Relationships are hard. Many a TV and melodramatic movie have tried to portray this, and some have been sort of successful — think Blue Valentine or The Squid and the Whale. That being said, it always feels like something’s missing when I watch most romantic dramas. I don’t mean to discredit the aforementioned works and their creators in any way, I’ve just never really seen anything that holistically encapsulates what I feel like I’ve experienced. Blue Valentine understands the struggle of trying to force a relationship to work, but I’m not a middle-aged married man with two kids. Similarly, The Squid and the Whale sheds light on the repercussions of divorce, but again, I can’t exactly relate to anything a parent might go through.
Aziz Ansari, famous for his standup and role as Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec, has been largely overlooked by highbrow critics. His work has always been amusing, but that’s sort of where the line was drawn. Even when he released Modern Romance: An Investigation, an exploration of the interactions between technology and romance co-authored by NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, many continued to brush Ansari off. His recently released Netflix show, Master of None, seems to have finally gotten Ansari the critical praise he has long deserved.
Largely based off of his own personal experiences, Master of None has been called “… innovative, shockingly clever, sophisticated, sexy and beautifully executed … in other words, it’s the opposite of virtually every sitcom in prime time” by Tirdad Derakhshani of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Dealing with contemporary issues of race, feminism and insecurity, Aziz has proven that he’s far more than a textbook sitcom comedian.
While I could write at length about Ansari’s commentary on race in Hollywood or the sacrifices of first generation immigrant parents, the most poignant aspect of Ansari’s show to me was his depiction of relationships. Throughout the season, Ansari dates a girl named Rachel. Their relationship begins as a hookup, but things get increasingly complicated as the season goes on. Eventually the two move in together. Here is where Ansari and writing/producing collaborator Alan Yang really shine.
Episode nine begins as any contemporary relationship does. Rachel begins to semi-live at Ansari’s apartment before formally moving in. Their relationship is fresh. Brushing their teeth together is fun, the sex is exciting, and all of their jokes are still funny. Before long, they have their first fight over Rachel’s tendency to leave clothes on the floor — an issue you can replace with any arbitrary fight you’ve had with your significant other. Having lived with my ex-girlfriend in the city this past summer, the fight better resembled a memory than a scene.
More time passes and their relationship changes. The sex is stale and small issues become big ones, but they work past it. The next scene shows Ansari and Rachel jokingly naming each other’s genitals and better resembling the beginning of episode nine. Master of None succeeds at realistically depicting a relationship by undercutting the good with the bad. Rachel and Aziz fight like any other couple would, but the permanence of the fight is far less daunting than what other shows and movies tend to show.
Before long, another issue rises up. Aziz hasn’t told his first generation immigrant parents that he is dating or living with Rachel. This especially resonated with me. As a child of immigrant parents, I can promise you relationships or significant others are the last things I talk to my parents about. I didn’t even tell my parents I was dating my ex-girlfriend until a year and a half into the relationship and even that was only per her request. It’s not that I thought they wouldn’t like her or anything; Indian families just don’t really talk about that kind of stuff. It’s a cultural thing, I guess.
Whether it be making a funny face while you go down on your significant other or telling stories to each other before you both sleep, Master of None explores relationships in a way very few shows ever have. While I may be a bit partial due to my similarity to Ansari’s background, I would say it succeeds in a way no other show in recent memory has. If you haven’t begun to watch Master of None, I would suggest starting it before finals begin.
Akshay Jain is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. College Stuff appears alternate Fridays this semester. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.