Laundry is a scam
Master of None and the art of transformation
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I’ve been watching the latest season of Master of None this week, which means I have been spending lots of time wallowing silently in corners of the office where I think no-one else can see me. This is a show committed to transformation like no other, though it’s never lost the radical drive that made it such a success in the first place. Below, I explain why.
Master of None
Look, I know this could be said about probably any year prior to now, but 2015 — the year Master of None premiered — truly seems like a more innocent time. In 2015, mismatched earrings were still a Vogue runway trend, not the red flag of every skater-adjacent softboi. In 2015, millennial pink was emerging, not cheugy. In 2015, we were still pretending to like ‘Shut Up and Dance’ as it played from tinny laptop speakers while we debated whether the dress was blue and black or white and gold. (Also in 2015, I was going to university for the first time and getting drunk every second night, but we do not have to dwell on that). In 2015, everything felt simpler, and Master of None knew that, bouncing around a New York City that was still the concrete jungle wet dream tomato promised to us by Alicia Keys, following a protagonist — Dev (Aziz Ansari, also a co-creator) — open to anything, falling in and out of love, meeting Busta Rhymes and moving to Italy on little more than a pasta-making whim. The show was expansive and chaotic, as happy-go-lucky as Dev himself.
Master of None, though, is nothing if not in step with the times. By the time its second season got into full swing in 2017, the mood had shifted — the US had changed, Aziz Ansari (and co-creator Alan Yang) had grown, and the characters had evolved alongside them. The show leaned even further into its eclecticism, whiplashing into glimpses of different lives: a doorman, a cab rider, Dev’s parents, and — in an Emmy-winning episode — the coming-out tale of Dev’s friend Denise (Lena Waithe). In a world where it felt dangerous to exist as a person of colour — not a new experience by any measure, but one that suddenly and explicitly lurched back into view — Master of None gave its characters licence rarely seen on TV. People of colour aren’t just sidekicks or model minorities, the show said: they’re messy and funny and also spend lots of time spiralling in the back of Ubers while listening to ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’!!!!!
Four years on, Master of None has undergone another metamorphosis: slower, more meditative than it’s ever been, veering away from Dev’s glory days and focussing squarely on Denise, now a bestselling author, and her new partner Alicia. If Season 2 was its coming-of-age, then Season 3 is its slow descent into the realisation that adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If Season 2 was its 1989, then Season 3 is its folklore — quite literally, based on the amount of times I was moved to tears by little more than a shot of Denise and Alicia’s cottagecore farmhouse, abound with the types of mid-century finds that are either $20 on Facebook Marketplace or $2000 on an Instagram reseller with no in-between.
If Season 2 was Aziz Ansari’s ode to Italian cinema — the freewheeling realism of Bicycle Thieves, surreal, giallo-esque interludes — then Season 3 is his riff on another European classic: Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, a Swedish miniseries so bleak in its portrayal of love that it was blamed for rising levels of divorce across the continent. Master of None isn’t as despondent, but it shares Bergman’s careful, committed attention to its central couple. Save for a few drop-ins from a down-on-his-luck Dev, this season belongs solely to Denise and Alicia — the unique pressures of a queer, Black relationship existing alongside those small glories of intimacy: folding laundry together, brushing teeth side by side, a wee-hours declaration of love.
This season is stylistically distinct, but perhaps it hasn’t strayed all that far from the roots of the show. Stories like Bergman’s — a couple’s slow disintegration, a marriage in strife — have typically been reserved for white characters, in history as it is now. Master of None’s decision, then, to shoot Denise and Alicia in this way — on 16mm, in sumptuous greens and deep mahoganies, with spartan, patient camerawork — feels like a radical act. In doing so, the show is doing what it’s always excelled at: transposing characters of colour into spaces and contexts that don’t automatically include them. It’s just that this time round, the rhythm is different — not 2015’s endless energy, but 2021’s newfound sobriety. After a year spent adjusting to slower cycles of life, maybe this is the only way Master of None could have responded, and it’s perfect.
All seasons of Master of None are streaming now on Netflix.
Watch these too:
Easy — a show that I would easily say is my favourite one on Netflix (tied with Master of None, obviously). It’s an anthology series that — like Master of None — is constantly shifting and endlessly self-referential, composed of vignettes depicting a diverse range of characters and their relationship to love and sex.
Dear White People, which, thankfully, is not about white people, but instead about a group of Black students navigating the slippery politics of an Ivy League college. By focusing on a unique character each episode, it catalogues a plurality of experiences that allows the show to speak to just how ingrained whiteness is at every level.
And of course, Please Like Me, the little show which could: blooming, over its four seasons, from the misadventures of a ragtag inner-city gang to a devastating dissection of mental health — and, along the way, rightfully earning its place in the queer canon.
I can’t stop thinking about:
This video about a...uh...fictional Shailene Woodley game from the only housemate comedy troupe that matters right now. I have watched this in excess of 12 times and I will continue to watch this until someone revokes my computer privileges.
This photo of Alan Cumming at the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats premiere wearing an eyebrow piercing. Someone please give me $650.
And apropos of nothing, a promotional poster for Scooby-Doo (2002)
This poster made me realise that the best way to sum up my wardrobe is a combination of the bottom halves of all five Scooby-Doo characters (including the titular Scooby-Doo, do not ask any further questions).