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TV Review

Aziz Ansari's Sharp 'Master of None' Tactfully Fills Culture Gap

TV/Film ReviewEzra CarpenterComment

Aziz Ansari’s Netflix original series Master of None is an urban romantic comedy in the mode of an early-thirties, American-Indian actor’s exploration of what it takes to satisfy a young man in twenty-first century New York City. Ansari shines in his leading role as Dev, navigating bad dates, workplace disappointments, and a progressing relationship with his signature enthusiasm and sharp humor throughout the first 10 episodes. 

We learn about Dev through dialogue comprised mostly of questions he poses to his friends Denise (Lena Waithe) – the voice of reason, Arnold (Eric Wareheim) – the quirk, and Brian (Kelvin Yu) – Dev’s fellow first-gen American. Each presents his and herself as an expert on the topic of inquiry, giving Dev unique answers that speak to their personalities. While Dev’s friendships set up the show’s most interesting narratives, much of the show’s appeal is owed to Dev’s relationship with Rachel (Noël Wells). 

Though Rachel’s introduction is ambiguous and awkward, chemistry builds quickly between her and Dev. Ansari and Wells are natural complements to each other on screen, authenticating their characters’ playful humor. We are made to believe that these two were made to laugh together. Their jokes, while obviously methodical, are so intimate and endearing that we elevate their comedic interplay to an ideal. We aspire to their shared laughs and imagine ourselves within their vibrant and seamless relationship. 

Master of None engages itself in contemporary arguments regarding underrepresentation (typecasting in particular), feminism, and the generational culture gap between immigrant parents and their American-born children. The series is not condemning in presenting its case, but makes its point through instances of absurdist humor that offer poignant criticisms from minority perspectives. The gravity and relevance of the topics Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang have chosen to take on seem to have overshadowed the show’s merits in early reviews, but Master of None is undeniably tactful in how it addresses these issues and revolutionary in how it combats the discriminatory practices addressed in the show by how it conducts business in real life.  

Where the show does seem to falter is in its transitions between the aforementioned absurdist humor and its more realistic humor founded in common experience. There is no middle-ground comedy bridging the downturn of Dev’s romantic endeavors with a pitch to rebrand the Washington Redskins as “the Washington Breadsticks.” Like Ansari’s stand-up material, the show can sometimes be overly dependent on its battle-tested humor (racial jokes, Ansari’s mannerisms), but each cast member brings a personalized comedic sensibility that resonates with its audience by nature of its distinctiveness. 

Master of None's debut season features full-bodied storylines whose humor is at all times conscious of what has already happened. Case in point: “You cut in line in front of me at the ice cream store.” “So you fucked my wife?” The narratives demonstrate equal retrospective reach. Interlocking themes reappear five episodes later, developing Dev and Rachel’s relationship as fully as the brevity of ten episodes allows and making the show perfect for the binge-watching exploits of both religious and casual fans to romantic sit-coms. An impressive first production by Ansari, Master of None walks you through the cultural moment with insightful humor and criticism that only its dynamic multicultural cast can provide.

'You’re The Worst' S02E02 “Crevasses”

TV/Film ReviewHenry SmithComment

You’re The Worst continues to follow the fallout from the awesome season finale, and we see the first set of consequences from “Fists and Feet and Stuff” in “Crevasses”. Gretchen’s upset that Jimmy doesn’t seem to want to make room for her in their place together, making her live “in the crevasses”, which is where episode two gets its name. They take a trip to the mall, where Gretchen has multiple breakdowns buying basic stuff for her place after it emerges she has the inventory of a 19 year-old university student, culminating in a tirade that starts off as a rant against the patriarchy and the perils of visible panty lines, and ends with the phrase, “I’m an irresponsible monster who burned down her apartment with a vibrator”. 

Jimmy appears to take a backseat in this episode (and in the one after this) but what we’re seeing here is Jimmy and Gretchen in their natural habitats, and a little bit of an insight into why these two are truly considered the “worst”. In episode three, “Born Dead”, Gretchen holds a party to reconnect with her old friends, while Jimmy is forced to hang out with Vernon after an Instagram mishap. Vernon actually gives us our episode’s title, explaining the futility of human life without connection by explaining his still-birth. It’s a harrowing tale, but only the second-most harrowing one of the episode, as Paul describes the death of his friend’s wife in stuttering, visceral (though completely, sadistically hilarious) detail.

He’s explaining it to Edgar, who in these last two episodes has made good on his pursuit of Lindsay. “Crevasses” involves him accompanying Lindsay to a bar, and acting as her wingman as she looks to get back on the saddle after Paul’s departure in episode one. Luckily, he runs into a gay fellow, who seemingly sets him on the right path, by setting him up with the bartender. It works for about half a day, before Lindsay pulls him back in by having him take pictures of her. Racy pictures, with an uncomfortable amount of barbecue sauce in uncomfortable places. 

'You’re The Worst' S02E01 – "Sweater People": Jimmy and Gretchen Haven’t Quite Settled Down In Season Opener, But That Doesn’t Stop It Being Hilarious

TV/Film ReviewHenry SmithComment

After plenty of laughs, losses and pre-written heckles, FXX comedy You’re The Worst made a triumphant return to television in this week’s season opener, "Sweater People."

To recap, last season’s finale "Fists and Feet and Stuff" brought on all kinds of change for our protagonists (heroes may be a bit of a stretch); Lindsay (Kether Donohue) continued her downward spiral as long-suffering husband Paul (Allan McLeod) demanded a divorce, Edgar (Desmin Borges) moved back in with Jimmy (Chris Geere) after a brief and ultimately doomed attempt to show that he’d moved on (lovingly consummated by brutal sleeper hold), and an intense finale ended with Gretchen’s (Aya Cash) apartment burning down thanks to a rogue vibrator. Jimmy and Gretchen took this as the universe’s cue to move in together, and although neither will admit it, the final shot of the two with boxes in their hands and fading smiles on their faces show us that there was a fair bit of trepidation in their decision, and that not all things are going to be rosy for our toxic romantic couple. Also, Becca (Janet Varney) and Vernon (Todd Robert Anderson) are having a baby, and though those two really are the worst, it’s going to be interesting to see how their pregnancy plays out among the group (in particular with Lindsay) over the following season.

For now, though, it’s episode one, and it’s time to see how Jimmy and Gretchen are doing as a couple living together. You’re The Worst is at its most effective when we see Jimmy and Gretchen subvert romantic convention, whether that’s by bringing Chinese food and beer to a romantic movie date or by banging strangers in an attempt to one-up one another. It’s in full force here, as our two lovebirds try desperately to avoid relationship ennui by partying non-stop, escalating from drinking to cocaine to a “new synthetic thing - Belgian” that ends up with them stealing a Google Street View car and driving it into the woods.

You get the feeling that it’s due to fear more than immaturity (though they look almost identical in the right circumstances), and this is backed up by the fact that neither party are having a particularly good time. Jimmy is literally “pissing blood,” and Gretchen’s falling asleep at her job, and “sleepy bitches lose their right to use normal people phones,” according to Sam, who gives her a burner phone for her narcolepsy and swiftly slides hers into the garbage. Not that Gretchen would have minded much; ever since she moved to Jimmy’s she’s had awful reception, but a trip to the electronics store brings up suggestions of sharing a Family Plan with. A sentimental (if not slightly creepy) monologue by the sales person gives us an insight into the collective minds of Jimmy and Gretchen, as they high-tail it before the guy’s even turned around.

For whatever reason – Jimmy’s still smarting from his dalliance with Becca and Gretchen’s parents hint at deep insecurities within Cash’s character – the couple can’t bring themselves to be comfortable enough to actually be fully into this relationship, and though they don’t confront it fully, there’s a moment of understanding at the end, whether they share a goodnight kiss and settle into bed. Almost. They resort to only drinking clear liquor to chase away their nine hours of beauty sleep, but for these two, that’s a romantic gesture on par with the end of The Notebook. Despite moving in together, this relationship is going to need a lot more fleshing out, and the sight of Chris Geere’s Jimmy subtly placing a coaster underneath Gretchen’s mug indicates there’s a lot more conflict in the works as they both really get to know one another.

This episode gets its title from Lindsay, who’s doing okay after her divorce from Paul, living alone and… whatever “assing everything” means. She makes Gretchen vow to never become part of a boring couple as she allowed herself and Paul to become, making clear her dislike of “sweater people”. A visit from Paul, however, shows that the independent single girl was just a façade, as within two minutes of showing up at her house to deliver some subscription termination papers, the couple are upstairs in Lindsay’s bedroom, doing the business. Although she’s in her underwear, we see Lindsay slip on her sweater as she urged Gretchen not to, but Paul’s having none of it; he’s clearly moved on from Lindsay, who does not take this well. Another interesting loose thread from the end of season one was the potential feelings Edgar has for Lindsay, and he drops by with breakfast lasagna to find her in her garage, drinking apple cider in her wedding dress. So much for “assing everything”. An Edgar-Lindsay coupling would scream of “Pairing the Spares”, but Desmin Borges and Kether Donohue have enough on-screen chemistry that this wouldn’t be completely cringeworthy. A nice moment wherein Edgar helps Lindsay to pack away the rest of Paul’s stuff in an effort to move on is tainted slightly by the discovery and freezing of a used condom, but we’ll see what will be made of this sticky situation (pun intended). 

All in all, it’s nice to see the vision Stephen Falk has for You’re The Worst. The show has lost none of this caustic charm, while sowing seeds for greater story developments that I can’t wait to see.