The Biggest Influence on ‘Master of None’ Isn’t ‘Louie’ — It’s ‘Sex and the City’

18 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Kelvin Yu On Diversity, Hollywood, and How ‘Master of None’ Gets It Right.

“Nobody gets into comedy because they feel like they’re cool and funny,” said Noël Wells, who was named class clown in her Texas kindergarten. “If they do, they’re megalomaniacs.” Yet critics say that Ms.Kelvin Yu auditioned for his first school play when he was 13 years old. “I never aspired to any other line of work from that moment on,” Yu told NBC News.

Wells — who exhibited no psychological disorders in a phone call from Los Angeles — is the coolest, funniest thing going in the year’s best new comedy, Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” on Netflix. If Master of None were airing on NBC or even HBO, that means it’d only just have aired its spectacular second episode, in which protagonist Dev (Ansari) and his friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) reflect on the sacrifices their immigrant parents have made — and how they’ve failed to appreciate them. His ultra-sophomoric demeanor and “please don’t hate me” faux-desperation on the stage and in film has always rung false, stale, and meticulously fabricated with me.

But because it’s on Netflix, many viewers have already torn through all ten episodes of the show’s first season, and the critical reaction has already cycled through fervent praise, thoughtful analysis, and predictable backlash at breakneck speed. Yes, Tom Haverford, the popular character he became well known for on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, is amusing only when juxtaposed against the stoic, conservative masculinity exuded by his polar opposite Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, who is by turns a more palatable alternative to those less than amenable to the basic aesthetic playfulness and disingenuous repartee of the millennial milieu.

Within a single week, initial reviews like The New York Times’ — and Flavorwire’s! — called the show “the year’s best comedy straight out the gate” and “one of the best new shows of the year.” Longer, more specific considerations focused on Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang’s handling of issues like systemic racism in Hollywood. Ansari has worked well in the past (see Funny People and the ill-advised final season of Scrubs) where his personality’s preening wit was situated within characters whom the audience was never meant to outright love, but instead come to understand as caricatures of much larger and more nuanced social archetypes. As a stand-in for the very worst that his generation has to offer, Ansari has for a long time now been synonymous with entitlement and an exceedingly capricious intellect. After a season as a featured player on “Saturday Night Live,” you might say that “Master” is her own Plan B. “I don’t think there was any particular reason why it ended; it was just a complicated time,” she said of the decision not to renew her “S.N.L.” contract. “But I definitely knew when I didn’t come back that it was going to be O.K., even though I was heartbroken.” With a Comedy Central series underway with her real boyfriend, Flint Wainess, things are definitely O.K. “The reviews have been just so insane,” Ms.

Enter , Ansari’s first original series for Netflix, and my opinion of him must take into account the young comedian’s obvious acknowledgements of the very same faults that have instilled such a distinct distrust of her character in my own being. Wells, 28, said of “Master.” “I’ve been joking that I might start my own backlash just to keep myself on my toes.” Here are excerpts from the conversation. Preoccupied with male singlehood and illustrating said preoccupation with surreal, gorgeously filmed asides, the show does bear a striking resemblance to Louie; unabashedly grounded in the perspective of its nonwhite leads, it fits in well with the current wave of shows grounded in the experiences of people of color — particularly sitcoms like Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat, but also the Shondaland complex and Empire. What I think makes the episode so successful is that it manages to be entertaining without encasing the parent characters in some kind of manufactured comedy template,” Yu said. “There’s an authenticity to the performances by Aziz’s parents and the actor who played my father that no network has been brave enough to put on screen.” A gap in cultural experiences plays a key factor in the episode.

And that’s not even getting into the shows upon shows upon shows starring thinly fictionalized versions of the actor-comedians who created them, forever epitomized by Seinfeld. While this phenomenon is certainly not uncommon, especially with television actors who become synonymous with iconic characters on air, and later on in syndication, ad nausea, Ansari can be exceedingly difficult to observe outside of that role. As both Ansari’s and Yu’s characters learn more about their parent’s origins and their journey to America, they begin to see what they have taken for granted—which is something that Yu said resonated with him. “There’s a line that I adlibbed in rehearsals that ultimately ended up in the script.

On his new show, Ansari and Yang experiment with peeling back the many layers of anti-social anxiety and preemptive insincerity that the Millennial generation depicted in the program’s central drama ensconce themselves within in an effort to appear cool without affect. That’s partly because, as one might expect from the author of a book called Modern Romance, Master of None‘s most consistent theme turns out to be not race and representation, but sex, dating, and love.

However, instead of delving too deeply into any reductive take-downs of “Generation Me,” surreptitiously gets at many of its twenty to thirty-something’s most critical shortcomings, revealing the people that they see looking back at them without the façade of any contemporaneously enforced, socio-cultural impetus of personality. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, and that’s part of the point: Dev is a three-dimensional person who experiences workplace microaggressions (and not-so-micro aggressions, in the case of a certain leaked email) and relationship anxiety in equal measure.

Accordingly, any insincerity that bleeds through the Dev character is at least partially based in Ansari’s ability to self-reflect, and the show is the first instance wherein Ansari may be seen as commenting upon something larger than the artifice with which he surrounds himself in terms of his outward appearance, fictive or not. This season is also historic for primetime television as a network features two sitcoms whose central stories are based on Asian-American families. “I think diversity has to happen on a storytelling level, not just on a casting level,” Yu said, reflecting on the changing industry. “I’m so proud to be part of [‘Master of None’], in part, because it really feels like the word ‘diversity’ is being used as a virtue rather than as a four-letter word or a mandate.” Dev is unlikable not because he’s self-involved and blissfully unaware of how he may come off to those outside of his immediate social circle of well-to-do, aging hipster Brooklynites, but because Ansari as an actor and a writer is able to cast the light of social satire upon the character, and by extension, himself. This is the kind of show that is coming from Aziz’s perspective, but what’s interesting is that instead of having a very righteous take on everything, he’s eager to explore the issues from other people’s points of view. Like Sex and the City, Master is just as much about relying on friends to navigate one’s love life, and friends as more constant and reliable companions than the romantic partners we’re conditioned to think of as our endgame.

Dev is like Tom Haverford in an inherent inability to see very far beyond his own ego and unearned self-importance, his decision to become a working actor one born out of preposterous serendipity and predestined, bourgeois delusions of grandeur not all that dissimilar from Haverford’s numerous enterprises of ill-repute and bad intentions. Dev is not a good actor in the same way that Randy from Funny People is not a good stand up comedian, in that both characters are possessed by a populist image of themselves as belonging to a culture that trades on cheap disposability in entertainment, resulting in hammy acting and gimmicky jokes. exudes the same dogmatic sense of passing amusements being equated with legitimate insight and/or brilliance, but it comes around to taking a much more somber appraisal of its character.

But I had this feeling that I would be back. [Starts to cry.] The whole situation is kind of a bummer how it turned out, but I have to be proud of myself. The presence of Dev’s friends isn’t quite as constant, nor their roles as defined, but as it stands, they’ll clearly be around next season to serve as a sounding board — and Rachel probably won’t. There’s plenty to say about the ways in which the first season address issues as vast and varied as the entitlement of second-generation Americans of international descent, sexism at the workplace, and ageism in general, but that’s only a small part of what makes so special. I was selling it by telling them all the things I’ve done, and they were like, ‘But you seem like such a cute, nice girl.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, give me a show, and I’ll show you.’ Ansari might still be annoying, but at least he’s trying to come to terms with his own shortcomings in a way altogether fitting of his sensibilities and dawning maturity.

It’s a New York entirely different from that of Girls’ still-broke 20-somethings, despite that show’s supposed status as heir to the SATC throne, or Broad City‘s exaggerated, near-hallucinatory alternate universe. Cureton is the curator of The Cure(ton) for a Bad Movie Film Blog, available at (, where an open and informed engagement in film criticism and analysis is exercised on a weekly basis. A born and raised Jersey Boy, having received a B.A. in English from Rutgers University, Sean is proud to call the Garden State his home, equidistant from both the steps that made Sylvester Stallone a household name, and the park where Harry was cordially introduced to Sally, even if he’d prefer to a stay in state due to a certain fondness for a convenience store located in Leonardo, NJ.

It felt revolutionary, as Emily Nussbaum famously argued, to watch women onscreen start to be flawed and unlovable, along with their male counterparts. The freedom of a spouse-less, childless life in America’s biggest city comes with both an overwhelming number of choices and the time to tackle them.

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