If you’re not familiar with the new Aziz Ansari Netflix series Master Of None then open a new Internet window and look it up immediately. It is a funny, original, and poignant show that captures the 30-nothing experience better than anything I’ve seen. Congrats also to co-creator Alan Yang who is responsible for some of my favorite Parks & Rec episodes of all time (Treat Yo Self!).
This post is about the pilot, “Plan B,” and it contains spoilers so you might want to open a third Internet window and watch the episode right now. From IMDB, “A condom mishap and a kid’s birthday party prompt Dev (Ansari) to consider the reality of having children.”
Yes, the pilot episode of this male-lead comedy is about fatherhood. This is a triumph.
We see Dev work through the question of whether or not he’ll eventually want children in a series of interactions:
At a bar friends Arne and Denise both say that parenthood is not for them. An open conversation ensues.
At a kid’s birthday party friend Kyle (father of the birthday boy) gives a beautiful speech about the joy of having a child.
Dev spends a few hours with friend Amanda’s kids and has both a magical and miserable time (the boy puts his penis on frozen waffles in a grocery story. This is also a triumph).
Dev chats with friend Nathan who shares how happy he is serving in the “uncle” role to family and friends
And finally, there’s another conversation with Kyle who shocks Dev by reporting that he is getting a divorce.
Here is one excellent moment:
It’s heavy stuff for a comedy, but it’s handled masterfully (pun impossible to avoid).
Still over the course of the episode I kept waiting for Dev to raise an issue inside “the great kid debate” that never came up. His feelings were so interesting and honest. Paraphrased:
I’m afraid having kids will limit my life in a way that makes me unhappy
I’m afraid I’ll miss out on one of the greatest life experiences if I don’t have kids
I could be a great father. I can handle having kids.
I fear I’ll end up in the negative place some of my friends are experiencing
I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to hear those words coming from a man. I know they feel this way. I have these conversations with guys all the time. But they are rarely represented in media.
But where was this?
What kind of man will I be if I don’t have kids?
How will the world see me if I decide not to be a father?
I’m “supposed” to have children. What if I don’t?
I felt like a side line coach screaming for the player to make the game-winning touch down (this happens, right?). Say the big thing! Say the thing that trumps all other things!
No one said it.
There’s only so much you can work into a half hour of television, but I don’t think the absence of this line of thinking was an oversight on the part of the writers or Aziz. I would give anything to know if it came up in the writers room, but my money’s on no. I don’t think those are questions they consider relevant to the life of this character, or maybe to anyone? I think that if another character brought one of those questions up to Dev he would say, “What does that have to do with anything?” and I think he would be right.
I just can’t stop thinking about how the episode would be different if Dev was a woman.
I talk to a lot of 30-something women about having children and every single one raises at least one of those three questions. Why? That’s a different blog post (or a book). I think it has to do with biological make-up, societal pressure, and the media hammering on the same conversation over and over when it comes to women as mothers. Do I ask those questions? Absolutely. That’s why I wanted to hear Dev ask them too. That’s why I felt like there was a gaping hole in his logic for not bringing them up. But logic is relative, and when it comes to parenthood it’s never really logical to begin with.
So is Master of None suggesting that all men ignore those questions? Of course not. Also, there’s no such thing as “all men.”
But after much thought I’m glad that Aziz as Dev didn’t bring them up. Whether it was a bold choice or no choice at all, it was powerful to me.
Here’s to much more of this on TV (or Internet). And thank you Aziz and Netflix.