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The Malaise of the Middle-Aged Millennial



Thoughts on the Surprise Return of Master of None





The COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying lockdown caused me to reflect on a lot of complicated aspects of my past. Many of my friends and loved ones experienced a similar reckoning. We’ve all been talking about it – over Zoom, or from a safe six-foot distance – for over a year. But as the pandemic began to slowly wind down (for now), I was forced to confront a question that I never in a million years thought I’d have to think about:


Was I ready to let Aziz Ansari back into my life?


Let’s back up. In 2015, Ansari’s Netflix original series Master of None burst onto the scene – a peppy sitcom that explored navigating dating, relationships, friendship, family, and institutional racism and sexism with a quirky, effervescent mood that only occasionally dipped into dramedy. To say this was revolutionary is an understatement – here was a popular show, created and executive produced by two Asian men: Ansari (who is Indian-American) and Alan Yang (who is Chinese-American). It starred Ansari in the lead role as Dev Shah, a working actor in New York City. The first season mainly explored the trajectory of his long-term relationship with Rachel (Noel Wells) from meet-cute to breakup. The second season, in 2017, explored how Dev healed from that breakup by running off to Italy for a few months to learn how to make pasta, and upon returning to New York, rushed head-long into a very ill-advised relationship with one of the women he became friends with while in Italy. All the while, Dev is also grappling with a professional TV show partnership with celebrity foodie Chef Jeff (Bobby Cannavale, doing his best Anthony Bourdain impression) who is accused of sexually harassing many women who worked on his shows (okay, so, that’s not Bourdain, I’m thinking more like… Mario Batali here).



The relationship stories in Master of None tracked with the content of Ansari’s stand-up comedy and indeed, also with a book he wrote, Modern Romance: an investigation about dating in the digital age, and the show’s focus on depicting accurately how frightening life can be for women trying to date or even exist in the world while fending off potential predators in comparison to how men do not experience this same fear, piggy-backed on a lot of Ansari’s stand-up material about how men need to understand what women go through, and what men need to do to be good feminists and allies. Ansari was one of the good guys, and as an Indian-American performer myself, it was so heartening to see a popular show starring a guy who looked like me, who grew up in similar circumstances as me (American born child to Indian immigrant parents), who was pursuing a creative career like me, and heck, was even my age to boot. So many of Dev Shah’s life experiences resonated with me that for a while, I almost felt like he was some sort of male alter ego of mine. Since the character of Dev was explicitly mined from Ansari’s autobiographical experiences (he even cast his real-life parents as Dev’s parents!), I watched Master of None feeling truly seen by a media property for the first time in my life.



While Master of None’s focus was understandably centered around Dev’s romantic life, drawing from Ansari’s stage material and book, the two stand-out episodes for me are Season 1’s “Indians on TV,” and Season 2’s “Thanksgiving,” (the latter of which I wrote about last December in my roundup of what I consider to be the best holiday television episodes of all time). “Indians on TV,” in particular had a huge impact on me; it depicts the struggle working Indian-American actors go through to try to get roles in TV and films, pitting Dev against his fellow Indian-American actor friend Ravi Patel (playing himself), and arguing the merits of whether it’s offensive to put on a fake Indian accent for auditions (Dev feels it’s uncomfortable and not authentic coming from him as an American-born actor, Ravi feels like if that’s what he needs to do to make a living, he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do). When Dev and Ravi both audition for roles in a new sitcom called "3 Buddies," they both do so well that the network struggles to figure out which one to cast – because, of course, the network doesn’t believe two of the aforementioned three buddies can be Indian, since then it would become an “Indian” show. In the process, Dev accidentally gets cc’d on an email from a network executive making the decidedly-in-poor-taste joke: “Let’s see which one will curry our favor,” (ugh) and Dev, Ravi, and their Indian-American body-building friend and fellow actor Anush (Gerrard Lobo) try to decide whether it would be career suicide for Dev to leak the email. Dev’s agent, played by Orange Is the New Black’s Danielle Brooks is decidedly against the leaking. (“I’M TRYING TO GET YOU THIS MONEY, HAVE YOU SEEN DAVID SCHWIMMER’S HOUSE, I’M TRYING TO GET YOU THIS FRIENDS MONEY, DEV!”). After the network executive who made the joke takes Dev out to a Knicks game to apologize, and he affirms that he wishes the world were different so that he could cast both Dev and Ravi, Dev begins to waffle on whether or not to leak the email, causing Ravi to hilariously declare him an “Uncle Taj.” The brilliance of this episode lies not just in its exploration of the politics of identity and representation in American media, but also in the meta-narrative of having the story revolve around Dev, Ravi, and Anush, all figuring out how to navigate this landmine they’ve inadvertently walked into. They are, quite literally, the 3 Buddies – proving that of course, there can be a show featuring more than one Indian cast member that is still extremely funny for anyone watching regardless of ethnicity.


I have extolled the beautiful writing and storytelling in Season 2’s episode, “Thanksgiving,” in my earlier Story Screen article, but to sum up: it’s a lovely, nuanced episode with a lot of humor about Dev’s childhood best friend Denise (Lena Waithe) coming to terms with her sexuality, and coming out to her mother (a magnificent Angela Bassett). Bassett's character struggles with the news that her daughter is a lesbian and takes some time to realize that in the end, the most important thing is that her daughter is happy. It is also a great exploration of Dev and Denise’s close friendship. He comes to Thanksgiving at her house every year as an adopted “brother” to her and he supports her in her coming out story. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll cheer, because Ansari and Waithe won Emmys for "Best Writing in a Television Comedy" for the episode, making Waithe the first black woman to win an award in the category.



Master of None was flying high. Even with what felt like a pretty big misstep in the latter half of Season 2 – getting bogged down in Dev’s futile and frankly boring dalliance with his Italian friend – it was a genuine disappointment when Ansari said at the season’s conclusion in 2017 that he couldn’t envision writing a Season 3 unless something very significant in his life changed: like getting married or having a child. He felt he had said all that he could say about being a young single dude in Manhattan.


I was disappointed, but I had to respect his choice. Shows, where you can see showrunners and performers being forced into creating new material just because of network pressure, tend to become weaker and weaker over time, overstaying their welcome. I didn’t want the good things about Master of None Seasons 1 and 2 to get diluted by what I saw happen to, say, The Office and How I Met Your Mother, and of course, Friends.


But then, the other shoe dropped.


In 2018, Ansari was accused of predatory and coercive behavior during a date with a woman identified only by the pseudonym, “Grace.” The story was broken by the now-defunct website: babe.net. Reporting of the incident was admittedly not handled well by the website, and while Ansari's behavior didn’t escalate into the realm of rape, what he did to Grace very much skirted the edges of consent, upsetting and traumatizing her considerably. According to babe.net's expose, Ansari did apologize in a sincere way to Grace when she called him out on how uncomfortable and frightened he made her during the date, and he did release a statement saying that he had taken her words to heart and knew that he needed to do some work to reflect on how his actions hurt someone. When he tentatively returned to the stand-up comedy circuit pre-pandemic, he also addressed what happened (obliquely) and acknowledged his failings in this area. However, the incident still profoundly changed how I saw Ansari.



I no longer could think of him as my dudely alter-ego, my fellow American Born Creative Desi. I no longer could watch my favorite Master of None episodes without feeling sick inside – especially the episode in Season 1 that takes a close look at the fear women can feel while simply existing in a world of men, or the episodes in Season 2, where Dev has to decide whether to torpedo his impending Best Food Friends TV collaboration with Chef Jeff in light of the allegations of Jeff’s sexual harassment (made worse by the fact that in the text of the show, Dev actually doesn’t do that great of a job of taking a stand against Chef Jeff’s behavior). I was emailing Story Screen’s Managing Editor Bernadette Gorman-White about this a couple of months ago, and I told her flat-out that when Ansari had his #MeToo moment, it cut me hard. It felt like a personal betrayal. Here’s this guy I identified with so much, one of my own people, one of my fellow Indian-American Old Millenials in the Arts (a very specific subculture indeed), and he’s making us look bad. Bernadette had a great point about this as well – that because Ansari had built his stand-up career on material exploring the dynamics of male/female relationships and dating in the modern age, and how to be a good feminist ally as a male, and even wrote a book about it – what he did to Grace also felt like a punch to her gut. He was supposed to be one of the good guys, and he ruined it.


Suffice it to say, I decided to write Ansari off and I was relieved that he wasn’t going to be making any more seasons of Master of None. I couldn’t even bear to think of him, either as Dev Shah, or as himself. I just wished I hadn’t cared so much about Master of None when it was on. I wish I hadn’t allowed myself to get so invested in what Ansari was doing and saying with the show. I wish he hadn’t hurt Grace. I wish he hadn’t let me down. Good riddance.


*



So color me surprised when in late May 2021, I was aimlessly scrolling through Netflix for my latest late-pandemic binge and I see that of all things, Season 3 of Master of None had dropped. Quietly. Unceremoniously. Just showing up there in my queue, because I had forgotten to delete the show from my watchlist.


And I froze. Because, honestly? I really was not ready to let Aziz Ansari back into my life.


But then, because my curiosity got the best of me, I watched the trailer, and I realized that the newest season of Master of None was only 5 episodes in total, and it had switched gears entirely to make Lena Waithe’s character Denise the protagonist.



This intrigued me. I imagined that perhaps this season would be a logical continuation of Season 2's “Thanksgiving” episode, featuring Denise’s coming-out story. So… I settled in to watch.


Turns out I was kind of right, but kind of wrong. The five episodes that comprise Season 3 of Master of None follow several years - exploring the marriage of Denise and her wife, Alicia, played by new cast member Naomi Ackie. Denise has graduated from working in the New York publishing industry at magazines and achieved great success with her debut novel, which has allowed her to afford a gorgeous house somewhere in upstate New York. (I’m guessing upper Westchester, but for all I know, she ended up somewhere in Sullivan or Columbia County based on the breathtaking and sparse farm landscape where the home is located). Denise is hard at work on her second book while juggling interviews, readings, and panel appearances. Alicia, a former PhD in Chemistry, is trying to break into interior design by working at an antique store. They have intellectual books on their shelves and amazing art on their walls. They have a beautiful living room with a fireplace. They have chickens named after Tina Turner, Chaka Khan, and Patti LaBelle. Their kitchen is one that HGTV lovers would dream of. Their house is stocked with gorgeous antiques that Alicia has collected. Alicia cooks with vegetables fresh from their garden. They giggle and laugh together, they share the same weird sense of humor (a scene involving some nighttime banter about whether Denise would lick gross armpits to save Alicia from death is simultaneously disgusting and endearing), they dance together while folding laundry, and they by all accounts seem to have a happy life in their remote home, despite the seeming lack of community around them.



But as groundbreaking as it is to see a depiction of black queer marriage on television, right off the bat, something feels off about Denise and Alicia, starting with the fact that they seem to have become unfortunately bound to heteronormative roles in their relationship. Alicia does all of the cooking and cleaning and generally plays a supporting role while Denise is the traditional breadwinner, pampering her wife with the results of the wealth and adulation from her book’s success. Alicia downplays her advanced education and intelligence during an interview with a journalist who comes to the house to learn more about Denise’s second book, and she seems almost embarrassed to admit what she does for a living at the antique store. Denise, on the other hand, seems to spend most of her time smoking weed, idly typing on her laptop, staring off into space, and getting trapped on long calls with her agent and assistant about book-related engagements.


This ends up being one of the bigger flaws of the season. We don’t really see what brought these two women together in the first place, or how they ended up married. It’s hard to be invested in a relationship for which we have no context, and although Ackie does an amazing job playing Alicia, imbuing her performance with a lot of heart, integrity, and humor, this is the first time in three seasons of this show that we are meeting her. And so, as the show’s five episodes progress, we watch their marriage fall apart due to conflicting views about whether or not to start a family. Alicia very badly wants a baby, Denise is ambivalent (bordering on apathetic). This is further complicated by a pregnancy and a miscarriage, followed by Alicia’s resentment that she had to make herself so small in their relationship to allow Denise to shine. There is infidelity on both sides, and it’s hard to really feel sad about the dissolution of their marriage even as we witness it play out over the course of tense conversations, harrowing arguments, and a full-blown explosion from Alicia when they are signing their divorce papers.



We don’t know what made their relationship so wonderful to begin with, and so, the loss that Denise experiences and the depression we see her go through as she sells her home (now suddenly half empty of the furniture and art that Alicia took with her when she left) are hard to truly connect with. We have to take it at face value that the failure of this marriage hits Denise even harder than the apparent failure of her second book – and some of this is also, admittedly, because while Lena Waithe is a wonderful screenwriter, she is a bit too laconic as a performer and one-note in her delivery. Her physicality conveys her sadness, but when she speaks to her mother (a phone cameo from Angela Bassett, of course), about how hard things are for her in the wake of the divorce, I don’t really buy that she is upset. She sounds like the same old Denise who in her general laid-back manner would give her friend Dev advice on how to navigate his relationship with Rachel way back in Season 1.


One of the other big flaws in Season 3 is inadvertently a positive: Ansari, along with co-writing each episode with Waithe, directs every single episode. This ultimately means that his character Dev Shah hardly shows up at all in this story – we see him visiting Denise and Alicia with his girlfriend Reshmi in the first episode (a dinner party that goes to shit when Denise and Alicia realize that Dev and Reshmi kind of hate each other, and plants a seed of doubt in Alicia’s mind about her relationship with Denise). He turns up again for a scene in episode 3 when Denise, post-divorce, is moving out of the house, there to support his childhood best friend during what she deems the worst moments of her life.



This is a positive because not seeing that much of Dev means I didn’t have to see that much of Ansari, which was helpful considering how much I really didn’t want to have to think about the guy. It’s a negative, though, because while Ansari does craft some really stunning shots in the upstate locale, as well as some great moments of uncomfortable tension during the fight scenes, he tends to overindulge in holding shots for just a smidge longer than necessary. Or even more than a smidge: episode 2 opens with a shot of Denise in her car, listening to opera while eating a hamburger. We watch her eat this hamburger in real-time, which feels like bordering on torture after less than two minutes. Episode 4 contains a nearly five-minute shot of Alicia, wordlessly exhausted in a laundromat, listening to a Spanish song on the radio while a Latinx woman nearby moves her clothes from a washer to a dryer. I don’t know what Ansari’s point is with these interminably long shots of literally nothing going on, but I ultimately ended up fast-forwarding through them.


That being said – and I realize this is going to sound insane given that I previously noted that the viewers’ lack of knowing Alicia at all prior to this season is one of the things that ruins the potency of the divorce story – episode 4 is an absolute masterpiece (with the exception of the laundromat scene). It’s an episode entirely centered around Alicia’s character. We don’t see Denise at all. Three years after leaving Denise, after moving back to the city and not being able to find another partner with whom to have a baby, Alicia decides to embark on the process of having a baby on her own via IVF, giving us a window into how difficult (emotionally, physically, and financially) this can be for a queer single woman in the later stages of her fertility amidst our completely broken health care system.



In particular, her relationship with her nurse, Cordelia, who is there every step of the way as she goes through the exhausting egg-stimulation, collection, fertilization, and embryo-implantation process, is one of the most wonderful things I have seen on Master of None in all three seasons. Cordelia is kind, unflinchingly supportive, understanding, and so completely on Alicia’s side. Their scenes together during Alicia’s doctor appointments and their conversations about the failure or success in getting Alicia pregnant are so lovely and heart-warming to see that it made me tear up (and I am childfree by choice!). Marianne Jean-Baptiste provides a voice cameo, Bassett-style, as Alicia’s mother in London, and again we are given a glimpse of the kind of support that Alicia has, even in her isolation, that is genuinely touching. Naomi Ackie’s performance in this episode is nothing short of astonishing, and it’s incredible how she is able to give us so much information about Alicia’s life, backstory, values, and her conviction in herself as a “bad bitch” who knows she is destined to be a mother in a way that made me truly care for and root for her – despite only having met her for the first time three episodes ago.



Ansari’s direction in this episode also does a masterful job of depicting how invasive, uncomfortable, and borderline humiliating IVF can be, and the indignity that women must endure for choosing this path to motherhood, in a way that adds to how much I was really hoping, along with her mother, and Cordelia, for Alicia to finally get her chance at pregnancy and having a baby. Really, the only thing that could have improved this episode is if he had trimmed down that laundromat scene.


*


The third season of Master of None was clearly envisioned as a pandemic film project, given the small cast and the way its episodes were written to show no more than four characters on screen at a given time. Because of those circumstances and the arc of the season’s plot, the tone of the show is drastically different from the joyful, bouncy, ebullient tone of the first two seasons. There is a deep feeling of melancholy that permeates these episodes, right from the start, even while Denise and Alicia’s relationship is still ostensibly in a good place. In fact, once I finished watching the fifth episode of Season 3, Netflix automatically bounced me back to Season 1 Episode 1 and the contrast in tone was extremely jarring. This season feels like an entirely different show, and not just because it no longer features Dev Shah as its protagonist. Ansari and Waithe seem to be aware of that, as the opening titles of each episode mark the show as Master of None Presents: Moments in Love, acknowledging that this is not a traditional continuation of what we had last seen happen on Master of None. In fact, aside from Dev and Denise, none of the other recurring characters from the first two seasons appear during Season 3. While this is a bummer, as the dynamic among Dev and his friends was a huge part of the appeal of Master of None, it also makes sense, not just for pandemic safety measures but also because one of the themes of this season seems to be about how time and age affect relationships.



Ansari seems to be aware of the fact that I am probably not the only person watching Netflix who doesn’t feel like seeing him these days, as not only does he keep Dev’s appearance in the plot limited to only four scenes, he also goes out of his way to show us that Dev himself, not unlike the actor who portrays him, has fallen from grace. Dev is no longer getting work as an actor (perhaps the aftermath of the Chef Jeff sexual harassment disaster did his career in?). He is working as an accounting assistant on CSI: Brooklyn and can no longer afford his gorgeous Manhattan loft, so he and Reshmi are living with his parents in Queens. Reshmi basically blames his acting career failure on the fact that his hair is thinning, and berates him in front of Denise and Alicia for not getting hair plugs as she suggested, which causes Dev to all but accuse Reshmi of being a wine-drunk dilettante, which escalates into the huge fight between them that ruins the dinner party. While Alicia tries to talk Reshmi down in the bathroom, Denise pulls Dev outside to ask him what the hell is going on in his personal life, and why he never told her that he wasn’t acting anymore and is living with his parents. Dev explains that when Denise’s book became a success, he felt she left him behind for new, sparkly, famous friends; she stopped reaching out to him and they stopped hanging out. It is implied that the annual Thanksgiving dinners at Denise’s mother’s house, where he was always welcome as her adopted “brother,” no longer take place. Denise says that she considers Dev family, and she always will. “You have to tell me what is going on in your life. You should have called me.” There is a long pause here, and then Dev says, “It just sucks. You’re doing so well. And I’m doing so bad. It’s embarrassing.”


While this is indeed something that often does happen between longtime friends due to time, age, and what life throws at you, it’s hard not to read this moment as a very blatant bit of meta-commentary on the state of Waithe’s and Ansari’s careers – and lives – after their Emmy win for Season 2’s “Thanksgiving” episode. Waithe went on to write and produce several new projects, while Ansari got publicly called out for being sexually coercive on a date with a younger woman. Waithe was doing so well. Ansari, in turn, had to go into hiding for a few years. He was doing so bad. Again, it felt very apparent to me that Ansari’s choice to (mostly) stay behind the camera for Season 3 of Master of None, coupled with his emphasis on how far Dev has fallen, might be a way for him to creatively work through and process the ramifications of his behavior on his career, and to let the audience enjoy a bit of Ansari’s comeuppance via Dev’s failures. It’s also interesting to me that Ansari chose this moment to bring Master of None back to Netflix, in the context of his comment in 2017 after the finale of Season 2 that he couldn’t see himself having more to say about Dev without something hugely life-changing happening to him in real life. At the time, he was talking about perhaps getting married or having a child, but it looks like in actuality the life-changing event that prompted his return to television was enduring a public reckoning with his own shitty behavior towards women. As a result, he and Waithe created a five-episode arc spotlighting the lives of queer black women. It’s an interesting choice, and actually kind of an admirable one. I’m not ready to call Ansari my alter-ego again, but I begrudgingly respect what he is trying to do here to make amends, as it were.



The single biggest misstep in this five-episode miniseries brought to you by Master of None (which feels like a more accurate descriptor than continuing to refer to it as Season 3) is during its final episode, where we learn that Alicia has a daughter. Both Denise and Alicia have remarried to new partners, Denise now has a son of her own… but every once in a while, Denise and Alicia steal away for a long weekend to rekindle their romance. I found this episode to be absolutely baffling and I think it’s again related to the fact that we really only just met Alicia recently (her carrying of episode 4 single-handedly notwithstanding). We don’t know a whole lot about what Denise and Alicia's marriage was like back when it was good. I can’t quite buy the idea that Denise and Alicia are star-crossed lovers who were cursed with bad timing, which seems to be what the show is trying to tell us, and it’s also a bit hard for me to fathom the two of them carrying on what seems to be an ongoing affair when infidelity was one of the contributing factors to their divorce. Waithe and Ackie do an admirable job of trying to fill in some of the obvious blanks in this episode’s story, but they don’t quite land. The failure of Denise’s second book has relegated her back to cubicle farm life in magazine publishing, while Alicia is now a very successful antique dealer who owns her own store. Denise is also enjoying life as a parent, which she knows she never would have been able to do had she not gone through the miscarriage and subsequent divorce with Alicia. The role reversal is intriguing, but really only results in two small conversations about it between the two former spouses. Alicia talks about how her former resentment of Denise’s success has transformed into an understanding of the pressure Denise must have felt while writing that second book, but the topic gets dropped in favor of gift exchanges, and then devolves into dance partying and lolling around in bed. Alicia gets upset at one point, asking whether she should have fought harder for the marriage, while Denise comforts her and says no, she did what she had to do, and it was the right thing to do at the time. Later, Denise gets upset, wondering how long they can keep going with this affair without getting caught, and what will happen if/when they do get caught. The episode ends with them in each others’ arms, and then an abrupt jump cut to Denise smoking weed under a tree, presumably the next morning, alone. And that’s where Waithe and Ansari choose to leave us for the season.



I wasn’t sure if I’m supposed to interpret episode 5 as some sort of dream sequence, or some sort of exploration of polyamory, or what exactly. If it’s the latter, it’s certainly not an ethical version of polyamory, given that Denise and Alicia’s spouses have no idea what is going on. But what would be the point of a dream sequence? I had a really hard time parsing what episode 5 was trying to tell me, until I went down a rabbit hole researching the 2017 Emmy Awards, when Waithe made history with her Emmy win for “Thanksgiving.” Ansari, her co-writer, rightfully gave her the microphone and kept quiet, and in her speech, she said “...to my girlfriend Alana, I love you more than life itself,” – this statement alone being groundbreaking in its nonchalant openness about Waithe’s sexuality and lesbian relationship. Alana Mayo, a film producer, and Waithe got married in 2018, and then after only two months of marriage, they split up, amidst rumors of Waithe’s infidelity.


Learning this information suddenly caused me to reevaluate everything I had seen in the five-episode arc of Denise and Alicia’s marriage. I am now wondering if, like Ansari taking this opportunity to work through his problematic behavior via Master of None Season 3, Waithe was also using this story as an opportunity to work through some of her own failings. Master of None has been a show rife with the potential for meta-commentary pretty much since it burst onto the scene in 2015, due to the highly autobiographical nature of Ansari’s writing Dev as a character. It makes a perfect sort of sense that during a pandemic, when, as I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, a lot of us suddenly had the time to confront and reflect on our own complicated identities and past missteps, Ansari and Waithe decided to write a little miniseries unpacking and uncovering a lot of things that they have done wrong in the past four years – staging a public reckoning for their bad acts.


At any rate, while Master of None Presents: Moments in Love is wobbly in a lot of places, it is simultaneously a very interesting and compelling exercise in storytelling and meta-storytelling. I didn’t want to watch it at first, but now that I have, I won’t lie and say that I didn’t enjoy it. I really did. Episodes 1 and 4 are the true standouts, and I would say that it is worth watching the season for those episodes alone, if nothing else. I don’t know if this season of Master of None will hold up over time. I think a lot of these pandemic productions are going to feel very weird with the hindsight of many years, and this one was so unevenly written and performed that I feel like the biggest takeaway might only be that Naomi Ackie is a damn good actress for making me care so much about a character I only just met and I now I want to see her cast in All The Things.


But at the same time, despite the unevenness of Season 3, I did find myself coming back to it over and over again over the past few months. I can’t bring myself to watch anything from Seasons 1 or 2 again, but Season 3 somehow got its hooks in me, even with its flaws and frustrations, and I have watched the entire five-episode arc at least 15 times at this point – a weird thing for me, given how unwelcome the sight of Ansari or any Ansari property was for me not so long ago. I think the reason for this is that even though the execution of the overall story wasn’t perfect, it captured a certain strain of profound sadness and melancholy that I think may be endemic to people my age. I’ve been joking with my friends from high school about the: "Existential Malaise of the Middle-Aged Millennial," for a while now, but it’s not really a joke. There is something about being in your mid-to-late thirties in the United States at the moment that is just deeply depressing and exhausting. We assume more and more responsibilities and make more adult life choices while trying to find some sort of real-life purpose and some sort of real personal happiness amidst a society that has done nothing but mock our generation since we were teenagers. Master of None, in its first two comedic seasons, captured the more joyful elements of the life of older Millennials in our late twenties. After a four year hiatus, during which time we all grew up a little bit, or a lot – including Ansari and Waithe – it’s not surprising, necessarily to see the focus shift from happy fun-loving rom-com good times to the sometimes overarching pain of aging when we aren’t really that old, but we feel the weight of the world that everyone has dumped on our generation's shoulders to succeed and make things better without the economic and financial stability our parents had to do the same. Certainly the pandemic amplified it, but I think this pain was always going to be there when Ansari, Waithe, and others in my generational cohort hit this age bracket. Ansari and Waithe were perhaps in an especially unique position to explore this pain due to their own complicated personal lives having played out in the media, but what they achieved with Master of None Presents: Moments in Love is almost more of a mood than a cohesive storyline. I don’t know if this mood has a proper name. It’s the mood of: “Getting Older is Complicated.” But it permeates these five episodes so profoundly, and it’s that mood that really hit me and has stayed with me despite my many misgivings about giving Ansari any more of my time and eyeball usage and brainpower. I am almost embarrassed to admit, at this point, that Ansari has yet again managed to create something intensely relatable to me. I suppose the only thing left for me to do at this point is to try to learn how to live with the discomfort of my ambiguous feelings about him as a writer, performer, and a person. And I’m not sure how to do that. Not yet, at least. That’s going to be my journey now, for a while.



Getting older is, indeed, complicated.





 

Reeya Banerjee

Reeya is a Hudson Valley-based musician and writer. In her other life, she works as a hospitality finance associate, enjoys watching Law & Order SVU reruns while eating gummy bears, and has a film degree from Vassar College that she does not use. She can frequently be found in various coffee shops and bars drinking IPAs while reading pop culture news on her phone.

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