Pres­tige cli­che

National Post (Latest Edition) - - SPORTS - A­lys­s Rosen­berg

With so many fic­tion­al misan­thropes on of­fer at present, it takes a very spe­cial one to com­pete for at­ten­tion. And the awk­ward cou­ple of Love, Mick­ey ( Gil­li­an Jacobs), a sat­el­lite ra­dio pro­ducer, and Gus (Paul Rust), an as­pir­ing tele­vi­sion pro­du­cer who tu­tors the young star on a su­per­natur­al show, don’t quite make the cut. But Love does serve one use­ful func­tion, mak­ing it clear that the guide­lines for com­ed­ies with as­pir­a­tions to the pres­tige la­bel have be­come as clear as the anti- hero re­quire­ment that has be­come such a drag on pres­tige dra­mas.

Dra­mas sig­nal their in­ten­tions to some­thing great­er by em­bra­cing the idea that — as West­ley ( Cary El­wes) put it in The Prin­cess Bride — “Life is pain, high­ness. Any­one who says dif­fer­ent­ ly is sell­ing some­thing” and punc­tu­at­ing the senti­ment with a de­capi­tat­ed head or a shat­tered skull. In pres­tige com­ed­ies, by con­trast, life is glum and of­ten, life is grubby. Louis C. K.’s heirs, male and fe­male alike, have de­veloped their own cliches just as sure­ly as have the sons of Tony So­prano.

Take the pro­tag­on­ists, who will be ar­rested in their de­velop­ment, off- kil­ter or in some way de­ter­mined to self-sabo­tage. On her com­edy Girls, Lena Dun­ham plays Han­nah Hor­vath, a char­ac­ter who seems de­signed to em­body ever pos­sible nega­tive cli­che about mil­len­ni­als in or­der to pro­voke ex­treme re­ac­tions from the peo­ple who like to stereo­type them. In FX’s Bas­kets, Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis wash­es out of French clown school, pro­pos­es to a woman af­ter de­clar­ing how poor­ly his life is go­ing and ends up work­ing as a rodeo clown in his home­town of Ba­kers­field, Calif. Now in Love, Mick­ey is an ob­vi­ous drug ad­dict who shuf­fles around in­flict­ing her mis­ery on other peo­ple.

The more i n­t er­e s t ­i ng shows in this cat­egory tend to source their pro­tag­on­ists’ al­ler­gic re­ac­tions to ev­ery­day life and their dif­fi­cul­ties in­ter­act­ing with oth­ers to deep and in­ter­est­ing wells. The titu­lar char­ac­ter in Louie is a seek­er, hop­ing to in­ter­ro­gate his own mas­cu­lin­ity as he rais­es two daugh­ters. On You’re The Worst, mu­sic publi­cist Gretchen’s ( Aya Cash) slov­en­ly apart­ment and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour prove to be lead­ing indi­ca­tors of her per­sis­tent clin­ic­al de­pres­sion. And in Trans­par­ent, the Pf­ef­fer­mans act out in ways that al­low them to ex­plore their sex­u­al­ity, gen­der iden­ti­ties and Jew­ish roots.

But in less­er shows and epi­sodes, sour­ness and an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour seems to be the point. It’s a teenage vi­sion of re­bel­lion and au­thenti­city, an ado­les­cent exis­ten­tial­ism. Kiss­ing your boss to avoid be­ing fired or or­de­r­ing fancy French soda at a driv­ethrough doesn’t make you hero­ic or truth­ful; it kind of just makes you a jerk.


Sex on th­ese come­dies of­ten comes across as a sim­i­larly grim af­fair, whether the girls of Girls are hav­ing it on grubby thrifted couches or in tiny New York kitchens; Mickey is let­ting a co­caine ad­dict she’d rather dump pound away on her in the hopes that it will make him go away; Louie is wad­ing through a se­ries of doomed en­coun­ters with his friend Pamela (Pamela Ad­lon); Lind­say ( Kether Dono­hue) is em­bark­ing on a se­ries of hookups in an at­tempt to de­stroy her mar­riage on You’re The Worst; or Josh Pf­ef­fer­man ( Jay Du­plass) is seek­ing out Rita ( Brett Pae­sel), the babysit­ter who mo- lested him when he was a teenager in Trans­par­ent.

Again, the best of th­ese shows man­age to mine some­thing rich and rare out of their louch­eness and sex­ual dis­com­fort.

One of the many things that makes Aziz An­sari and Alan Yang’s Netflix se­ries Mas­ter of None such a cool drink of wa­ter, be­yond the show’s al­ready- wel­come ca­sual di­ver­sity, friend­ships be­tween men and women and ex­per­i­ments with form and nar­ra­tive pac­ing, is the sense of health, op­ti­mism and ef­fort that per­vades the se­ries.

Dev (An­sari) is still in the early years of his ca­reer as an ac­tor, but he’s work­ing to move be­yond com­mer­cial work with fo­cus and dili­gence. His apart­ment may not be large, but it’s clean and fur­nished in a way that sug­gests a man who has both in­ter­ests and a per­sonal aes­thetic. His friend­ships with Arnold (Eric Ware­heim), Denise (Lena Waithe) and Brian (Kelvin Yu) are deep and easy, de­fined by shared ex­pe­ri­ence and mu­tual cu­rios­ity about each other rather than self-sab­o­tag­ing com­pe­ti­tion.

And when Dev be­gins dat­ing Rachel, with whom he has an abortive en­counter in the show’s pi­lot, he does so with clear in­ten­tions, an open heart and an en­dear­ing, al­most old­fash­ioned, amount of ef­fort. They may have fallen into bed the night they met, but their path into love is any­thing but sloppy. Af­ter Rachel breaks up with her boyfriend for good, Dev takes her on a care­fully cu­rated week­end trip to Nashville where she ac­com­mo­dates his lust for bar­be­cue and he ad­justs to the fact that she’s a veg­e­tar­ian. When they move in to­gether in the episode Morn­ings, Mas­ter of None mines drama from their ef­forts to build a life to­gether, with all the in­evitable fights over the piles of clothes she leaves on the floor and the Cam­pari-sticky glasses he aban­dons on the kitchen counter. And when Dev and Rachel break up, it’s Rachel’s house­warm­ing gift to Dev, a pasta-maker, that helps him fig­ure out how to move on.

Mak­ing Dev a rel­a­tively func­tional adult not prone to dra­matic acts of self-sab­o­tage closes off cer­tain sources of plot and drama for Mas­ter of None. He’s not prone to scream­ing fights with Rachel, or ab­surd, im­ma­ture spats with Arnold, Denise and Brian, or cliched fights with his par­ents. But there are com­pen­sa­tions. When Dev faces a ma­jor de­ci­sion in his ca­reer or per­sonal life, the con­flicts on Mas­ter of None take on gen­uine weight: His de­ci­sions are hard be­cause be­ing a func­tional, in­ter­est­ing and in­ter­ested, am­bi­tious and kind-hearted grownup is a gen­uinely chal­leng­ing thing.


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