Saturday, November 14, 2015

Am I Getting Too Old For This?

master-of-noneThis isn’t a review of the show I’m going to be talking about because I broke one of my cardinal rules of reviewing anything. I suppose you could call it more of a musing about the universe and my place as an amateur TV critic, as revealed by my reaction to a new show.

I signed up for Netflix a couple of months ago. There’s a whole story about being Canadian streaming video and how it’s a different experience from the one that Americans face, but that’s for another time. Generally the Netflix experience has been an enjoyable one even though I haven’t been binge watching every show available on on the service, the way we’re apparently supposed to. I usually end up watching one or two shows a night, depending on the night, but sticking with them until I’ve seen all of the available episodes.

Saturday night, after watching Ocean’s 13 (nowhere near as enjoyable as either version of Ocean’s 11 or even Ocean’s 12) I decided that I felt like a comedy. I’ve gone through the first season of Grace & Frankie which I loved so I decided that I’d try Aziz Ansari’s new series Master Of None. I had seen the rave reviews that the series had received from everybody from the New York Times to Vogue Magazine which basically called it hilarious and the greatest thing since sliced bread, or at least the greatest comedy of this year (okay, so admittedly that’s not a high bar to clear based on what the broadcast networks came up with this season. Or last season. I figured I’d give it a try and see what all the fuss was about.

I watched about half the first episode.

That’s why I’m not reviewing Master of None; my cardinal rule of reviewing anything is that you can’t give an informed opinion of anything if you only experience a portion of if. What I can tell you is why I stopped watching it. I didn’t find it funny. More importantly I didn’t find anything or anyone that I could latch onto that could hold my interest. Ansari and the three characters at the start of the episode (after his little tryst and subsequent trip to the pharmacy) were self-absorbed, self-involved, self-satisfied a--holes. There discussion of children and the impact that having children would have was enough to make me want to bludgeon all three of them so that they wouldn’t have children. An example of this was when Ansari was talking about how being a parent would keep him from having pasta. He wants pasta but having a kid means that he has to stay at home to look after the kid so he can’t have pasta. When it’s pointed out that people with kids actually have pasta, the response is that they’re just eating their kid’s Spaghetti-os. I managed to make it a few minutes longer to when Ansari and his buddy Brian were at the party for a one year-old (Brian hogs the bouncy house and gets mad because a kid in there prevents him from getting “his bounce on”) before I said to hell with this and looked for an episode of What’s My Line (with Fred Allen!) on YouTube.

The thing I look for when I’m watching most TV shows is something to hold my interest. This is usually a character that I can feel some empathy for, or sympathy for, or a situation that catches my interest. That’s what got me hooked on The Big Bang Theory from the start; I felt an empathy for Leonard being in love with someone who – at least at the beginning – had no romantic feelings for him. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt too many times. The initial mystery got me into How To Get Away With Murder, but I dropped the show recently – after the initial mystery was solved – because I didn’t like any of the characters. Actually I thought that all of the main characters should be arrested and have the keys to their cells thrown away. Having eliminated the thing that got me interested in the show it had to hold me with the characters and it didn’t have any characters that I felt any empathy or sympathy for. As far as Master of None goes, I felt nothing for Ansari or his friend who monopolized the bouncy house which was as far as I got into the regular characters.

So here’s the thing. I know I have the right to say that I didn’t like what I saw of this show. I can express a personal opinion just as well as anyone.The fact that I can give reasons – or at least I can reasonably cogently explain – why I dislike the show is even better. The problem I have is with being the voice in the wilderness; the guy who says “I hate this,” when everyone else says that “this is genius.” It bothers me because I want to know why I am this out of step with things.

(By the way I’m not kidding about “everyone” liking this show. It has an approval rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and a score of 91 on Metacritics with all 28 critical reviews being positive.)

There are probably a lot of reasons why I didn’t rave about this show. I have always stated that I don’t really like most comedies, with a particular distaste for Seinfeld and shows that remind me of it (and boy did Master of None remind me of Seinfeld). Then, as I have said, there is the high annoyance factor that I felt about the characters that I’ve seen. Maybe the show and Ansari would have shown me something if I’d watched more of the episode or a different episode of the series or more episodes of the series? Maybe you have to watch all ten episodes to truly appreciate the show’s genius. The question then becomes whether that is necessarily a good thing, but that’s an issue for another time. Clearly I don’t know enough about the show to deliver a truly informed impression, which is why I didn’t label this as a review of the show.

But there is a nagging doubt in my mind, and that is that I can’t truly appreciate this show because at 59 years of age I am far away from being the target audience of this show. Mark Peikert of The Wrap wrote the following: “Master of None is more articulate than any other show at putting under a microscope that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence. The series also happens to be sexy, hilarious, and very moving, a tribute to Ansari’s observational powers and ability to pinpoint the zeitgeist.” But if the reason that I can’t appreciate this show is because I can’t insinuate myself into “that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence,” is it valid for me to try to review shows for a general audience?

5 comments:

Toby O'B said...

I didn't realize you were back in the game!

Good post, but now I'm a little worried about checking out this series. When P&R first started, I couldn't stand his character, but the writers must have sanded off the rough edges before I finally came back to it, but even so I still found a little of him on screen was for the best....

Well, if I don't like it, no worries. Only a few more days until 'Jessica Jones' and I'm still working through 'Alpha House' on Amazon.....

Todd Mason said...

Of course, too respond to your final question.. Because there's a whole lot of log-rolling going on. The consensus of shallowness. Now, I've never enjoyed an episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY, but can see why others might. The early seasons of SEINFELD were pretty to very good, by me, but the latter seasons were incredibly rote and inane, all but unwatchable. THREE'S COMPANY and WHAT'S HAPPENING!! were the two worst long-running US tv series of the 1970s (excluding the likes of JIMMY SWAGGART and THE 700 CLUB). These are not popular assessments. Does that make them invalid, or even less than useful? Of course not.

One thing you can always be sure of, you are not alone in any qualitative opinion about nearly anything.

Annie said...

I knew I couldn't be the only one watching old What's My Line episodes. (Also To Tell the Truth)

rs4800s said...

Good post!

Blakeney said...

"But if the reason that I can’t appreciate this show is because I can’t insinuate myself into 'that generation’s neuroses, desires, and ambivalence,' is it valid for me to try to review shows for a general audience?"

It's more than valid. It's why you must. More and more of what passes for "entertainment" is becoming increasingly standardized drek. And it often seems that fans and professional critics alike are being led by the nose. Lena Dunham announces that she is the voice of feminism for this generation? Why, it must be gospel truth! GoT isn't a sensationalist excuse for gratuitous violence and soft core pornography - it's a brilliant study of dynastic struggles. Everybody says so!

Meanwhile there are those of us out in the darkness desperately hoping that someone will announce that The Emperor is naked. We draw courage from voices like yours.

Fresh voices, different voices, contrary voices. Long may they live and continue to be heard.