The second episode of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix vehicle, Master of None, revolves around Ansari’s character Dev and his Chinese friend Brian spending time with their immigrant parents to better understand the experiences and difficulties they faced moving to America. That plotline alone makes me happy to have Ansari’s voice on this platform.
Of course, there are other great things about Master of None, which Ansari stars in and created with Parks and Recreation writer Alan Yang. The ten-episode original has earned high praises—which it deserves. Ansari stars as Dev, a 30 year-old actor living in New York looking for love and really great gelato.
Master of None captures the tropes of urban millennials to an almost pitch-perfect degree. In one episode, we meet a young woman who goes on online dates just for the free dinners. Dev, in the mood for tacos, immediately whips out his phone and Yelps the best taco spot near him. In another scene, after a great night together, Dev goes in to kiss his date and is floored when she steps back and offers a vague explanation about an ex-boyfriend and “trying to work things out.”
While it’s not some be-all, end-all representation of the millennial experience—as critics will no doubt try to cast it, as they do with every new show that happens to follow people under the age of 35—it projects a realistic, relatable perspective of modern romance. However, for as much as I enjoyed and related to Master of None, I found it glaringly lacking in its representation of women. To be fair, I didn’t necessarily expect a show created by two men and starring a man to put a lot of time into flipping the script; perhaps it’s just becoming difficult for me to watch a bunch of men onscreen talking to other men for 30 minutes. No matter how engrossing a story, it’s hard not to wonder, “Why couldn’t this person have been a woman?” because nine times out of ten, it could have.
There is one “feminism” episode halfway through the season which was rightfully written and directed by women—Sarah Peters and Zoe Jarman, and Lynn Shelton—wherein Dev and his best friend Arnold are schooled on what its like for women to face street harassment and sexist micro-aggressions. Dev’s close group of friends include two men, Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Brian (Kelvin Yu) and a lesbian, Denise (Lena Waithe), who acts as the female persecutive. Although we see Dev interacting with a lot of women, most of them aren’t particularly interesting. I also expected to see more women of color in significant roles. Noël Wells is of mixed Tunisian and Hispanic descent. There is Waithe’s Denise, Dev’s agent (played by Danielle Brooks), and Dev’s mom—played by Ansari’s real-life mother.
The most time we spend with a female character is with Dev’s love interest Rachel, played by Noël Wells who Wells herself describes as sort of a chill, cool girl. From the production notes:
“She does music PR, and I think she’s really laid back and easygoing,” Wells says. “And I think that’s why Dev likes her, because she’s not complicated in the way that a lot of these other girls (are).”
Yet Master of None would be better if Rachel was a bit more complicated—especially because many of the male characters in the show are pretty damn complicated, for any gender.
Yet one thing Master of None could not have done any better was making Netflix its home. Modern usage of technology in both romance and everyday life is explored and skewered constantly in the show. The result is a sort of meta experience when you stop and consider that you’re watching it through what is now a necessary piece of technology for millions of people. It’s almost as if Ansari and Yang were able to look forward to Fall 2015, witness “Netflix and Chill” becoming engrained in our lexicon and then create the perfect show for exactly that.
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Image via K.C. Bailey/Netflix.