I recently binge watched season 2 of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix original, Master of None. It’s a good show and–if you haven’t seen it yet–I recommend that you watch it by yourself and form your own opinion on it before reading any farther.
The show is being has received positive reviews basically across the board. Part of the appeal is that the show stars a minority man (Aziz Ansari, who is Indian) and features episodes with social commentary unseen in other major sit coms. This comes as no surprise, since the show is written and often directed by Aziz and Alan Yang, an Asian American screenwriter and producer. Still, like most sit coms, romance and dating make up a significant amount of the plot, and the show sometimes seems to cater to an especially “white” audience.
Let’s break it down: Aziz’s character, Dev, is a man in his early thirties working in New York, trying to make it big as an actor. His core group of friends consist of Arnold, a white guys, Denise, a black woman, and Brian, an Asian guy. There is also his family, a very traditional and conservative couple from India. Overall, it’s a much more diverse group of people than any other sitcom on the air today. The show also makes good use exploring the different ethnic backgrounds of these characters with entire episodes dedicated to showing some of the cultural differences each of the characters have lived through. Still, I cannot help but think at times that the show is only partially exciting because of this aspect. To cite the reading that everyone in class like to cite the most (Bell Hooks), there are times when I think of just how much ethnic diversity serves to enliven the show. As I mentioned before, the show gains some of its appeal from avoiding the typical “whitewashed” approach in talking about dating and romance (a la La La Land, etc.–not to say that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with such movies). However, the main characters of color in the show are presented in a way that conforms to society expectations. That is to say, Aziz and co. may be minorities, but they act “white”. They are minorities that dominant culture accept, and are sometimes caricatures of racial stereotypes. In fact, race is not the only stereotype explored in this show. One of Aziz’s co-workers, Chef Jeff, is a stereotypical “bro-type” character who is full of energy. It is later revealed that Chef Jeff has been harassing women for years. It’s kind of like when you tell your friend something about someone else and then they’re like “Oh yeah, I can totally see that” (which ties into our discussions about how we see outer physical beauty as being tied in with internal character). Now, this is not to say that any of these things are not true, which is the difficult part. Many of the stories in the show are no doubt taken directly from the actors who play characters in the show (I’m talking about the minorities again at this point–sorry that sounds weird, but I am a minority too, so I’m just gonna roll with it). In fact, Dev’s parents in the show are also Aziz’s real life parents. Still, it seems all too easy to just have snapshots into these minorities’ lives. It’s almost like an “education” for the white views of the show. Furthermore, some of Dev’s other Indian friends are sometimes used as comic relief in scenes. They are seen more as not accepted entirely by mainstream culture (with their accents and social awkwardness). It bothers me that they are used as props in this way.
Another aspect of the show that makes me feel as if it the show is not truly all that it seems is the Dev’s primary romantic interest(s). Both of the women who he is seen as being in serious romance with are white and characteristically beautiful by Western standards. I wonder if the show does this to kind of normalize itself. Especially in the second season, Dev’s romantic interest, Francesca–a woman from Italy–is portrayed in a manner to make the audience fall in love as well. This kind of selling of the show to with normative white beauty standards is nothing new to the sitcom world (How I Met Your Mother did this in Season 9 well), but it’s just not the narrative you would expect from a show looking to break down some of the traditional “whiteness” in Hollywood.
I’m not saying that these stereotypes or scenarios do not exist because they definitely do, I just wish the show could have made more whole views into minorities’ lives.