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Kill Your TV: Master of None 

Wednesday, Dec 30 2015
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"It's not just, like, a regular

selfie," says my 16-year-old niece. "You have to pose for the picture in the moment ... like, thought to thought, expression to expression."

She is describing why she likes Snapchat better than Facebook. Your facial expression has to match whatever you might be thinking in that second, to match your commentary on said thought. While a normal text with a picture might display a face that reads, "Eww! This Hot Pocket tastes like crap," on Snapchat, we have the Hot Pocket first heading towards the mouth, then the first nibble, then the furrowed brow, then the creeping horror, and finally the realization that it is not anything you want to be eating. Each post disappears soon after, a testament to ephemerality.

"Sounds like a lot of work," is all I can come up with in reply. Jesus ... every second of one's life now has to be reduced to a selfie? In my day, we would speak to each other in real-time, selfie after selfie after selfie all blending into one cohesive conversation, like magic. It makes sense that teens love this platform: Snapchat is the equivalent of posing in front of a mirror for hours, having fake conversations with yourself to see what you look like when you're talking to a cute guy. (Not that I have ever done that. Or still do that. Nope.)

I can't help but wonder if shows like Netflix's Master of None are the result of the social media zeitgeist or if there have always been shows about the mundane inner and outer workings of someone's life. Am I just bewitched by Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram? Seinfeld was supposedly "a show about nothing," and it existed before technology elevated banality to an art form. But surely Jerry would have tweeted all day long about run-ins with Newman; George would have posted status updates about his fantastic idea to combine sex, food, and TV into one decadent orgy; and Elaine would have decried the demise of the Today Sponge on Instagram, capturing that one last box on the shelf. (There's a Twitter handle, @SeinfeldToday, that does just that.)

Aziz Ansari is the protagonist of Master of None, a deft rom-com that is receiving as much praise as the book he released this year, Modern Romance: An Investigation. The plotline follows his life as a struggling actor in New York who finds himself stereotypically pegged as whatever Indian character a script calls for. In the meantime, he's busy falling in love and sorting out friendship issues. Pretty basic stuff, but it becomes extraordinary when there's great comedic writing and a central character you care about — just as with social media. Some people's moment-to-moment lives and thoughts are worth capturing; others ... nah. Often, the people who share the most have the least to say — witness pharma-douche Martin Shkreli's five-and-a-half-hour live streams. But Master of None stands out.

Perhaps it's the single-camera style that makes me think of social media — everything in Ansari's world is filtered through his own lens. He posits questions (Do I want kids? Do I want to get married?) whose answers emerge before our eyes as the show progresses, a.k.a. the Hot Pocket Snapchat Effect. We watch him grow up and learn, just like a teenager on Instagram figuring out she really never wants to go to a rock-climbing gym again, slowly played out over a series of Snaps in one afternoon. Or someone like me, who finally decided that Star Wars nerds are so much more tolerable than hippie vegan progressive types — an epiphany that played out in a moment of pique on Facebook.

What separates social media entertainment from television entertainment is that TV always has to deliver. Your friends do not. I suppose if they offend you enough you can block them, or unfollow, but they won't lose funding. A TV show must not only keep its followers, but go viral. To do so it must hit us in the feels, make us laugh, and keep us wanting more. Frame by frame, thought by thought, culminating in some sort of dramatic climax: "This Hot Pocket tastes like crap." Snap. Or, "I'm not ready to get married." Snap.

"I can't believe it's almost 2016 already." Snap.

"I eagerly await for next season of Master of None." Snap.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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