'Master of None' is the show of my generation
If you read a random selection of headlines it looks like us millennials are the scourge of the earth. We’re killing malls, grocery stores, restaurants, vacations, the diamond industry and we can’t buy houses because of our avocado toast fetish. We’re being blamed for everything, but thankfully we have comedian Aziz Ansari in our corner.
Ansari, known for his role as Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation,” came out with his semi-autographical show on Netflix in the fall of 2015. In it he plays Dev, an actor living in New York City trying to balance his career and social life.
But it’s not the New York of other sitcoms, it’s the New York now populated with 20- and 30-somethings who have an almost meaningless diploma and dwindling job prospects caused by the recession. The title alone captures what it’s like to be a millennial. We’re generalists adrift in a world having one existential crisis after another.
It was comforting to watch the relatable finale a year after graduating, lacking a job, partner, and home that didn’t belong to my parents. Ansari came out of the television, sat on the couch beside me and told me I wasn’t the only one.
The remarkable show returned for a second season this May and picks up right after Dev after moved to Modena, Italy to become a pasta maker. He loves it, but he talks about how it’s hard to date because everyone already has a partner.
Lots of millennials consider themselves foodies—we love more cuisine than just avocado toast—which is partly why the second episode has a cameo by famous Modena chef Massimo Bottura, who also stars in Netflix’s “Chef’s Table.”
When Dev eventually comes back to New York, he hosts a “Cupcake Wars”-style show and gets locked in for seven seasons. On one hand he’s happy for a steady, good-paying gig, but says that his heart isn’t in it.
The third episode talks about how most millennials aren’t as religious as their parents now that they’ve grown. Dev pretends to be fasting for Ramadan and doesn’t eating pork when his more conservative cousins visit. Yet he eventually caves in and orders pork at a restaurant with all of them there. “I’m not religious and it’s not right to pretend to be,” he tells them. “For you it has cultural value. It’s not like that for me. For me it’s getting called ‘terrorist’ and being pulled out of airport security for a pat down.”
It’s a frank and open conversation that’s elevated by Dev’s parents being played by Ansari’s actual parents. Millennials are at that liminal state realizing that their parents are no longer the people who tell them to do their homework and eat their vegetables, but are real people with real beliefs and emotions. As we get married and have kids of our own we understand them more and see them like fellow adults.
A later episode is a collection of first dates presented as one continuous evening, but with each camera cut the actress is replaced by another without interruption. Naturally, awkwardness abounds and it becomes a case study of the millennial dating scene. Since Ansari wrote a whole book about it, called “Modern Romance,” he’s the perfect voice for this era of Tinder.
At the end of one failed date the taxi drives for five actual minutes with nothing but the radio playing. It’s so quiet that you can hear Dev’s thoughts of regret. “Every girl on my phone hates me and I hate them,” he says.
Though there is one girl he doesn’t hate, Francesca, but her long-term relationship causes complications throughout the arc of the season. Love stories are universal and this allows the show to have a viewership not limited to millennials.
Ansari and his co-writer Alan Yang are so talented at conveying relatability that one episode is nothing but a string of interconnected vignettes absent the main cast. A cab driver has a movie spoiled by their passengers; a deaf couple discusses their love life in a store.
Yet for every broad stroke there’s a fine detail that shines. “Master of None” has an intense and personal coming out story featuring Lena Waithe’s character Denise. Written by Waithe, it’s based on her own coming out. Having LGBT issues on TV wasn’t invented by millennials, however dedicating an entire half hour to it instead of just a scene would be a rare sight 30 years ago.
I haven’t seen this mastery of human and grounded storytelling since FX’s “Louie.” It tackles the macro and micro in a style that’s refreshingly diverse and real. If we really are screw-ups, I’m glad this show is evidence of us doing something right.