Master of None

The Guessing Game

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I suppose the easiest way of explaining the Emmy awards is to say that they’re like the Oscars, but for Television. There is a Television Academy in Los Angeles, similar to the Motion Picture Academy, which honours the best of Prime Time Television. The awards are determined in an identical manner as well, through peer voting. The Emmy awards differ from the Oscars however, in the manner in which the votes are cast. Unlike the Oscars, where every voting member of the Motion Picture Academy (which is roughly about six thousand member strong) gets to vote in all the categories, the members of the Television Academy are split into groups based on the expertise. So in essence, actors vote for acting categories, writers for writing categories and so on, automatically making the voter group smaller, and the awards, very competitive. As if that’s not hard enough, the quality of television these days ensures that the difference between an Emmy and second place would have only been the barest of margins.

The nominations this year have been mostly predictable, like Game of Thrones finding itself nominated in a whopping twenty three categories, but with a few surprises, like Aziz Ansari being nominated in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category, as well as his show Master of None, being nominated for the Outstanding Comedy Series. If Aziz Ansari wins, he will be the first of South Asian descent to win an Emmy in the lead comedy actor category (he’s the first to even be nominated), but faces stiff competition with the likes of Jeffrey Tambor (who plays a woman, Maura Pfefferman, in Transparent) and Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley) also vying for the honour.

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The Night Manager found itself in the honours list as well, with the show being nominated for Outstanding Limited Series, and its leads, Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman nominated for acting honours. It’s hard to say if they’d win though, because non-Americans haven’t really had the greatest runs in the Emmys, and also because People vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story is in the same category. People vs OJ Simpson scored twenty two nominations, making it second only to Game of Thrones with respect to the volume of nominations, so while I have a great deal of love for The Night Manager, I won’t be putting my money on them.

This year also saw The Americans finally being given the nominations it deserved after three years of being in the Emmy snub list. The show has been nominated for Outstanding Drama, and the leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys have both been nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actress and Actor in a Drama Series categories. Keri Russell is up against some stiff competition with Viola Davis (How To Get Away With Murder), Taraji P Henson (Empire) and Robin Wright (House of Cards), and so is Matthew Rhys, who is competing with the likes of Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot).

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I hope The Americans win an award this year, not because the performances and writing were better than that of their fellow nominees’ (I mean, did you take a look at that list? They’re all impeccable), but because The Americans deals with a subject matter that is complicated, and uncomfortable – it makes you empathise with your enemies, and turns your perceptions of the bad guy on its head. It is intense, for me, has taken over the spot which was filled by Better Call Saul as the best drama series on television at the moment. So could this be the year of the Emmy underdogs? Or will it be just another year where the rest of us television nuts wax lyrical about our deserving, off-beat favourites, but Game of Thrones and House of Cards split all the awards between themselves?
Probably the latter.

2015 in Television

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

It’s time for us to welcome the new year with family, friends, celebrations, and of course, somewhat pointless lists. So without further ado, here are my TV favourites from 2015 (in no particular order):

  • Empire – Empire is a musical soap opera about a Hip Hop mogul, and the lengths he’ll go to stay on top. It’s the television equivalent of the pizzas that have cheese stuffed in the crusts, the kind which oozes yellow, processed glory, on to your fingers. Yes it’s disgustingly over the top, and you can’t really tell people how much you enjoy it, although you know that they’d enjoy it just as much as you do when they eat it, I mean, watch it. {FX India}

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  • Better Call Saul – Better Call Saul was my favourite show this year. Yes, it’s a spin off of Breaking Bad, and there are plenty of recurring characters, but surprisingly, it has an entirely unique tone, and while one is occasionally reminded of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul stands on its own. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Wolf Hall – Wolf Hall is a literary mini series which was produced by the BBC. The cast and screenplay is splendid, and Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece comes alive over the course of 6, hour long episodes. I do hope that more show makers take the hint from Wolf Hall and make more mini series from literary classics – that way I don’t have to pretend like I’ve read them anymore.

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  • Game of Thrones – Dragons! Kings! Betrayals! Dragons! Death! Snow! Did I mention Dragons? The fifth season of the epic fantasy story came to an end this year, with a finale that shook the world, or at least, broke the internet. Game of Thrones is the show whose return I’m most looking forward to in 2016. {HBO}

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  • Daredevil – While I enjoyed both The Flash and Arrow, Daredevil takes the super hero genre of television to a whole new level, the way Nolan’s The Dark Knight changed the game for films. Netflix has come out with a winner, yet again, and there is no doubt that Daredevil is the benchmark for super hero television shows to come.

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  • Master of None – If you’re not socialising with your family, and have plenty of time in your hands this weekend, why not cosy up with the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s comedy for all seasons? It’s one the most relatable shows I’ve watched on international television (and not just because Ansari hails from Tamil Nadu), and the perfect candidate for marathon viewing.

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  • Quantico – This is right on top of my list of unexpected favourites. I didn’t want to like it, I watched it with great prejudice but eventually gave in to the racy screenplay and exaggerated drama. The show is addictive, and Priyanka Chopra has made an assured debut into American television and proved that she is a bonafide star. The penultimate episode before the season finale, and the season finale itself were a tad frustrating and I’m hoping (against hope) that it sorts itself out when it comes back next year. {Star World}

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  • The Affair – One often talks about “mindless television” – The Affair is the opposite. It demands your attention in a manner that is unforgiving, and if you blink, you miss. The Affair follows a story of infidelity narrated through different perspectives, none of which are objective, and leaves it to the viewer to be the judge. I’m a chronic multi-tasker, but The Affair ensured that my attention only belonged to the screen. {FX India}

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  • Mr. Robot – A terrific and well researched show that goes into the psyche and life of hackers. Given the rising coverage with respect to the hacking group “Anonymous” in the mainstream news, Mr. Robot is an excellent way to better understand hacking, and how the right information in the wrong hands could potentially break the world as we know it. {Colors Infinity}

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  • Modern Family – It’s not from 2015, technically, but I have been watching it religiously, all year. I could never tire of this show, or it’s characters, and I am yet to find an episode I haven’t guffawed out loud in. A perennial favourite to end the list! {Star World}

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Master of Some

{First Published in The Hindu Metroplus}

I’ve never been impressed by Aziz Ansari’s stand up comedy routines – I watched a few before I began to watch his new show, Master of None, and it was underwhelming. My immediate reaction was that I knew stand up comedians from Chennai who could do better, which, if you know stand up comedy scene in Chennai, isn’t the greatest of compliments. However, I proceeded to watch Master of None anyway because I knew that he had written the show, and was playing a character of Tamil descent, and if there’s one thing I like more than supporting talent who I share roots with, it’s nitpicking.

Master of None lies in uncharted territory which feels familiar. Aziz Ansari plays Dev Shah, a first generation immigrant Indian, who is trying to make it as an actor in New York City. The show deals with Dev’s various life experiences which fall under a broader topic. The episode “Indians on TV”, for example isn’t just about a casting problem that Dev faces, but is also about the rampant stereotyping of Indians as cab drivers, 7-11 owners, philosophical middle aged men or IT guys. Other episodes deal with feminism, old people, parents, and so on.

Every time Dev faces a problem, or comes across something he feels strongly about, he talks it out, and it is conversation that forms the solid foundation of Master of None. Whether he’s talking about feminism with his girlfriend Rachel (Noel Wells), or about what it takes to get a hot ticket date with his group of best friends Brian (Kelvin Yu), Denise (Lena Waithe), and Arnold (Eric Wareheim), or even if he’s talking about what it means to be an immigrant in the United States with his parents, Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari) and Nisha (Fatima Ansari), it is the conversation which guides the direction of the episode. All the characters, for whatever limited time they appear on screen have very vibrant, distinct, and real personalities, which shines through the dialogue, and makes for very fun viewing.

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Currently, Master of None is soaring high up on the television rankings in the US, and for good reason, but I have a bone to pick with the show, and it is with Ansari’s own character – Dev Shah. I’ll even forgive the terrible pronunciation of his own name (he calls himself “Dev”, as in development), but what I can’t wrap my head around is that for a character who identifies himself as Tamil, and whose parents are from Thirunelveli (spelled Thiranalveli in the show, another problem I had), why would he choose a last name like Shah? A Shah is as authentic to Thirunelveli as Jalebi is. For someone who not only had an entire episode dedicated to Indian stereotypes, but is also Tamil, the poor research was just glaring. It is also to be noted that Ansari’s own parents play his parents on the show which I found incredibly sweet on his part, but I have to say this – they’re terrible actors. The rest of the cast though, especially Lena Waithe as Denise, are excellent. The chemistry between Dev, and Rachel is also something that should be written about – their moments together play like parts of a romantic comedy that you’d actually be interested in watching. There are also some great special appearances in the show, with the likes of Claire Danes and Colin Salmon joining the cast.

Over all, Master of None is something I haven’t ever seen before. It’s fresh, it’s funny, it’s relevant, and it proves that Aziz Ansari is in fact, a Jack of All.

{Season 1 of Master of None is currently streaming on Netflix}