By now you've probably heard about Master of None's superb second season. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's long awaited follow-up to 2015's critically acclaimed dramedy continues to be lauded as a show that resonates with a diverse set audiences; and this is specifically so with millennials.
I'm one of them and can tell you that out of hundreds of reports and whitepapers written by firms desperately trying to interpret the millennial worldview to brands, this show captures the millennial experience better than anything I've come across this past decade. In fact, it's been a week since I've finished watching the second season and the imprint it's left on me still hasn't faded away. At first I thought the reason for that was the rush of bitter nostalgia left over from past failures in romance, but the more I reflect on the show, the more I realize that Dev and the characters on the show feel so familiar.
This might be because I'm in my early 30's, live in New York, and believe that though work is important, it's definitely not my identity as human being like it is for older generations. I also seem to hold views on life at odds with the generation before me as well as the one after me, but have no interest in convincing others to share them. Some of these are similar to Dev, and my bet is that I'm not the only one. I'll go even further and say that for older millennials, this show almost perfectly encapsulates what it's like to navigate through life's opaque moments that hit us hard in our late 20's and early 30's.
Some of those moments are peaks of pure bliss while others are valleys of stifling desolation. In Master of None, the show is written in such a way that hints subtly at these moments, but never over the top. One of the ways it does it is by showing how Dev's nuanced core beliefs set him apart from most characters on television, many of which is actually similar to most older millennials I know. Dev isn't like the cold and brutal protagonists seen in older males like Don Draper (Mad Men) or Frank Underwood (House of Cards). He also isn't like the quixotic and adrift younger millennial avatars on television such as Adam (Girls) or Elliot (Mr. Robot). I think this is what ingratiates him to different audiences because it feels authentic.
Somewhat paradoxically than what is seen in the media, Dev believes in a purposeful life that respects other peoples' well being. He also is a kind man and might even be more caring of others than of himself. These traits aren't something seen in modern day protagonists on screen and it's why Master of None feels like a show that is full of heart.
What really separates Dev from other TV characters though is how his views on various social topics are revealed through different episodes; but never done so in a way that speaks down to viewers. In an era when every personality on television is shouting over each other, it's incredibly refreshing to see issues addressed in a soft way. And for many of these topics, the way Dev addresses them are probably similar to how many older millennials feels.
On work, Dev's ambitions are noble but also within reach, not overly idealistic. On love, Dev dates purposefully and looks for meaning in his relationships instead of settling for empty transactional exchanges. On family, Dev honors his parents and appreciates the road they paved for him instead of viewing them as receptacles. Even on issues that are rife with very different and fortified opinions, such as religion, Dev manages to express his viewpoints while respecting and acknowledging others' instead of dismissing them. And on life, Dev doesn't mind splurging on fine food and trips because he's earned his money on his own and understands the importance of enjoying the fruits of labor after laborius work.
Of course Dev is much more financially privileged than most people but that’s something Ansari openly admits himself and served as the inspiration for the working class episode, “New York, I Love You” in which everyday people in the background of city life are given a chance to have their stories told. One trait equally shared by the cab driver, the bodega cashier, and the doorman of the episode is that they make the best of out of their jobs regardless of how mundane it is and still manage to perform them with grace, not spite.
These characteristics aren't typically associated with millennials but for many older ones this is our humble and nuanced worldview. For us older millennials, we are wedged in-between extremely polarized generations that seem worlds apart on values and interpretations of how modern life should be. The difference for older millennials though, is that we aren't interested in picking a side and dismissing the other because we realize that being happily fulfilled in our lives takes enough energy as it is to worry too much on things we can't control. We also realize that it's ultimately something we are each accountable for on our own and not entitled to much of anything in this harsh world.
If Master of None feels full or heart and not overly political, that is precisely because it's told through the lens of older millenials. Hopefully more shows will follow its lead in displaying an alternative and more virtuous side of being a millennial.