If one peers into Aziz Ansari’s life before Master of None, there’s a whole lot of roles that dub him as the “funny, Brown guy” on television. But he wasn’t viewed as the stereotypical Indian guy with an accent à la Apu in The Simpsons. Playing small roles with names such as Tom Haverford (Parks and Recreations) or Eugene (I Love You, Man), Ansari represents a microcosm of actors of Indian origin who didn’t give in to Hollywood’s tropes of the stereotypical Indian from the land of curries, snake charmers, and confusing headshakes.
And in Master of None, an Indian origin with a show of his own, is a feat by itself; a show on a not-so famous man, with not-so many skills. A regular show on a regular guy, and his regular adventures. Just like any Caucasian man/woman’s show on life and whatnot.
Netflix, winning with all its diverse shows, has Ansari as Dev Shah talking about his life along with Kelvin Yo as Brian Chang, another “Asian” born and brought up in America. The show is part fictional, but mostly based on bits and pieces from their lives, and the people around them.
The first season, particularly the second episode ‘Parents’ was about the story of Dev’s and Brian’s origins. How their parents migrated and faced hardships in an alien country. They toiled for years to establish something of their own on a foreign soil, in the hopes of giving a better life to their children. One would imagine that the parents’, much like most Indian parents, lives revolved around the kids. And when kids fly away from the metaphorical nest, an emptiness fills in.
Not here though. Brian’s father, the usually reserved Peter, dates two women and tries not to feel too bad when his son ignores a simple request. Dev’s parents — Ramesh and Nisha — realise that they needn’t fuss over their son anymore and instead, kick up a fuss when it comes to banal things like choosing food at a restaurant.
The episode, infused with the kind of comedy that tugs at heart strings but thankfully not the tear-jerking kind, is revered as one of the best from the first season. Personal and straight from the heart, with the right amount of drama and capturing the ethos of an immigrant far from the motherland.
With this episode, we become all too familiar with Dev’s grouse with Hollywood and his frequent angst. He’s more than just the funny Brown man, with the other episodes chronicling Dev’s lives and showcasing the origins of the other characters around him.
It isn’t a wonder that the show won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series last year, a first of many with respect to diversity as well.
The second season of the show came out as quite a surprise this May. That’s what Netflix does, no prior warning unless and until it’s a brand new show. Picking up from where it left off, the second season had its comedy and heartbreak in the right place.
Tending to a break-up with pasta in Italy, Dev doesn’t let himself drag on to the past. But yet, somehow he still finds himself talking to his ex-girlfriend who’s fulfilling her dream of living in Japan. In a way, their break-up helped them pursue their dream hence there isn’t a lot of bitterness between them. The harmless flirtations begin but Dev has had several moments to reflect on his life, especially by watching his friend Arnold deal with a former girlfriend’s wedding, to know that the only way forward is to move on.
The hiatus ends and he’s back in America, back to old times. Moving forward isn’t so easy, especially when his past from Italy comes back and more deliberations follow.
But just like season 1, season 2 has an episode that focuses on someone else other than Dev, their story told in flashbacks.
His childhood friend, Denise, who is a lesbian, has her coming-out story told through the Thanksgiving dinners they celebrated over the years. Growing up without a father, Denise’s upbringing comprised of her hardworking mother, her fun aunt, and her grandmother. While her family appears conservative, deep inside they understand Denise and her choices. At least they make an effort to. It takes them a while to accept her sexuality, especially when she brings in her second girlfriend with the infamous Instagram handle – @nipplesandtoes22.
Written by Lena Waithe, who plays Denise, the story gives visibility to scores of other Black lesbian women who have had it hard with their coming-out story. The world is hard enough for a Black woman, but adding to that, a sexual orientation that many conservatives would lynch a person for – were all the thoughts running in Denise’s mother’s mind. Waithe has also been nominated, specifically for this episode.
Not just the grounded characters or an everyday (Brown) Joe getting his own show and excelling at it better than his White counterparts, Master of None is for everybody. Not just for the Indian diaspora. It’s the struggle but also the idea of poking fun at life told through Dev Shah. It’s also time that Aziz Ansari gets his due.
Feature Image: Netflix