Over lunch recently, my friend Sara Giustini and I compared notes on what we’re watching. It was not only fun but illuminating! Sara and I are both filmmakers and critical consumers of media. As we were about to leave the table, both of us wanted the conversation to continue.
Mary: There are lots of binge-worthy shows out there — and I never feel caught up — but I did recently watch the second season of Master of None in one sitting. I liked it.
Sara: Master of None is one of my favorites. I absolutely loved the first season, and I enjoyed the second season as well.
Mary: I’m like you. I enjoyed the second season, but I felt the first season was stronger. I absolute LOVED “Indians on TV” for dealing with stereotyping in casting and “Ladies and Gentlemen” for dealing with gender microaggressions. These are such politically-savvy episodes. Honestly, I think I still remember both of them with more clarity than episodes from the second season even though I just watched it. Hmmmmm…
Sara: I really liked the “Parents” episode, too, because Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Brian (Kelvin Yu) interact with their immigrant parents in ways that are revealing to the characters and to viewers.
Mary: I totally agree with you! That one is a very stong episode, too.
Aziz Ansari as Dev in Master of None
Sara: There are some great episodes in the second season, too. The episode “First Date” feels like a brief re-telling of Ansari’s book Modern Romance, which I really enjoyed. The last two minutes of the episode [SPOILER ALERT] shifts gears when Dev is confronted with a moral dilemma. The woman he has gone home with keeps her condoms in “mammy” jar. Ansari seamlessly tacks a critique about racism/privilege onto a meditation about finding a meaningful relationship (or just a date!) in the digital age. What I love most about the episode is that Dev sees the jar and is appalled but still has sex with her. He waits until after to criticize the racist tchotchke. Clearly, he cannot claim complete ownership of the moral high ground in this interaction. I think Ansari and Yang are able to create episodes that tackle big issues (racism, sexism, etc) without being condescending to his audience because the main character is flawed and makes mistakes, too.
Mary: You make a great point about the complexity of the series. This seems like a good time to (shamelessly) plug a volume of essays written by my graduate students that I edited. You can purchase it in print and Kindle version on Amazon, but it’s also available free online. Serena Daya wrote a provocative chapter about Master of None for the collection. She believes that the series is culturally aware in many ways and adds an important perspective to the media landscape but sometimes undercuts opportunities for promoting multiculturalism during the first season because “…every time Dev learns about and implements a specific, socially progressive ideology into any part of his life, he experiences negative consequences personally. This pattern implicitly illustrates the idea that people will miss out on the possibility for success if they examine and implement a socially progressive ideology” (112).
Check out the eBook and the Print and Kindle Versions
Here’s an example from “Indians on TV” of what she means along. [SPOILER ALERT] At one point, a serious discussion between Dev and Ravi about stereotyping in casting is diminished to get a laugh over male lactation and, later, when Dev refuses to talk with a “funny” Indian accent, he doesn’t get the part. It’s not that these choices are bad for comedy or for character development, but over and over again Dev asks the right questions, especially about identity, then undercuts the moment or is punished for it. Interesting to think about. As you point out, Sara, the fact that the main character is flawed and makes mistakes is also part of his appeal. You are a generation younger than I am, but I do work with college students all the time, and I think his positioning as a “master of none” who has not yet found his footing resonates powerfully with many Millennials.
Sara: I’m definitely going to check out these essays. I think Daya makes an interesting and important point. There is often a complex dynamic between comedy and pain in television and cinema, which can sometimes be problematic if instead of illustrating pain you diminish it. I would argue that the consequences Dev faces for his progressive ideology reflect the real world. Dev knows that he will not get the part when he refuses to do the accent. And in season 2’s “Buona Notta” episode, Dev will not defend his celebrity-chef boss Jeff against sexual harassment claims. The audience does not see the professional fallout, but we know what he is giving up in that moment. Thinking about it more, what is interesting about Dev is that he sometimes gets punished for doing the right (read: socially progressive) thing, but as a viewer that is when I like him most.
Mary: YES, YES, YES! The sexual harassment story arc of the second season is what kept me engaged, though I admit a fondness for the first episode, “The Thief,” though I wondered when watching it if viewers who have not seen The Bicycle Thieves as often as I have or who don’t have any context for Italian cinema would have enjoyed it so much. I still think that I’ll look to Season 1 if I revisit any episodes…but I’m sure hoping for another season to see how the series will evolve. I’m a fan. This is fun!
Sara: I prefer the first season to the second as well, but through the course of this “discussion” I’ve grown to appreciate and enjoy the second season more. I loved the homage to The Bicycle Thieves! And I thought I caught a few Antonioni and other references to Italian cinema throughout the season. The first season referenced some of the great ‘70s era filmmakers- Woody Allen, Robert Altman, etc. I, too, am hoping for a third season. I wonder what genre or filmmaker we’ll see then?
Mary: Gosh, who knows? Want to continue the conversation again soon? Maybe talk about some other shows or add some movies into the mix?
To be continued…