I want to love “Ladies and Gentlemen.” I really do. The episode puts Aziz Ansari’s Madison Square Garden material on gender-based harassment to good use. It is the only episode in the first season that features women in the writing credits (Sarah Peters and Zoe Jarman wrote the teleplay), and one of two episodes with a female director (Lynn Shelton)—that’s not necessarily a knock against an auteur project like Master of None, mind you, but it’s nice as a viewer to get a brief vacation from the more closely authored episodes. And so far, some of this show’s best work has come when it tackles social issues like immigration, racism and tokenism. An episode about the differences in men’s and women’s life experiences? Master of None should be up to that task.
But maybe this episode should have two grades: one for the subset of men who do not understand the pervasiveness of sexism, and one for people who are already on board with its message.
I already know what it’s like to be followed by a creep. I already know that “nice guys” are often not so nice. I already know that I have to set my Instagram to private to avoid stalking. And I already know about all the little, often subconscious slights that many men don’t even notice. In that sense, “Ladies and Gentlemen” doesn’t feel like it’s for me. It’s more a work of sympathy than one of empathy. But that is, I suppose, part of the episode’s point, which it builds to after Dev defends his Garden Depot commercial director to Rachel after he doesn’t acknowledge her at a table, but shakes Arnold’s hand: There are things about being a woman that you don’t and can’t understand unless you are one.
The opening of the episode presents a contrast between Dev and Arnold walking home after a night at the bar with no concern for their safety and Dev’s commercial co-star Diana (Condola Rashad) walking home in the middle of the street, anxiously looking over her shoulder, keeping 911 ready to dial on her phone. It’s a solid conceit but the execution is heavy-handed. “Don’t Worry Be Happy” plays over Dev and Arnold’s sections to stress how carefree their traipse through the park at night can be, while Diana’s sections get a horror-themed score. Dev steps in dog poop while Diana has to call the cops because a “nice guy” followed her home. It’s true to life, yes, but the framing is needlessly contrived.
The rest of the episode follows Dev’s feminist awakening on the set of the Garden Depot commercial, which ultimately ends in him losing his part to Diana after all of his talk actually pays off. “Is there another direction where I don’t get fired and lose a bunch of money?” Dev asks the director after he learns that he inspired the commercials “new direction.” It’s a fun twist that makes the episode’s subtlest point: In some cases, correcting power imbalances means someone loses power. It’s not pretty but, then again, neither is sexism.
The episode’s central plot is lacking but it is buoyed up by two delightful subplots: Arnold helps Rachel buy a couch off Craigslist, and Denise and Dev successfully pull off a citizen’s arrest on a subway masturbator. These misadventures are allowed to go off the rails, to result in unexpected interactions like Arnold kissing a couch (“I love you, couch”) or Dev having an awkward conversation with a police officer about texting video evidence of the subway creep into the station. Master of None can sometimes feel afraid to go zany and that’s understandable—in a post-Parks world, an Ansari vehicle should take care to dial back. But it’s still so fun in the midst of this very urbane show full of swanky restaurants and intelligent dialogue to watch Ansari jump across a subway car and shout, “Stop what you’re doing! This is a citizen’s arrest!”
Master of None needs these moments and “The Other Man” proved that they don’t have to be incompatible with the show’s polish. I just wish that “Ladies and Gentlemen” had more of them, and fewer things I already knew.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.