'Master Of None' Will Out Cool 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'
Two shows more alike than they seem.
On one hand, you have a comedian with a clear vision starring in a loosely autobiographical show that they also write. On the other, you have a comedian with a clear vision starring in a loosely autobiographical show that they also write. One will likely be cancelled and the other heralded as fresh, groundbreaking, prestige television.
The latter, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Master of None, premiered on Netflix last Friday. The show, a Nouvelle C.K.-style exploration of Modern Times (heavy on the “dating, right?”), has been immediately praised. Handfuls of articles over the weekend called it "genius," "nuanced," and "insightful."
It’s a smash! I completely get why. At its best, Master Of None is smart, well acted, well directed, and tackles racism and connectivity in ways rarely seen. And although it explores today’s pertinent themes through the lens of a particular type of tech savvy, Internet-fed, progressive millennial, it explores those themes deftly. Ansari is as funny as ever, and the diverse set of characters is refreshing as hell, with huge shouts to the dream team Fatima and Shoukath Ansari, Aziz’s parents on and off screen.
At its worst, it’s about a very funny guy saloning with his pals at the best bars in Brooklyn
The mammoth adoration for the show is a bit perplexing. While The New York Times calls it “the year’s best new comedy, straight out the gate,” the show feels far from some perfect thing, and nothing close to the dazzling force of fresh ideas and style other reviews believe it to be.
It has vignettes. It has seemingly cinematic brushstrokes of the French New Wave and Woody Allen. It's got jokes buddied up with sincere insight. It’s nice! The show shines when it scratches at modern relationships, both romantic and familial, but sometimes feels like the entire world exists only through Ansari’s perspective, even when purposefully trying on other shoes, and that an ideal relationship is just doing bits and boning. Master of None excels at integrating how we use technology, an aspect The New York Times salivates over, yet feels so aware of itself that one might assume Ansari will annotate all of the episodes on Genius. Is it a show that was written for the outlets that would cover it? Unlikely, though it often feels like that. At its worst, it’s about a very funny guy saloning with his pals at the best bars in Brooklyn—and it’s still pretty good.
The other show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, stars and is co-written by Rachel Bloom. She plays Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who’s left hectic NYC behind her for the sunny strip-malls of West Covina, California, in a clearly crisis-fueled grab for expired happiness tied to an ex. The show is confident, diverse, and though sometimes done in a winking, goofy fashion, not afraid to hide the unstable side of life. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend also explores modern dating, with a touch of technology, in an exaggerated but accurate way. The season’s fourth episode takes Bloom from desperately searching Tinder for sex to a genuine, healthy date to the sexual fulfillment of an unhealthy, indulgent impulse. It features a musical number on settling for what’s in front of you that perfectly entertains and depresses at the same time.
Rebecca exists in a more common world (read: non-metropolitan), which is wonderful for her characters and their perspectives. She even manages to keep the white male characters down to about 1.5. But this common world can also be to the show’s detriment. In the same episode about settling, Rebecca sleeps with a “hipster” from Echo Park, “the Brooklyn of Southern California.” He has a man-bun and is a vegan. Although this is partially used as a device to explore how she lies to herself, it feels awfully lame to see hipster jokes in 2015.
Both shows explore the helpless, fearful states of arrested development that occur in one’s late 20s/early 30s. (Though Master of None often shows the reason for this confusing state being The Way Things Are Now.) And they both do this excellently, often hilariously, while making leaps for cultural and gender representation. Which makes it interesting that Variety would say Master of None has effectively shattered the glass ceiling. Both shows are well crafted and comparatively distinct for the average television landscape—but why will Ansari’s trump Bloom’s? Is it that “cool” seems better in critical circles? Is it because Ansari is an Intellectual Man and Bloom is a Manic Woman, even if they both use these types to scratch at the same things? Is it because New York is cooler than West Covina (which, in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, is the joke)? Is it because Netflix is cooler than CW? Or is it simply the level of access for these shows in relation to their audiences, especially in relationship to social media? Of course it’s partially all of the above, and several more think pieces could fart right out of these questions.
I wholeheartedly want both to continue to exist
I think part of the aversion to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the musical format—characters breaking into song turn people off. Can it be a bit embarrassing? Sure. But not more so than dipping into the pretentious cliché of the French New Wave. (And believe me, I like them both, probably the latter more, but let’s be real.) Again, one can be interpreted as “cooler” than the other. Is our preference with these options a statement regarding our personality, or how we want to be seen? Even the mere knowledge of these shows says at least a little something about the viewer.
Master of None and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend are equally funny and creative in their own rights. I’m thankful to have them, and I wholeheartedly want both to continue to exist, to flourish and to grow. But there’s a very good chance one won’t get the attention it deserves and for reasons as silly as how we text the people we’re trying to bone—we want to seem casual, cool, connected. Not intense, complicated, and unpredictable. Who’d want that?