Thursday, November 12, 2015

REVIEW: 'Master of None' - Dev and Brian Learn More About Their Parents' Immigration Stories in 'Parents'

Netflix's Master of None - Episode 1.02 "Parents"

First-generationers Dev and Brian try to show their appreciation for their immigrant parents at a joint family dinner.

The television medium isn't exactly overflowing with stories about the immigrant experience. There are a handful of them out there - The CW's Jane the Virgin, ABC's Fresh Off the Boat, etc. But it's still something well-poised for Master of None to tackle head on so early in its run because of the sparsity of the story being told. Dev is a first generation American citizen. His parents came to this country years before he was born. "Parents" sets out to tell the story of how and why this happened while also giving Dev a little bit more insight into his parents' life.

It's such a fun conceit that Dev's parents are played by Aziz Ansari's real-life parents, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari. It creates a sensible and lived-in chemistry amongst the family the moment the parents appear onscreen. They aren't the greatest actors but it's still apparent just how much fun they are having as a part of this project and of this story specifically. The story of Dev's parents may not be similar to that of the Ansari's. This is just a story being told for entertainment purposes. But it's such a powerful image of this family coming together to tell a story that has universal appeal while making it very specific to this family. It's a remarkable achievement really. It doesn't generalize the concept of the immigrant experience nor does it shy away from the hardships of the past and the individuality of the situation. It's just a great story being told in a way that it is very effective in its simplicity.

Dev and his friend, Brian (Kelvin Yu), are really quite selfish at the start of this episode. There is a strong disconnect between them and their parents. Dev and Brian would rather go see the fifteenth X-Men movie than help their fathers fix an iPad or pick something up from the store. But they aren't just going for the movie. They are going for the trailers and the trivia questions that play before the movie. That's how much privilege they have in this world. It's a world that their parents wanted them to have. They wanted their kids to have the luxuries they themselves couldn't have as children. That's why neither parent points out just how selfish their children are being. And yet, the show makes sure to point that out by showing flashes of what these parents' lives were like back in India and Taiwan. That is such an effective way to get a visceral reaction to this story. The audience understands because they see the kind of life that Dev and Brian's fathers had growing up.

"Parents" does a fantastic job in having these two immigrant stories play off of each other. Dev and Brian want to initially generalize the experience as "being hard." That's the phrase that comes up whenever someone talks about immigrating to this country. And yet, they also have a yearning to know more about their parents so that they can better understand them. Right now, the differences between parent and son define their relationship. Dev and Brian want to do better and understand how their parents have seen the world. It's an experience that leads to an appreciation dinner between the two families. It's a time for the parents to share how this journey was specific to them and to each other. It's a sequence that phenomenally highlights just how different each immigrant tale can be even though there's a lot of similarities.

Dev and Brian have to pull this information out of their parents. They want them to open up to them in order to build a better relationship full of understanding. They were expecting these grand stories about what life was like for them in their Asian homes and how their first few days in America were. The audience gets to see exactly how these stories happened from the parents' perspectives. Dev's father came to America to go to school and to become a doctor. Brian's father came because he wanted a better life for his own family. The parents are able to bond over their shared feelings about this country. Dev's mom and Brian's dad understand perfectly why they would be so afraid to answer the phone. That's not something that Dev and Brian can easily connect to. They believe their parents speak English fine. But it's still an experience that is extremely personal to the parents.

The best that Dev and Brian can hope for is a little bit of information so that they can put more effort into their relationship with their parents. When Dev doesn't land the part in the "black virus movie," his father is very supportive of him. That's all that Dev's parents really want from him. They want him to call more often and to fix their technology when it's broken. Dev has the idea to give his dad the guitar he wasn't able to have when he was a kid. But at the end of the day, Dev's dad still just wanted his iPad. It's a nice gesture on Dev's part. He also got his mom a framed picture of the family. But being there for his parents is the bigger lesson to take away from this experience. They may have their differences that may keep them from understanding each other. But they are still family. That bond will always be there.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Parents" was written by Aziz Ansari & Alan Young and directed by Aziz Ansari.
  • It's great that the only feedback Dev gets at his first audition for a film is that they loved the pause he took during the final line. In fact, this whole subplot is pretty great - from Dev having to do his callback over Skype at a coffee shop to Dev not being able to take a bottled water after being told he didn't get the part.
  • The excitement Dev's dad has with the sound effects on his iPad are fantastic. I sure do hope this season uses more of him because he is just so delightful.
  • It's great that Dev's mom is very blunt about her first day in America sitting on her couch crying because she didn't know if anyone would understand her plus she was in a new country with a man she had only known for a week.
  • Clem Cheung is also pretty great as Brian's stoic father. He opens up a little bit - just enough for Brian to see the world being screwed as well.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.