Yeah, I know Netflix released all 10 episodes on “Master of None” on Nov. 6. So why am I finally reviewing this series now? I’m not a binge-watcher, so the thought of having to consume five hours worth of programming (each is about half an hour long) in one gulp didn’t appeal to me. So I got to them when I finally had enough psychological space — like after taking a long vacation in Hawaii.
Besides, I disagree with Netflix’s model: Do you really want viewers to swallow up all of your hard work one after another without enough pause between episodes to really appreciate each installment as you would a regular television series where you have to wait seven days before getting to see the next one?
(In the end, I watched five episodes at a time, probably because I was enjoying myself more than anything and wanted to see what happened next.)
OK, rant/defensive disclaimer out of the way.
Based on the spastic, immature character Aziz Ansari played in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and some of his standup, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of thoughtfulness that infused each of these 10 episodes. And some of the ideas he and co-creator/co-executive producer Alan Yang put into this project made me proud.
The fourth episode, “Indians on TV,” for instance, felt as if the comedian had come to a few MANAA meetings or at least read a lot of my columns.
Anzari plays Dev, a 30-year-old New York actor who suffers through the auditioning process, including casting directors who want him to put on an Indian accent for roles that are already stereotyped to begin with. He complains about some of the white actors who’ve played Asian or Indian characters. When a friend points out Max Minghella was 1/16 Chinese, Dev exclaims, “Who cares? We’re all 1/16 [something] if you go back far enough!”
Dev asserts that Hollywood now allows as much as two black people on a TV series, but no other ethnicity has been granted that status: It makes it “too ethnic,” so in one of the projects he’s being considered for, the producers don’t believe there can be two Indians in it; they have to choose one over the other.
When he accidentally receives an insensitive email from a producer, he wants to expose him publicly. Even then, though, he knows society doesn’t care as much when Asians are put down. If you offend a black person, he theorizes, you meet with Rev. Sharpton to get forgiveness. Who’re you supposed to meet with if you offend Asian people?
In the second episode, “Parents,” we see how both Dev and Brian Cheng (Kelvin Yu) don’t take their immigrant parents seriously, not realizing the hardships they’d experienced in the old country and the sacrifices they made so their kids could have an easier life in America… that they could take for granted.
Ansari received an NAACP Image Award nomination for directing this one (one of two episodes he handled) and he and Yang got a nod for writing it (they did the honors on eight of the 10 episodes).
Even those episodes that don’t directly deal with Ansari’s ethnicity are charming. In Episode 8, “Old People,” he makes us consider how society overlooks senior citizens, not realizing how much we have in common with them and how much we might enjoy their company if we took the time.
Other topics explored: How long do you wait for a woman to make up her mind about a date? How can you be sure the romantic partner you’re with is “the one” (you either have to marry them or break up). Does sex between two partners inevitably become boring? Does having children ruin a marriage? How often do women feel threatened by creepy guys? Is it OK to have sex with a married woman if her husband’s a jerk?
Another pleasant surprise is Noel Wells, who plays Dev’s love interest Rachel, a music publicist. In the very first scene of the first episode, they’re having sex, a one-night stand. Weeks later, they meet up again and hit it off, but then she reveals she’s giving her ex-boyfriend another try.
In Episode 6, she’s free again and they agree to spend a weekend in Nashville. Very interesting: Though they sleep in the same bed, they don’t have sex or even kiss the entire time, in direct contrast to their first meeting.
Wells is like a more grounded Zooey Deschanel (Fox’s “New Girl”) and the chemistry and dialogue between her and Dev is delightful. I’d even go as far as saying I found myself wanting to be in a relationship like theirs with the playful banter and sarcasm. You want to see them together.
They even talk about their interracial romance (though she plays white here, the actress is Latina/Tunisian and was one of the seven new players on the 2013-2014 season of “Saturday Night Live,” where she was under-utilized). Dev asks her if she’d ever dated an Asian guy before him and she recalls everyone was white until the last one, who was half Asian. Oh, he concludes, so he was your gateway drug to me, huh?!
I also appreciated that Ansari and Yang filled many of their background parts with Asian American actors. In casting sessions, there were at least two Asian American casting assistants. Dev routinely discusses life with three friends: A tall Jewish guy, a black lesbian, and Brian, a Taiwanese American.
“Master Oo None” made the Top 10 Best TV Series lists in The Boston Globe, The Wrap, Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post, TV Guide, Time, People, Variety, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. And when it won the 2016 Critics’ Choice Award for Best Comedy, Yang thanked all the white writers for telling the same stories over and over again, which made their show appear fresh by comparison!
So please take some time out from your busy schedule and watch a few episodes.
“I’ll Tell You That I’m Happy If You Want Me to” Department: At the recent Grammy Awards, Bruno Mars (Filipino/Puerto Rican from Hawaii) took home the coveted “Record of the Year” award for “Uptown Funk.” When this song started bounding up the charts last year, I listened to it and acknowledged it as catchy. But upon hearing it one more time and in several television commercials, I quickly decided I never wanted to hear it again for the rest of my life!
Why? Well, sorry, despite being a music journalist (hey, my first paid magazine work appeared 30 years ago this month in Music Connection!), I still refuse to listen to it closely enough to analyze why I can’t stand it. The closest I can come up with is this:
It borrows from so many different artists (Prince, James Brown, etc.) and it’s wall-to-wall “hooks” (catchy parts) that it becomes exhausting to listen to. There’s no relief until it ends (much like how I feel about rap and hip-hop because it’s overly aggressive and/or annoying). I also resent that it borrows three of the four ascending “heys” from “Jackie Blue,” that No. 3 1975 hit by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
So congratulations, Bruno… I guess!
Living on Borrowed Time? Department: As I continue to enjoy the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” each Monday night, I have a feeling of déjà vu, a similar fear I had in the fall of 2014 when watching ABC’s “Selfie,” another low-rated romantic comedy centering on a white woman/Asian man.
“Selfie” lasted seven episodes on the network before being banished to hulu.com. “Crazy Ex” has been granted 18 episodes and there’s no reason to believe all of them won’t air. The difference is that it’s critically acclaimed and has been improving in the ratings.
In fact, since it returned in late January, its 18-49 age group ratings have risen from .31 to .36 to .38 to 4.0 rating, the last three weeks beating “Jane the Virgin,” which follows it, both with the 18-49 year olds and overall viewers.
Life Isn’t Fair Department: In the spring of 2014 I remember thinking I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul Lee, president of ABC, was fired for the network’s constant fourth-place finish. If that wasn’t enough, I had told him in back-to-back annual meetings with the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition: “ABC is the worst network when it comes to Asian American regulars.” He acknowledged they had to do better.
Then in May he announced new shows featuring black, Asian and Latino families, “Selfie,” and “How to Get Away With Murder,” another series starring a black woman.
Deservedly, ABC became the only one of the top four networks to grow with both those 18-49 and overall watchers. But this season, the network fell in both measures, tying it with Fox for last place with younger viewers. And last week, Lee was fired.
I was shocked. This is not a guy you kick out. This is a guy you applaud and hold up proudly as a visionary who woke up the other networks to what they weren’t doing: Catering to underserved ethnic audiences.
Pundits rationalized that ABC had had several dramas that either failed or had to be retooled for mid-season. So then why promote the head of drama to take his place? Makes no sense. Why not promote the head of comedy, Samie Falvey, who had more success in her realm? She would’ve become the first Asian American to run a network.
Ah, it’s all politics. Apparently, the new ABC Chairman tried poking his fingers in the pie, trying to pressure Lee to air more crime procedurals that would repeat better like those found on CBS: “NCIS” and “CSI.” Lee resisted and apparently Channing Dungey is more malleable and amenable (she becomes the first black to run a network).
Let’s hope she has as much affinity for comedies as Lee did (he often renewed low-rated ones like “The Neighbors” and “Galavant,” two of my favorites). We need to see another season of “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Dr. Ken.”
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.