Master of None
TV Series Review
The classic 1990s sitcom Seinfeld was famously a "show about nothing." Focusing on four not so likable, not particularly ethical friends, the show adhered to a strict code: no hugging, no learning.
If Seinfeld was capable of raising a sitcom baby of its own, instilling all those non-lessons into its progeny and then watching, with non-pride, the resulting show grow into something that would take its non-values to the logical next level, that new program might look something like Aziz Ansari's Master of None.
Ansari, a comedian, plays Dev, a semi-busy actor best known for his work on … commercials. He hangs out with a handful of fellow New Yorkers who also seem to have a great deal of spare time on their hands: sometime girlfriend Rachel, towering man-child Arnold, lesbian pal Denise. They go to parties hosted by people they don't like very much, obsess over takeout food, sleep with anyone who seems to be willing and who bathes regularly.
Not That There's Anything Wrong With That …
And so we're back to Seinfeld. Dev certainly seems determined to follow the "no learning" rule. Hugs are fine, as long as they're either A) insincere, or B) a prelude to sex. But Ansari's Netflix creation does rebel a bit from its Seinfeldian roots by not always being about nothing.
Indeed, it tackles racism … and concludes that it's bad. It deals with sexism and sexual harassment … and decides that those things, too, are bad. It even suggests there's some merit to sexual restraint. The guys, for instance, go out of their way to bust a guy who masturbates in public. And in the opening episode, when Dev is forced to buy a "Plan B" pill for his latest sexual conquest, Arnold wonders what the pill's makers would say is "plan A."
"I think plan A is that you don't drop a million of your sperm into someone you don't know that well," Dev says.
Still, "know that well" is several zip codes away from "married for life," and Dev certainly won't be slipping on a purity ring anytime soon (or ever). The idea of just not engaging in casual sexual encounters feels so archaic here as to not even be worth joking about.
That's hardly new in the world of comedic television. Such was the case in Seinfeld, too. And Friends. And any other show about single people in New York City, apparently. I've never lived in Manhattan, but I can only assume from television that to live in the borough you're required to have at least one new sexual partner per month. And because this show is on the wild, wide-open forum that is Netflix, the sexual encounters here can look and sound pretty graphic. (There's lots of hard-core swearing, too.)
Yada, Yada, Yada
That's disappointing. Aziz Ansari (known for his work on Parks and Recreation) is a seriously talented guy. Critics have raved about Master of None, and I hoped I would like it too. But the world we enter here is not only morally unfamiliar, but also salacious and vacuous.
In an episode titled "Indians on TV," Dev grapples with some of the crass, misleading and offensive Indian stereotypes found in movies and television. The episode earned a glowing review from Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya at the A.V. Club. She wrote, "Master of None acknowledges that 'diversity' shouldn’t just mean throwing one Indian guy into a show and calling it a day. What Dev, and the show, are asking for are richer, more varying representations of Indians on TV that aren’t rooted in racial stereotypes or assumptions about what Indian people should look like, speak like, or do. Master of None does so effortlessly."
Indeed, if Master of None is doing its part to break down racial stereotypes, then I'll add my bravo to the mix. And yet, watching the show as a Christian, I feel the same sense of disconnection that Dev experiences as an Indian: With its unremitting sexual promiscuity and casual vulgarity, the setup feels utterly alien to me. One-dimensional. Stereotypical.
"Seeing yourself reflected on television is something that's easy for white people to take for granted," Upadhyaya writes. "Hollywood goes over and above to cater to white viewers." OK. But while I see lots of people who "look" like me (only prettier and younger, of course), it's rare to see someone who seems to "be" like me—someone who shares my spiritual and moral values.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
+Master of None - November 5, 2015 "Plan B"