On Master of None: Decisions, Decisions and The Paths We Choose
I watched Master of None in a couple of days, ignoring basic Relationship Rules and blowing through the episodes while my husband slept peacefully beside me. This was too good to wait to watch together, so I laughed, hugged my favorite pillow, and thanked the TV gods for the day we gave Aziz Ansari a fucking chance. Sure, Ansari has been around for years, selling out standup shows, making us feel totally understood with his book Modern Romance, and changing our spoiled lifestyle forever with a little phrase that (succinctly) goes: Treat. Yo. Self. But after Parks and Rec ended, I wondered if Ansari would ever be able to escape Tom Haverford. I don’t know about you, but there’s still plenty of actors I refer to by their character’s name. Yes, I’m that person. I mean, who calls Phoebe Lisa Kudrow? C’mon guys, be serious.
Aziz Ansari escaped Tom Haverford.
There is so much to praise in Master of None. The excellent writing. The diverse, well-rounded characters. The sharp cultural criticism. The fantastic score. The delicious food and Insta-worthy Brooklyn hot spots. Aziz’s wonderful parents. I’m gonna run out of adjectives.
What Master of None does best is to take the issues we dwell on daily — choosing the best tacos in town, Googling whether pre-jizz can get you pregnant, finding the perfect couch on Craigslist and making sure you bring along your biggest and potentially intimidating friend — and make them hilarious. Aziz is smart at making us laugh at ourselves, showing us our everyday struggles are universal and usually trivial. And even though the show is funny, it’s not afraid to be sentimental or critical. It reminds us to appreciate our parents, to call up our grandparents, to realize that women have become used to being harassed and underappreciated and that is not okay. It makes us question why we can’t have more than one Asian guy on a TV show (we can and we should), or whether it’s ever too late to get into Harry Potter (it’s not).
And while I cheered during “Indians on TV” and nodded my head violently in agreement to “Ladies and Gentlemen,” what struck me the most were the last two episodes of the series. In “Mornings” and the finale episode, the show focuses on Dev (Ansari) and Rachel’s (Noel Wells) relationship, showing the good moments — the small idiosyncrasies that build a relationship, the slight intimacies we come to appreciate when we share our life with someone we love — and the bad moments — those annoying fights over cleanliness, getting used to another’s quirks and habits, deciding whether to keep your mouth shut or finally say something. We see Dev and Rachel be happy and seemingly sure of themselves and each other until they’re not.
It was such a realistic setting, one that seems to overpower the social calendar of our 20s: a wedding. Rachel and Dev witness their friends exchange vows, something we should know by now is most often staged and over-rehearsed, and they start to question their relationship. They let that moment dictate their definition of love.
I found this to be such an interesting moment in the series because it’s what my friends and I are living right now. I see this all the time. Friends in relationships who question whether the person they are with at this age is supposed to be the person they’re with forever, suddenly trying to picture what their kids would look like. Friends who want a relationship but don’t want to admit it out loud, fearing they might sound less independent or anti-feminist. Friends who worry that being single looks like they’re undesirable; friends who worry that being in a relationship looks like they gave up on something bigger.
And then another realistic setting: Dev and Rachel at home, eating pasta after a disappointing party, somewhat drunk and on edge, and they start talking. And this is the moment that struck me — when Dev tells Rachel, “The time in our life to do crazy shit is winding down…” He goes on to explain that his 20s were full of surprises and excitement and his life path was unclear, but at 30 everything becomes clearer and the person you’re with and the job you’re at could be it so you need to be sure. Because there might be no more surprises. So he asks Rachel, what percentage sure are you?
I replayed this scene over and over in my mind, because I’ve been in that position. I got married younger than I ever thought I would, and at 24 I thought, “If I get married, will that be it? Will I stop having adventures? Will there be no more excitement?”
Is marriage really about buying a house, having kids, retiring in Florida, and dying? For some people it is. And Dev’s concerns are real, everyday concerns that people have. In Modern Romance, Ansari explores our generation’s dating rituals, trying to figure out if our relationship concerns are different from older generations’. He interviews people in a retirement home and learns that a lot of people married someone because the person was simply there, physically. Or because they were together at an age they were supposed to get married. That still happens now, but there is a moment in the book when Ansari questions whether our generation has become obsessed with finding The One. The Soulmate. For refusing to settle for anything less. (In tacos and in people.) We want the fairytale, Hollywood movie relationship. We want to always be at 100 percent.
But we also obsess over the finality of marriage, constantly worried that choosing a relationship means sacrificing our personal goals and experiences, as if wanting to be with another means simply not wanting to be by yourself. In an earlier episode, Rachel tells Dev about her sister, who always said she wanted to live in Paris… but then she got married, had kids, and Paris never happened. She doesn’t want to be like her sister, she says. She always wanted to change her hair and move to Japan. Haven’t we all been there? We tell ourselves we’re going to travel the world, have adventures, and then we reach a certain age and we think that’s it. Time’s up.
In a great scene following his talk with Rachel, Dev discusses his issues with his dad (also known as the best character in the show, dammit!) who tells Dev, “You have to learn to make decisions, man.” He suggests Dev pick up The Bell Jar and read about the fig tree — and pick up Harry Potter for him while he’s there.
There are so many choices. And we are overwhelmed by the amount that we can’t make a decision and we freeze, terrified of choosing the wrong fucking fig. It takes us so long to choose a restaurant that by the time we pick, Yelp tells us it’s closing in five minutes. It takes us so long to scroll through Netflix that we end up watching The Office for the 50th time. We take time for granted, yet we’re so afraid of it.
A friend reached out to me after he finished watching the series, and he told me the finale made him sad. He asked, are we just always going to feel unfulfilled? Are we going to simply chase one experience after another, always afraid of choosing one? This made me so happy. The fact that a TV show made him think and made him feel — even if it was sadness — is fantastic. The finale didn’t make me sad. It didn’t make me feel like we’re always going to be unfulfilled. The finale gave me hope. It made me happy. Rachel showed up with her red hair and I instantly said out loud, “She’s going to Japan.” And this didn’t give me hope because I wish that I had taken off for Japan — it gave me hope because I know I am with a person who would say, “Hell yeah girl, JAPAN!” and start looking up flights. (He’d probably check our bank account first.)
There is time for reinvention. There is time for new ideas. There is time for adventure — whether you’re 22 or 35, or you finally got all the kids out of the house and you can take that year-long road trip you talked about when you were 18.
Rachel and Dev choose to go their separate ways. Maybe they do it out of fear — fear of settling down, fear of missing out, fear of choosing the wrong person, fear of choosing a relationship over a life experience. But fear can sometimes push us to something beautiful. Not all of us have the options Dev and Rachel have, that’s kinda the whole point behind the “Parents” episode. I am lucky to have had options, and by choosing one I have never felt I can’t choose another. And another. And another. If I have learned one thing in the short time I’ve been married, it’s that we set our own boundaries.
Master of None’s real good, y’all.