For me, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None plays out like a collection of essays. The separate parts meld with one another, and seeing it through the post-modern practice of binge-watching doesn’t let each individual piece carry weight as it should, but rather all the colors run together and you see a larger picture. It’s a balanced amalgam of humour, sadness, fantasy, and most importantly, authenticity. Whether directly or indirectly, this show has been a call to action for me, it sparked something inside that made me analyse the world more deeply, in regards to creative South Asians in the west, their muses and identities which lead to art being influenced and made.
Each episode is a showcase of all of Ansari’s talents as an actor, writer and creator of the show. Later, Ansari moves through topics seldom discussed so sincerely on television, the real standouts being ‘Parents’ and ‘Indians on TV’. ‘Parents’ is an episode that children of immigrants can all relate to, no matter what culture, our second-generation community takes solace in the common issues that perplex Dev surrounding his parent’s journey to America and their lives. The script is incredibly nuanced and very careful to avoid overgeneralisations of the immigrant experience, something that I appreciated to a very high degree, no one has the same story. (Sidenote: Shoukath Ansari, Aziz’s father, is probably my favorite comedian ever.) My identity, background and relationships with my parents are disparate from people around me, growing up I never saw anything like this on television. Though it isn’t the end-all-be-all of personifying immigrants, it shows more than I have ever been shown on American television within the last twenty years.
“Indians on TV” is rooted in Ansari’s own experiences with the status quo of diversity casting in Hollywood, his conscientious effort to criticize Hollywood on its practices without going off or trying to take on too much all at once is a credit to his writing. Whether you liked it or didn’t, its blatantly obvious that Ansari has broken down some of the barriers when it comes to talking about and depicting south Asian characters. In western media it’s extremely rare to see Asian men sexualized, and Ansari starts the show with his character Dev having sex. I love seeing the “typical” roles of Asian people challenged in television that is as entertaining as it is thought provoking. Not all South Asians are clueless, modest, asexual beings that blush at the drop of a hat, and yet often we are reduced to just that. Working against being typecast in roles like, doctors, cab drivers, terrorists or convenience store owners, we need to see people of color and minorities depicted with balance, like actual people.
For an Indian man to come out and use his show as a means to talk about topics that “mainstream” Hollywood wouldn’t, such as immigrant stories, feminism and the treatment of minorities in western culture, in a way that is funny, smart and aesthetically pleasing is showing that as a group, minorities have potential for creativity that expands past their own subset of individuals. People loved Kunal Nayyer on The Big Bang Theory, or Priyanka Chopra on Quantico, however none of these shows are seen as “Indian shows”. If Ansari’s success proves anything its that the creative ventures of minorities are able to captivate a wide, diverse audience, and that our creative ventures which are deemed too “niche” whether in regards to topics, influences or media, are really just feeble ploys in order to undermine the fact that art is about being heterogeneous, and finding beauty in difference. Master of None sets a precedent that even if people can’t naturally relate to the topics being presented; they will still watch and have an interest.
Programs like Master of None, Empire, or Jane the Virgin, are so successful, even without pandering to their audiences or white-washing characters of color. Their success shows that treating the minority characters in a way that doesn’t hide their culture or make them stereotypes, allowing them to be depicted as real people, doesn’t inherently mean the show will be too niche or unwatched by many. These shows are successful due to their minority characters, not despite them. By supporting artists, writers, actors of colour, in return we received pieces of media that inspire, change and diversify its audience.