Master of None (Netflix): Season 2

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the latest season of the streaming comedy series.

Back in my NYC days, I used to hang out often w/ Bangladeshi immigrants (mainly grad students) and Bangladeshi-Americans (singles and couples aged 20 to 40). One young woman my age (raised in a Queens middle-class family) told me that her younger sister was attending college in Japan. Now, this is quite unusual for a female from an immigrant/Muslim/South Asian background. She went to Japan at age 18; she was VERY familiar w/ Japanese culture and nealry fluent in the language, thanks mainly to her best friend/neighbor.

MoN_S2_ansari_fam
Aziz Ansari with his younger brother (Aniz) and parents (Shoukath and Nisha).

As a comedian, I can talk about anything, as long as I make it funny. So it’s pretty cool if I can get people thinking about immigration or feminism or the food industry at my stand- up shows. -Aziz Ansari 

In the second season of Master of None, you’ll find influences from classic Italian cinema, which Aziz Ansari (now 32 y.o.) greatly admires. Some disappointed viewers asked: “Why doesn’t he show India?” or “Why doesn’t he discuss his Indian-ness more?” or something to that regard. The actor/writer/producer is of South Indian/Muslim heritage, BUT was raised in Columbia, South Carolina. I hate to break it to you detractors, BUT one individual can’t show you ALL the sides of being South Asian, Muslim, and/or millennial in the US. (FYI: I know SOME who prefer the term “brown,” BUT I’m not a big fan of that word.) I’m VERY glad (proud even) that Ansari has achieved such a high profile at such a young age; it’s not like he had (conventional) good looks, height, or connections to get him where he is now. Like MANY other desis, he trained (NYU; The Upright Citizens’ Brigade) for several years and worked hard for his success.   

MoN_S2E1_biking
Dev (Aziz Ansari) rides a bike in Modena, Italy in Episode 1: The Thief.

[1] Master of None does not seize the easy way out which lies ahead when it comes to comic relief, cliché plot twists or predictable character development. No, it truly touched me with its ability to pay intense attention to detail. 

[2] The second season is one of the most creative pieces I have seen for a long time. The smooth conversational style and the imaginative expressions relating to daily lives makes it easy to watch. 

[3] I love shows with this kind of humor… It doesn’t try too hard to be funny, it just is. The characters are like my own funny, silly friends! It’s also so refreshing to see a show with a main character being a POC! 

[4] Full disclosure- I’m not only brown, but Tamil, just like Aziz/ Dev, and actually was born in Chennai, so I may be a TAD biased…

…I have never written an online review- ever- but I felt I had to because I have never seen anything like this. Master of None just unassumingly starts like any other modern comedy (with a nice bang!) , but before you know it you are smiling, laughing, and all warm and fuzzy, all the while watching the characters in the show discuss and experience seemingly serious issues like racism, sexism, and modern social life. I think the beautiful thing about this show is that it doesn’t hit you over the head with messages or even try that hard. It’s just funny. The characters are just funny. It’s just natural and real.

-Various IMDB comments (re: S2)

Food is central to this season; the story picks up w/ Dev (Ansari) in small-town Italy making pasta. In Modena, Dev trains with a family, incl. Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), w/ whom he has great chemistry, BUT Dev is  single and Francesca has a boyfriend, Pino. In E1, Dev meets a cute British woman traveling alone on his birthday, BUT loses his phone to a thief, so is unable to contact her.

MoN_S2E2_pasta
Dev (Aziz Ansari) feeds Arnold (Eric Wareham) some freshly made pasta.
MoN_S2E2_scooters
Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Arnold (Eric Wareham) ride scooters through the countryside.

Dev’s BFF shows up in E2; Arnold (Eric Wareheim) is going to the wedding of an ex-girlfriend in the lovely countryside. The buddies chat re: dating (incl. a new app Arnold is enthralled w/), eat delicious food, and even get stuck in a VERY narrow alley w/ their rental car. Arnold convinces Dev to go to the wedding, gets angry and emotional, BUT it all works out in the end. 

master-of-none-aziz-religion
Dev (Aziz Ansari) at the BBQ festival with the Tickler’s mascot.

Dev returns home to NYC and we get reintroduced to his (hilarious) father, Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari- Aziz’s father). In the much-discussed E3, his dad and mom (Nisha Ansari- Aziz’s mother) tell Dev that he needs to pretend to be a pious Muslim while an uncle and aunt are visiting. Dev’s love of food clashes w/ the religion he eschews. Dev introduces his younger cousin (played by Ansari’s college-aged cousin, Haris) to pork and they end up going to a famous BBQ festival. What I esp. liked about this ep was that the religious elders were NOT one-dimensional. Sure, they planned to go to Mecca, BUT they were also big basketball fans. Dev (finally) read the Koran that his mom has given him when he went away from home! This ep was co-written by Ansari’s younger brother, Aniz. 

…“Religion” took me away from the Islam I see on TV and back to the Islam I’ve lived my whole life. The episode opens on a mother warning her son to abstain from finishing the bacon he’s holding: “Bacon is pork. We are Muslim. We are not allowed to eat pork,” she warns, adding, “That is our religion.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this exact same phrase growing up. Pop-Tarts, Jell-O, gummy bears, marshmallows, almost anything at a Korean or Italian restaurant…

-Aymann Ismail (Slate)

MoN_S2E6_movie
A young African immigrant cabbie and Dev (Aziz Ansari) watch Death Castle in Episode 6.

[1] Aziz presents us an episode so unique and incredible, yet barely involves him and his co-stars. It explores in a fantastic and diverse way the city of NYC through perspectives that we don’t take the time to appreciate and understand. The creative use of silence during the deaf portion of the episode was absolutely incredible and has such a powerful meaning.

[2] This was an especially excellent episode, I really loved the way it showed the views of different characters, really made you empathize with them. I really loved the minimalist approach, where you guys let the situations speak for themselves and did not overdo it at all. Achieved levels of empathy I have not seen in many other TV shows/movies.

-IMDB comments (re: S2, E6)

E6 is titled (like the 2008 film)- New York, I Love You. The film Death Castle is based on a rejected script written by Nicolas Cage, who also played the imaginary lead role. This is Ansari’s love letter to working-class immigrants and POCs (incl. a young deaf woman). If you loved this ep, check out the HBO film Everyday People.

MoN_S2_angelabassett
Episode 8: Thanksgiving is a must-see!

E8 is probably the crowning jewel of this season; it features a Hollywood titan (Angela Bassett) and a prolific comic/character actress (Kym Whitley). Much of Denise’s coming out story came from actress Lena Waithe’s real life; she co-wrote this ep w/ Ansari.  Do the Right Thing (1989) is the Spike Lee movie that Dev, Denise, and Nikki are watching during Thanksgiving 2016.  It features the scene where police kill Radio Raheem, paralleling their dinner conversation about Sandra Bland and Sureshbhai Patel.

MoN_S2_francesca_dev.png
Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) and Dev (Aziz Ansari) on a NYC rooftop.

…even though Dev is a adult in his late 20s, this feels more or less like a high school girl next door crush. She is sweet, charming, beautiful and you guys have awesome chemistry together and you enjoy each others company, BUT… she is NOT available. -A viewer’s thoughts on Dev’s relationship w/ Francesca (the main love interest in S2)

The ladies Dev dates (thanks to a Tindr-like app) in E4 (First Date) are ALL different/interesting/unique! They include gorgeous Condola Rashad (daughter of Ahmad and Phylicia), quirky ramen blogger Stephanie (VA-raised comic Aparna Nancherla), and adorable/straight-laced lawyer, Priya (Tiya Sircar). These are ALL women of color who are coming up in Hollywood- VERY cool to see. Check out this show for yourself ASAP! 

Advertisements

Shots Fired (Fox): First Impressions

DOJ prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James) and investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan)

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the first three hours of the series.

[1] Shots Fired is at its best when raising legitimate questions about the criminal justice system and attempting to answer them. But I don’t know if there is an answer. The dark overtones that envelope the show at times feel real and appropriate. For a topic this serious, darkness may be the only way to truly shed light on the gravity of the situation.

[2] …I am not surprised by the haters in the reviews here. To me, these are people that are stuck in their ways and are not trying to see the world through different sets of eyes. Blacks and others have had to watch MOST TV through white people’s eyes and they expect us to be happy for it. Now you have a show like this that is finally putting Black people in a humane and more realistic light and they can’t handle it.

[3] I’m Asian male [Vietnamese] that grew up in a working class neighborhood and episode 1 gave me goosebumps because it aligns so much with our reality. You probably thinking how can I say that when I’m an Asian male. Truth is, many of our struggles are similar to blacks in America. You may not know, but there is an Asian gang culture in every major cities in America due to the same reasons that make it hard for blacks to succeed in America. Any law enforcement officers in major cities can confirm this.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews

Deputy Joshua Beck (Mack Wilds) is the young cop and family man who becomes an outcast on the police force.

Unnecessary police violence, particularly white cops against black offenders, is a topic that has everyone on edge. But, what happens when it’s a black cop that shoots an unarmed white kid based on racial profiling? 

The show centers on junior DOJ prosecutor, Preston Terry (Stephan James- who is Canadian and just 25 y.o.), and investigator, Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan- daughter of a prolific Hollywood producer), who are sent to a small North Carolina town to investigate a police shooting. It’s much better, if a black officer (Deputy Joshua Beck- played by 28 y.o. Mack Wilds)  is investigated and convicted by a black prosecutor, as one of Preston’s superiors in DC says in the first scene. Ashe and Terry dig deeper and find that an unarmed black kid was shot by a white officer not too long ago in the “houses”(projects) of this same town. 

Critics (and viewers) see a lot of potential in James; he definitely has that “It” factor (which an actor needs to get to leading man status). Don’t forget that a very young Blair Underwood played an attorney on L.A. Law in the ’80s. Wilds is doing pretty well in this role (never seen him before); the actor admitted that he never imagined himself in the shoes of a police officer before. He’s got an innocence and freshness about him- key for his role. What to say re: Sanaa Lathan?  Hmm… well, she’s got youthful looks (even at age 45); her acting is not terrible, but pretty one-note.

Governor Eamons (Helen Hunt) talks to press while her aide Sarah (Conor Leslie) and Preston (James) look on.

Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt) is the first female governor of the state; she was the one who decided to bring in the DOJ.  Local pastor Janae James (Aisha Hinds) points out, after all the shootings of unarmed black men, why is this the case where the feds decide to get involved? Hinds’ outspoken activist, yet also spiritual, character is unlike most preachers we’ve seen on TV- female, youthful, and putting faith into action. 

Richard Dreyfus is introduced (near the end of the second hour); he is a 1st gen American businessman looking to advance a new prison/educational complex. I’ve seen three hours so far, but  may keep w/ it (if the writing gets stronger and the veteran actors get more to do). So far, British actor Stephen Moyer (who plays Lt. Breeland) has just been a jerk. He may have brought some fans along w/ him from True Blood (never seen that show, so can’t judge).  I’m waiting to see more of Will Patton (who plays the sheriff); he has a way w/ ambiguous characters.  

Jill Hennessy at the Sundance premiere of “Shots Fired.” I was very happy to see her back on network TV!

We get to see Ashe and Preston in their private lives, unlike what you’ve seen in most Law and Order-type series. Speaking of that iconic TV show, the still stunning Jill Hennessy plays Alicia Carr, the heartbroken mother of the white college student. She gets a chance to shine in the third hour. Preston, who could’ve been a professional baseball player, is trying to earn the respect of his father (Dennis Haysbert) and older brother, (a pro football player). Ashe is a woman with serious anger issues, trying to keep primary custody of her daughter. Her Latino ex-boyfriend is planning to marry (a younger Latina woman) and raise their daughter full-time. 

Orange is the New Black (Season 4)

NOTE: This post contains SPOILERS for the latest season of the Netflix original series.

oitnb-season4
The promo poster for Season 4

What Piper does is try on identities. -Taylor Schilling 

In Season 3, Piper (sometimes dubbed “a clueless white girl”) was using the Whispers work assignment to her advantage; she got a big ego (as we see at the start of THIS season). Well, Maria is NOT going to put up w/ that attitude! Also, the Dominican (who was disowned by her gang leader dad for falling in love w/ a Mexican man) has plans of her own to profit HER girls, the latinas. The numbers work in her advantage, as the prison (now managed by MCC, a private corp.) gets an addition of MOSTLY latina women. 

It’s all grounded in the reality that they DO love each other… -Laura Prepon (Alex) on the (love-hate; complicated; manipulative) relationship between her character and Piper

oitnb_s4_faceoff
Maria (who starts running drugs) gets in Piper’s face in the Season premiere.
oitnb_branding
The latinas hold down Piper before Maria brands her with a swastika.

What did YOU think of Piper’s comeuppance (for joining w/ the White Power women)? Yes, she needed allies, BUT (as she often does) Piper didn’t realize the consequences of such an (unholy) alliance! 

When you know something [drug addiction] firsthand, there’s a sort of responsibility, which (for me) can often feel like… you know… too much pressure. -Natasha Lyonne (Nicky)

The relationship between Red and Nicky has been fraught w/ tension b/c of Nicky’s reluctance to get (and stay) sober. As we know from real-life statistics, MANY women (and men) are in jail b/c of drug-related issues; others get into drugs while imprisoned. 

I have my “daughters.” That is my way of surviving w/ my morality- and what I hope to consider- my integrity- intact. The tough side is, there’s a line. If you cross it, you are out. And that costs me as much as it costs them, but there has to be a moral compass. And I adhere to it very strongly. -Kate Mulgrew on the maternal and tough sides of her character (Red)

Red has been one of my favorites from the start; she doesn’t have much to do until later in the season. She’s back in charge of the kitchen- good to see. Mr. Healy seems to have fallen in love w/ her (yeah, we saw that coming); she sternly tells him that “no relationship between a prisoner and a guard is consensual”).

oitnb_s4_doggett_boo
Pennsatucky/Doggett and Big Boo have one of the most interesting friendships on the show.

Season four has some of the most explicit and complex discussions of consent I’ve ever seen on television. And in a time when there is still so much confusion surrounding consent and anger when it’s violated.

It’s significant that OITNB doesn’t just show Pennsatucky’s reaction to her rape. Instead, it forces Coates to reconsider everything he thought was true, to confront the ugliness inside him and surrounding him that pushed him to a place where he could ignore a woman’s needs for his own basic pleasure. He didn’t think he was raping her, but that doesn’t matter.

And now he knows it.

-Caroline Famke, Vox 

oitnb_s4_lolly_alex
Lolly and Alex in the greenhouse
oitnb_s4_lolly_healy
Lolly and Mr. Healy have a talk in the yard.

We see what Alex is capable of when she kills the man (disguised as a new guard) in the greenhouse. Lolly (who becomes more and more unhinged in S4) and Frida (a convicted murderer) knows about this crime; they handle it in VERY different ways. Frida helps Alex bury the dead body in the garden. Alex has trouble sleeping, goes to hang out w/ Piper, and (in time)- they are a couple again. 

Mr. Healy tries to help Lolly, who starts spouting paranoid stories. We learn more re: his backstory; his mother had mental problems when he was a young boy, then was put in a psychiatric hospital. THAT gets to the root of WHY Mr. Healy want to help troubled women. He falls short (of course)!

oitnb_s4_new_guards
Three of the new guards: Dixon, Humphrey, and Capt. Pescatella
oitnb_s4_bayley_jail
Bayley and his high school friend in jail (flashback)- talk about white privilege.

The new guards (former war vets) are NOT only working at Litchfield, they’re also living in the (built by prison labor) cabins on the property. They have issues and secrets of their own! Humphrey  forced Maritza, at gunpoint, to swallow a live baby mouse and pushed Crazy Eyes/Suzanne into a bloody brawl with Kukudio.

oitnb_s4_poussey_judy
Poussey (RIP) assists Judy King, her TV idol, during a cooking class.

When I heard that Judy was a cooking show celebrity and she was going to prison for some financial mischief, you think of Martha Stewart right away. [In the book on which it’s based, author Piper Kerman said Stewart was almost sent to Danbury, the inspiration for Litchfield.] She’s Paula Deen-like, because she’s Southern, but Judy King is another entity altogether. It’s just that those two are the ones that spring to mind.” -Blair Brown, Hollywood Reporter

We see how Judy King (veteran actress Blair Brown) is treated better, given her own room, etc. (being a rich and powerful celeb). I esp. liked her friendships w/ Poussey and Cindy. Do YOU think that these were real friendships? 

oitnb_s4_roomies
Alison (a Muslim) and Cindy (a Jew) are roommates.

Alison (who is Cindy’s bunk mate) wears a hijab (black scarf in this case) as a sign of modesty, due to her being Muslim. She also uses her hijab to hide a cell, which she uses to secretly communicate with her child via text. Cindy (a convert to Judaism) is suspicious of Alison at first, BUT in time, they get to know each other and become allies.

Speaking of unlikely allies… Figueroa dropped a sly bomb on Caputo when she asked him if he knew re: more inmates coming to his prison when he visited her house. Caputo, my the middle of the season, knows that his girlfriend (Linda) does NOT want the best for his inmates. Were YOU a bit shocked to learn that Linda had NEVER even visited Litchfield (though she worked for MCC)? 

oitnb_s4_finale
Daya points a gun at Humphrey while the other inmates look on (some cheering).

It’s war. Taystee has nothing to lose; she’s lost everything that she cared so deeply about. It’s time to fight. I think that’s where we will see Taystee go. -Danielle Brooks on what she sees next for her character

The season four finale of Netflix’s prison dramedy OITNB capped a season that explored the Black Lives Matter movement and the injustice that exists in the prison system. 

The final moments of the season see Daya picking up CO Humphrey’s loose gun and aiming it back at him during a prison-wide riot, Attica-style. …After being abandoned by fiance Bennett, losing her daughter and seeing her mom released from prison, Daya has so much pent-up anger and frustration, she might just shoot.  -Jackie Strause, The Hollywood Reporter

Short/petite Poussey is killed by baby-faced guard, Bayley- VERY unexpected/shocking scene! Taystee, who was probably her closest friend, is heartbroken. Soso tries to drink away some of her sadness. Judy King has the star power to right at least some of the wrongs she witnessed in prison. Will she tell the truth about Poussey’s murder?