it right.
First off, I've always admired shows that are brutally honest about love and relationships, while still portraying romance and fun cheesiness that does exist in real life, and this show does just that. So i'll start with that, the romance aspect of the show (specifically the second season) is superb -- and here's why:
Honest Love Stories:
TINY SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU WANT TO SKIP TO THE PART WITH NO SPOILERS SKIP THIS PART AND GO TO THE NEXT SECTION :)
There's one episode of the second season that always got to me. Dev (Aziz Ansari's character) and Francesca are returning from a Dinner Party and the camera is facing them in the backseat. They reach Francesca's hotel and they say a goodbye, realizing that they might not see each other for a while since she is returning to Italy with her fiance'. After she leaves, Dev tells the driver the next stop and sits back as the camera stays on him and the song "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" plays throughout the whole scene of him in the Uber. It's simple and sweet, and I just always admired how this scene really explained with such little words what the character was feeling; confusion, love and loneliness all at once. The two characters are in a complicated relationship, Francesa has a fiance she's drifting from, and Aziz is slowly falling in love with her. As sad and shocking as this concept is, it's something a lot of people experience, especially as they're making huge decision in their lives like to marry someone.
Another good aspect of this that is shown is that from what we the audience can tell, Francesca's and Pino's relationship isn't really outwardly bad as some other shows would portray it. Usually in other shows you would see that in this situation the person who is currently engaged/in a relationship and are drifting towards someone else, that you would see the engaged person in an extremely toxic relationship. Instead, in Master of None, all we see is some arguments and drifting between Francesca and Pino, which is reflecting much more realistic situation. Instead, the show simply reflects a couple that has been together for so long and is at a crossroads; where do they go now? And it shows the difficult decision that Francesca has to make and how difficult it can be when she's been in such a long term relationship.
The show doesn't really make either side the good or bad guy. Although i'm sure some people are Team Dev or Team Francesca, I think this show forces us to see both situations equally -- both are human and figuring things out. Both are confused and taking solace in each other's company. The show doesn't force you to make the other person the villain. I also like how the show doesn't use cheap drama to make the storyline more interesting. Instead of Francesca and Dev right away hooking up and entering a romantic stage of their relationship, the show goes back and forth to the point where we, the audience are in the same boat as Dev -- confused whether this relationship is going to be more than just close friends.
I like the message the show sends -- love will never be perfect. It’ll be something even better — real. It’ll be messy and awesome. In today’s day and age we need to start being more comfortable with removing ourselves a bit. We need to start not taking it so seriously — dating. And no, by this I don’t mean not caring. I mean the opposite; let yourself feel what you want to feel, but don’t overthink what it means. What does him talking to me mean? What does the kiss mean? And in our digital age it gets even more confusing. What does that text mean? What does that like mean? All of these questions come to fruition in the last couple episodes when Dev confronts Francesca, and to his and some of the audience's dismay, she does not drop everything and leave her fiance. Instead she replies with the phrase that we all identify more than anything; "I just don't know".
One of the things I truly fell in love with about the show already early on is the way each episode is shot. There's something special about it -- it's like each one was meant to be like it's own little short-film. Even though Ansari is the main character of the show, it's admirable how he makes sure to spend time on other characters surrounding him and their stories, conflicts and how it ties in with larger societal issues.
The Thanksgiving Episode, which was so well-acclaimed that it won an Emmy is a perfect example of this. The episode was co-written by Lena Waith who in her Emmy winning speech said,
"I see each and every one of you. The things that make us different – those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world, because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren't in it. And for everybody out there that showed us so much love for this episode, thank you for embracing a little Indian boy from South Carolina and a queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago."
The reason the Thanksgiving episode is so great is because Aziz allowed Leah to take the reins as well and show case a diverse point of view of the LGBTQ community. Doing this in TV and movies is so important because it shows a raw perspective of different backgrounds that definitely should be seen more often. The Emmy is well deserved because the episode definitely is authentic, real and stands on its own like a short film. I've heard many people tell me that this show is one of the first one they've seen in a while where there's an openly gay black woman, and where we actually learn about her backstory and the struggles she went through. Overall, the episodes is informative and raw, and it's just one example of how the writers of the show strived to show diverse storylines that both challenge us and help us empathize.
Smashing Toxic Masculinity
One of my favorite parts by far, of both the first and second season is the amazing way the show writes male friendships. I only realized until the second season, but I came to an epiphany that in most shows I watch, I feel extremely annoyed by the constant mysoginistic and frankly, boring portrayal of "bro-mances". Even in more recent progressive shows such as New Girl where we see more of femininity and sensitivity from certain male characters, it always comes down to toughness and toxic masculinity that the men are striving for.
In Master of None, the male friends we see Dev interact with are much more dynamic and relatable. One of the episodes in the second season where Arnold and Dev hang out in Italy, shows in multiple ways how well the two talk about love, relationships and food. I really don't know how they do it, but you barely ever notice the men trying to prove something through overly masculine norms or boring "macho" traits. The two men are just themselves, looking for love and having fun taking photos of food and not being afraid to show they care about each other as friends. Even the way the two talk about their romantic endeavors isn't creepy or uncomfortable. Instead it's sweet, goofy and most importantly relatable. As a woman, I identified with Dev's character having a crush on a woman, because he wasn't talking about it with his friends in a super hyper masculine way -- instead he was being himself.
The show also doesn't pretend the men are perfect, as many episodes show Aziz and his male friends being put in their place and learning the different forms of sexism in the world. In one scene, when Aziz and his male friends are at a restaurant as well as his female friend and girlfriend, his boss comes over and only says hello to the men and not the women. The girlfriend at the time, Rachel confront's Aziz's character about this and at first he doesn't quite get it and doesn't think the man was being sexist. But eventually him and his friends start to understand that living in the world as a woman is something they won't really understand, unless they were in their shoes.
Awkwardness of the Digital Age
The ever-growing advancement and evolution of the digital age can be a tricky topic to cover for TV or film, especially when it's something that is changing every day. Lots of writers of shows that I've seen tend to stumble on the topic of social media, either going to the extreme and painting all young members of the digital generation as the same, or not really mentioning the reality of how much technology has penetrated the issues of love, friendship and careers. The awkwardness of texting significant others and trying to spark up a romance behind a screen. From Dev getting an email from his ex on his birthday, to him trying ti decipher texts from girls he's talking to, the show gives an honest insight of how technology has affected our romantic lives.
Master of None does a fantastic job of both poking fun at the digital generation while also reflecting how it's a big part of young people's lives. There are scenes in the show where Dev is struggling with finding the right girl from a dating app, or when he explains how weird the concept is to Francesca, who hasn't really experienced that online app trend in Italy. But we also see a more positive side of dating apps and online connections through other scenes such as Arnold enjoying his singlehood and talking to a bunch of different girls (by the way, when they show Arnold engaging with women on the app it makes me so happy because it would be amazing if all men sent videos of themselves eating amazing food with their friends instead of...other things).
The goofiness of dating apps is definitely portrayed, but never shamed -- it just shows that it's for some people and not for others, or it's sometimes right for a person and then it isn't. We are never meant to feel that dating apps are something bad or toxic, rather everyone experiences them differently, and sometimes it's going to take a couple tries to get it right -- and how this is a reality even in real-life romances.