Over the course of this semester, we have looked at television through an academic lens, investigating its significance within our society and culture. Since its inception and widespread acceptance, it has proven its value as both a form of entertainment and as an artifact with great power to create, highlight, and sustain cultural mores and deeply rooted values. Its importance and pervasiveness within our society, particularly today, could be easily assessed by questioning what our world would be like if it did not exist… and to be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine that world.
Believing in the power that television holds, what is it that makes us so attached to the little black box and its moving pictures? In the Analysis blog post, I began to answer the questions of what separates bad television from good television, and what catapults good television to great television. Well, I don’t have to think for long to know that Master of None is great television. It is a subjective notion, but there are several reasons that we can discuss that this show achieves in representing throughout its entire first season that I think even the pickiest of TV viewers can at least appreciate and understand why it has been such a successful show.
First and foremost, Master of None is solely produced and aired as streaming television on Netflix. This changes not only how the show is viewed, but also how it can be categorized, tracked, and assessed regarding the demographics of its audience and level of success within the constraints of traditional television. Most traditional sitcoms and television shows viewed on cable are directly controlled by major production companies using such resources as Nielsen Ratings and driven by corporate sponsorship and revenues from advertisements. Netflix has consistently and actively fought to not include their shows in that framework, getting into several spiffs with NBC executives. However, if success can’t be gauged by ad revenue, it can be found in renewed seasons, which Master of None recently achieved. In addition to getting renewed, another more traditional mechanism proving success is winning awards and garnering acclaim, two things that this show has been achieving since its first day on the streaming site.
Qualities of good television are more than critical acclaim, and there are some that I would say fit the shows that have defined successful television over the years. One of them is having great characters that are developed, seem genuine, and are relateable. Master of None has just that with absolutely incredible characters! Character development is essential to the success of any television show and Master of None did a fantastic job in casting. We get to really immerse ourselves in the story that these characters are experiencing each day in their lives as represented in the show. We see friendships progress and the relationship between Dev and Rachel highlight the difficulties of dating in this day in age for millenials. The rollercoaster ride that this becomes drives the show forward as it deals with the wants, needs, and expectations each character is wading through at any given time. More importantly, the cast itself turns the usual Hollywood script on its head. The premise of many of the episodes question what modern television sees as ‘normal’ and manages to combat the historically consistent ‘whiteness’ that has existed over the years. There best argument was flipping the script on Hollywood completely and diversifying both the main cast and the characters that come and go throughout the season. The ratio of white/anglo characters to those generally ‘othered’ or on the outskirts is much more realistic and illustrative of the world we live in. One can definitely see this from a more cynical standpoint that it seems refreshing because of what the usual depiction and expectations are, but its ability to challenge the status quo is an inherent quality that makes the show successful. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang even produced an entire episode devoted to the issue in Indians on TV that makes it impossible to ignore or miss.
Great television also tells stories. Narratives seem to be intertwined with our very being as human animals. From the dawn of civilization, stories have been prevalent and incredibly important to our wellbeing. From cave paintings and travelling troupes to the days of Shakespeare to Melville and Hemingway, stories have been utilized to learn, encourage, exploit, entertain, and escape. Successful television is founded on the stories they promote. They draw us in and keep our attention throughout each episode individually and make us look forward to each one that follows. We become loyal servants to each production because there is something in the story that connects with us.
Whether it’s the setting, the characters, the message or all of the characteristics together, we are able to insert ourselves into the represented reality. Master of None manages to organically recreate moments and scenarios, from the potentially controversial beginning to its seemingly vague finale, that viewers can easily see themselves experiencing. Although the narrative definitely hails aging millennials in its depiction of confusion, hope, and constant growing inundation with choice, the show’s creators managed to not make being one a prerequisite for enjoying each episode. The shows that do this find a way to feel like we’re a part of the show. Master of None does it through challenging our preconceived notions and humor… even if it’s that painful kind of funny where it is too true to really argue with.
The best shows on television that successfully garner attention are the shows that make us question our own actions, our own worldview, and our own choices. These questions are founded in the fact that the show has already proven itself to be relateable and has drawn us in because it allows for one to analyze past decisions, understand the present, and shape our future. It is through this process that successful TV shows make audiences actively engage in and participate with the text itself. It becomes a representation of reality that we are not just playing in the background, but one we watch closely and attentively so as to not miss anything. It makes us want to watch and rewatch certain episodes in order to best understand each and every message packaged into each episode.
The cool thing about Master of None is that each episode is also self-contained. If you watch from the beginning, you will definitely have a better idea of character development and where the arch of the story is, but it is nowhere near essential. Each episode took a particular issue and in no certain way just dealt with them. In many cases, more questions arose than answers – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Shows that truly succeed in this case are those that start a dialogue outside of the show itself, leaving the representational reality and coming into fruition in the very lives we live. And the ability to really analyze our own lives and choices is something that this show truly makes happen. And if you want to follow along as you go, you can participate online on Twitter and other social media platforms. Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari even took over Reddit and promote the actual places they go to throughout the season – like their favorite restaurants. So now you can contemplate your own life in the same places they’ve produced the show.
All in all, Master of None, accomplishes much more than its name. It’s won awards, a second season is coming next year, it tells great stories while developing even better characters, it’s realistic, you can actively participate, AND it makes you think. I really don’t know what else I could ask for.