Jack of Almost All Trades, But Master of None

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t let myself get sucked into TV shows because they’re too much of a time commitment to finish. In my post-grad (and my second semester senioritis) phase though, I let myself slip and I may or may not have binge-watched Master of None in two days.

In the show, Aziz Ansari plays a 30-year-old, up-and-coming actor named Dev in New York City. Each episode walks the viewers through a particular set of experiences in Dev’s life that ranges from extremely significant to incredibly mundane. In a couple episodes, Dev is forced to consider and handle problems of racism and sexism. In others, he plays the dating game and goes home to visit his parents and share a meal with them.

As a writer, watching the latter set of experiences play out onscreen was what most piqued my interest. In order for any story to be interesting, onscreen or on the page (or on the screen of a reader?), there have to be stakes and risks. This often results in a story that involves a death, an accident, or an illness. Large-scale events inevitably raise the stakes of a character’s actions and make readers/viewers more engaged. The subtle elevation of stakes through simple, quotidian events, however, is an accomplishment that’s much harder to achieve.

Master of None Bar_The Odyssey Online
Photo Courtesy of The Odyssey Online

This is precisely what Ansari accomplished in Master of None. He presents onscreen some of the most commonplace, 21st-century, young adult interactions in a way that’s not only realistic and familiar, but also humorous and cutting.

The show is uncensored in many ways. Its #accurate dialogue captures viewers with its comedic nature (I didn’t think I’d laugh so hard at “I just didn’t want you to think that I was being stingy with the Ubers.”). But at the same time, each character’s perspective on life — perspectives and commentaries that I’ve heard, myself, in real life from my own friends — makes viewers blink and reconsider their own points of views and behaviors. Master of None wins over its viewers with its self-deprecating wit and identifiable scenarios, which ultimately allows it to better resonate with its audience while pointedly addressing various, present-day social issues.

Initially, this was what got me hooked on the show. I appreciated the commentary and found it refreshing that it wasn’t done in a pedantic, pan-to-the-head fashion. After a few days of mulling (and writing), however, there are some elements of the show that have, yes, made me question and reconsider my own imminent entrance to the “real world,” but not in the extolling manner that many reviewers have offered.

In an era where we’re presented an almost overwhelming number of choices — be it for food, dates, or outings — the vast majority of the subsequent commentary has been to encourage an exploration of these options. As a fresh college grad (give me a moment to process that new title), it has been optimistic and reassuring to watch, read, and feel this movement grow.

Master of None Kelvin Yu_NBC News
Photo Courtesy of NBC News

But something about the show’s finale made me second guess myself. In the opposite direction.

I’m not, in any way, discouraging anyone from exploring every last one of their potential opportunities, and frankly, anyone who’s asked me to choose a place to eat for our get-together will know that I’m a notorious Yelp-user who will literally open 11-or-so tabs just to pick a place for a one-hour coffee date.

As the number of our choices (and apps that offer these myriads of choices) continues to grow, so does the commentary that promotes the exploration of these choices. This, in turn, however, may cause people who prefer convention to feel strange and wonder if they’re making the wrong choices by following a more conventional, traditional path with their lives.

Master of None_Rachel_Polygon
Photo Courtesy of Polygon

While the obvious solution to this problem might be to simply take some options off the drawing board, it feels strange to do so. Why would anyone choose to limit our options? There is, of course, a difference between blindly ignoring potential opportunities and carefully laying out priorities. But it’s beginning to feel like this latter option is being pushed to the wayside in this “the world is your oyster” movement.

I’m a huge fan of any and all rom-coms (particularly really shitty ones from the early 2000s) but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a niche of rom-coms yet to be explored. The New York Times calls Master of None a “mature rom-com,” but if this is the “mature rom-com” route, I wonder — is there room somewhere between this mature rom-com and the “immature,” cookie-cutter rom-com of the past?

(Maybe we can call this rom-com “mmature.”)

One thought on “Jack of Almost All Trades, But Master of None

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