When women talk about their experiences of harassment and sexism, why do men dismiss them?
That is the core question at the heart of Master of None’s episode “Ladies and Gentlemen”. And it gives you a good idea of the type of comedy to expect from Aziz Ansari in his Netflix series.
Smart, incisive, critical and joyous.
Master of None is a 10 part series. Though the episodes do have a linear progression, and there is character development throughout, the central action of each focuses on a specific theme.
Ansari, who you might recognise from Parks and Recreation, tackles how we treat our grandparents, racism in the media, having kids, whether you are dating the one or not, the experiences of migrants and their children, and of course, the very different experiences of men and women existing in the world.
Which brings us to “Ladies and Gentlemen”, the episode in question.
It begins with a wonderful scene that tracks the experience of men and women walking home late at night. The men cut through a park without a second thought and the worst thing that happens is one of them steps on dog poo. The woman is followed by a drunken stranger who had tried to pick her up in a bar, and is obviously very afraid.
Watch the trailer (post continues after video):
You know what I thought while watching that scene?
“Oh no, they’re cutting through a park. How can they do that? It’s so dark out there. SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS GOING TO HAPPEN. Wait, nothing terrible happened. They just walked home.”
And my response to the woman’s version?
Well, it was basically just remembering the times something similar had happened to me. Which is why I was so fearful on behalf of Ansari’s park-walking protaganist Dev Shah and his friend Arnold Baumheiser (Eric Wareheim).
I knew that men have a totally different concept of personal safety, but I gotta say, it had never occurred to me that anyone might walk unconcerned through a park late at night.
The lesson that Dev learns in “Ladies and Gentlemen”, that men should pay attention when women talk about their experiences and believe what they tell them, shouldn’t be a revelation at all. But the fact that it is, is a great example of how Master of None confounds and confronts, while still managing to make us laugh.
Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang have started doing Reddit AMA’s where they discuss the episodes in depth. Although they aren’t up to Ladies and Gentlemen yet, Ansari has talked about how the show is trying to get its audience to consider other points of view.
“A big part of the show (and I find a good way to approach these things in your own life) is to just shut up and listen to other people and really attempt to see things from their point of view,” he wrote in the first AMA.
“The internet culture has really seemed to change us into these people that just want to blast our opinions as often and as loudly as possible, and I hope it’s not hurting our capacity to listen to others, I’ve found you learn a lot that way.”
There is a lot in Master of None that feels, for want of a better word, crowdsourced. Which only makes it better. So much attention has been paid to the idea that Lena Dunham proclaimed herself “the voice of a generation” with Girls (she didn’t though), that maybe we are over the idea that any show can be any one generation’s voice.
I hope we are. Because Master of None exists in a space that feels both specific and general. It addresses exactly the stuff I worry about, all of the time. Having or not having kids, being too picky about who I do and don’t date, whether I’ve chosen the right career, what kind of person I am, my relationship with my parents and grandparents. All of it.
But it doesn’t rely on making easy passes at stuff everyone relates to. It also challenges a lot of cultural assumptions that are ingrained in popular culture, and is wonderful at constantly reminding straight white people that their experiences are not the only “universal” experiences out there.
Master of None is a giant middle finger to any person who ever told Aziz Ansari (or any other non-white person) he couldn’t anchor a show.
Ansari’s parents play Dev’s parents (his dad, Shoukath, is a born performer, his mum, Fatima, is a little more nervous but pulls it off) and the second episode “Parents” deals with the relationship between migrants and their first-generation American children.
In the AMA for “Parents”, one fan wrote: “My Tamil family got together over thanksgiving and watched episode 2 of your show. We were all really moved by it. I didn’t know how good it feels to have your identity represented on television until I saw that episode.”
“I was also struck by the episode where you talked about struggling to communicate with your patti. I go through the same thing, with my limited Tamil skills and her limited English skills. I never thought I’d see those emotions of guilt on a mainstream Netflix show, so thank you for doing that!”
If there is a throughline for the series other than just the day to day of being Dev, the succesful yogurt commercial star, it is Dev’s pursuit of THE relationship (you know, soulmate hunting). From her first scene, Noël Wells, who plays Rachel, is a wonderful foil to Ansari.
The casting, all around, is top notch.
Master of None will challenge you to think about things differently. It will also make you laugh, a lot.
I never imagined that a conversation about whether the second verse of “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile is Eminem or Eminem’s character talking could hold my interest, let alone crack me up. And yet, here we are.
Get into it.
Master of None is the best thing I’ve watched all year.