In Which We Need To Subtly Tarnish Everything Around Us

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to or by dropping us a note at our tumblr.


My girlfriend Marilyn is a charismatic, loving and caring person. She does one thing that has grown to bother me over time. Whenever she is walking around the city, examining various buildings, she says one thing over and over again, “Who lives here?” with a quizzical tone.

I don’t know if she genuinely wonders who is living in the domiciles, or if she just thinks it’s a funny thing to say. I’ve told her in a nice way that she might want to give “Who lives here?” a rest for awhile, but she just thinks it’s a wonderful inside joke between us. How can I make her stop uttering these words?

Randolph B.

Dear Randolph,

“Who lives here?” seems a perfectly reasonable thing to say. Your girlfriend harbors a wonderful curiosity about the world and its denizens, and you may never find her ilk again.

Still, even the most introspective and important questions can get a bit grating if repeated often enough. In order to get her to stop asking, each time that she poses the question offer an intricate analysis of the residents’ socio-economic levels, day-to-day rituals, grocery shopping lists, possible medications and television viewing habits. Become accustomed to uttering the phrase, “Nielsen viewing patterns tell us…”

After a few times, she will never ask “Who lives here?” again. Did you know most sociologists are divorced?


My daughter recently became pregnant by her longtime boyfriend, Anthony. They decided that they should get married and had a bridal shower, bachelor party and a lovely wedding. The expense to our family was considerable, and even more so because my husband recently had to take a lower-paying job.

Last month I found out from my daughter that her and Anthony had not actually gotten legally married in this ceremony. When I confronted her about this lie, she blew me off and told me that “marriage means different things to different people.” Am I right to be upset?

Louise F.

Dear Louise,

No. The American Wedding Industry exists to take money from vulnerable, naive individuals such as yourself. Did you know that in some cultures, such as those of the Incans, a married couple was required to administer blow jobs to everyone who showed up at their nuptials? A gift bag was also provided.

You gave a gift of your own free will. If it was conditional on something, you should not have given it. If it bothers you that much, ask for your money back. You won’t get it, but everyone will know you’re an insanely gullible person whose devotion to cultural norms will only be eradicated through shock therapy or divorce.


I recently got into a very bad argument with my fiance Steven. In the wake of it, I have asked a lot of different people for advice about the argument in terms of who was wrong and who was right, and I feel like I still don’t know the right answer.

Most things are great with Steven, but one issue keeps coming up again and again with us, and that is his relationship with his mother. I try to understand how close he is with her, but I just feel he doesn’t put me first at times. Things came to a head when she had one of her many doctor’s appointments and he had to drive three hours so he would be there to take her.

While a serious medical issue is one thing, Steven’s mother Dorothy seems to be a bit of a hypochrodriac. She is nearly always developing a new ailment, and I can’t help but feel she does it to get attention from him, her husband David and even me at times. When I brought this up to Steven finally, he admitted that it might be true, but that his mom did have health issues and suggested she is understandably wanting to feel better.

I don’t know how to deal with this and not come across as the bad guy or overly controlling GF. Help.

Melanie T.

Dear Melanie,

Deconstructing the relationship between a boy and his mother is always difficult. Keep in mind, he literally emerged from her uterus. “Well,” you might say, “this was long ago.” No, it was not. It feels like just yesterday he was in the womb, deriving nutrients from the quinoa she was eating during her pregnancy.

Telling a man to change that relationship is never going to accomplish your goal. You need to subtly tarnish her in his eyes. Does she have any racist or politically incorrect views you can bring to his attention? Perhaps she fears men who wear hoodies, or foolishly purchased an Xbox One? Any anachronistic behavior makes her look like a crazy loon who needs her son too much.

It’s important to get a handle on this soon, Melanie. No one wants a Norma/Norman Bates type situation.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

“Perfect” – One Direction (mp3)

In Which Absolutely Nothing Is Taken For Granted



by Margo Jefferson
Pantheon, 248 pp

“There are so many ways to be ambushed by insult and humiliation,” writes Margo Jefferson in her new memoir Negroland. Reviews of the book so far focused on Jefferson’s class, implying that she had set out to write a history of the lives of upper class blacks in America.

There is that history here, but it is strange to call it the story of the bourgeoisie. When we tell the history of other peoples and places, focusing exclusively on the most wealthy and powerful people of the time seems pretty much conventional. With African-Americans, some special dispensation must be made.

Jefferson grew up in a white area of Chicago. She was one of the only black students in her school, and as such, she dealt with a condescending type of racism. It is this kind of subtle racism that has replaced the good old Confederate flag waving kind, for the most part.

When students at the University of Missouri confronted their president, they were aggrieved by his tone more than anything. They asked him whether he knew what systematic oppression was. He responded by saying, “I will give you an answer, and I’m sure it will be a wrong answer. Systematic oppression is when you don’t believe that you have the equal opportunity for success.”

In the first part of her book, Jefferson tells the stories of black Americans who achieved success in the white, racist world of early America. These are inspiring stories, in some cases moving ones, although Jefferson tells them with a scholarly distance that makes of them no more than the facts of their lives. The point of this approach is to pretend unbias — but we cannot really manage this, since every black person who lived during this time is a hero even for existing.

sky ride rest aiyc

“Nothing about us is taken for granted by anyone anywhere in the world,” Jefferson explains of a guided tour through the black magazines of the period around her youth. Ebony was set on explaining the black experience in a facile way, and looking back on the headlines from the time betrays the fact that there was no such consistent experience.

The story of Jefferson’s own life reiterates this message. She believes on some level that her tony upbringing isn’t representative, that it does not tell the full story, hence the inclusion of so many other histories as a preface to her own. She moves through each excruciating grade with a memory that exceeds most conscious descriptions of childhood.

In gorgeous prose she lays out the specific details, careful to avoid any and all cliche. There is a fear of being critiqued that haunts her writing, a preemptive self-critique that is at times welcome and in other moments a source of frustration. “We were the third race,” Jefferson explains at one point, though we know it is not true.

Ms. Jefferson was a profoundly unhappy high schooler. She remained on the outside circles of her cliques, orbiting them like a moon. “I crave the gift of recreational shallowness,” she admits, perhaps not entirely sincerely. Eventually she switches to telling her story of disillusion from a third person perspective, as though she is not herself at all.

In its last third, Negroland nearly dissolves in anger. In the absence of sense-making, the book becomes a spirited intellectual recollection of blackness, mostly avoiding Margo’s unhappy time at Brandeis. More history introduces on the ending of Negroland, as Jefferson decides exactly how pessimistic she should be about the immense volley of racism she has experienced, most of it underhanded and hinting, like the light stroke of a pen.

There is something more pernicious about such an assault. It is why freedom of speech remains valuable; for if we exterminated the most vile viewpoints from our society we would never know of this other, skulking racism that follows people of color from place to place. By the very end of her book, Jefferson has no idea what exactly led her to construct the sense of the self that she currently has. “It is too easy to recount unhappy memories,” she sighs, and tries to write something encouraging to make Negroland less of a eulogy. There is a feeling there beyond her exhortation to “Go on” that we have not come very far at all.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

12-28--new public housing

In Which We Travel Light In The Badlands

Death of Good Taste


Into The Badlands
creators Alfred Gough & Miles Millar

Bob Odenkirk and David Cross have a sketch in their new Netflix series W/Bob and David where a white director explains the genesis of his movie Better Roots. Ironically two white have also teamed up on the AMC network to launch their version of the slave story called Into the Badlands.

In this stock photo from 1821, helpers are happy.

Into the Badlands takes place on a massive plantation where young boys are either trained as ninjas or put to work in fields cultivating heroin. Young women aren’t allowed to become warriors, so they are exclusively limited to farmwork. Sonny (Daniel Wu) is the top slave (in David Cross’ terminology, “helper”) who has a tattoed mark on his back representing every person he has killed for his master (Martin Csokas).

Despite the extensive slave allegory, exactly one of the helpers is black. You can see him slightly to the right of Csokas in the above photograph. Recently Adam Sandler had a huge problem recruiting Native Americans to play a role in his offensive movie The Ridiculous Six, which coincidentally also will air on Netflix. They have entirely corned the market in racism and anti-racism.

It’s almost like he’s a conquering hero in the vein of a Don Johnson.

So why use all this plantation imagery if you aren’t actually going to include any black people or make any other reference to slavery except the plantation gear and southern accents? The creators of Into the Badlands can’t really be blamed for this bizarre mishmash of signification. I mean, were they to be expected to read Olaudah Equino or the provocative work of Phyllis Wheatley? There is no serious evidence that the people who wrote this show can read, period.

You know, a lot of people have been asking me what I thought of what happened at the University of Missouri this month. I settled down with a chai latte, in my finest robe, and read the list of demands that the black students there came up with. Nothing on their list seemed terribly drastic. I mean, I think they were asking for like ten percent of faculty to be professors of color and maybe for some outreach. The real reason the university fired their president was because the football team went on strike. It’s only the university at fault that the threat worked.

They probably should have just cast Andrew Lincoln and saved us all the trouble.

I’m happy that Lee Daniels made some money off Empire before he totaled it like a car for the insurance money, but I still think about Roots. For my younger readers, Roots was a miniseries that actually contained some of what African people experienced when they were dragged from their homes to this country. It did huge ratings on television; everyone was really into it although it was probably never merchandised like it should have been.

Roots was succesful because it was nothing that had ever been seen on television. Now violence is pretty de rigeur. Daniel Wu is an amazing stuntman and he kills about forty people in the pilot of Into the Badlands alone. To his credit, he is upset about it afterwards. In the mishmash world of Into the Badlands there are no guns, so there is no credible reason that there would even be slaves. Guns enabled slavery to happen in the absence of overwhelming force.

African-Americans aren’t the only victims of this tripe. A living woman does not appear until after twenty minutes of Into the Badlands. She is the wife of Martin Csokas’ Baron character and she is portrayed by Irish actress Orla Brady. Her husband is cheating on her with this trollop —

Rest assured that in this dystopian future, there is an H&M.

— but she accepts the situation because such is the plight of women on Into the Badlands. Make no mistake, creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar want you to know this is a corrupt and dangerous world. There is a place of hope that Daniel Wu and his lisping protege M.K. (Aramis Knight) are planning on reaching; it is roughly based off the plot of the fifth season of The Walking Dead. Evil women are set on foiling the plans of these men. One such individual is the Widow (Emily Beecham), who murdered her husband for power.

Or Norman Reedus? That would have been fine, too.

I am somewhat skeptical that anything positive will come of this. Into the Badlands might occur in a terrible place and time in human history, but there is no evidence that its masters realize just how bad things are. If you have sensed the allegory I am making to the University of Missouri, you are probably next in line for your own AMC series.

“This is just an extended audition for another show, right? Otherwise I have a blog on Medium about how offensive this is ready to go.”

The funny thing is that in a previous generation, college protestors asked for a complete turnover of a new world order and soldiers brought home from endless military engagement abroad. Now kids are only asking for the people driving around their campus with Confederate flags to be expelled, and that’s too much. Perhaps they could include on their list of demands the cancellation of Into the Badlands. (The whole thing was in rather poor taste, although Daniel Wu’s martial arts stunts were admittedly impressive.) It is no problem satisfying American youths today. I am ready to become the next president of the University of Missouri. That’s an easy fucking job.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.

“Lonely One” – Anna Ternheim (mp3)

“Keep Me In The Dark” – Anna Ternheim (mp3)

In Which We Are The Most Sympathetic Character In The Affair

Into the Canyon


The Affair
creators Sarah Treem and Hagai Levi

The concept of a trigger warning was invented by the ancient Greeks, who placed cautionary notices before the most disturbing of Sophocles’ plays. For the past 100 years white males who never served in the military have not required advanced warning of the flashbacks brought on by the consumption of descriptions or portrayals of traumatic acts.

Then came Noah Solloway (Dominic West), whose life is every white man’s nightmare. Despite being married to an exciting, sexy woman named Helen (Maura Tierney) who had an ample trust find and creating four not-so-wonderful children with her, Noah was unhappy. He started up with a waitress named Alison (Ruth Wilson). The first season of The Affair largely consisted of the sex he had with her and how mediocre Alison’s own marriage with Cody (Joshua Jackson) seemed in comparison to the intercourse. The first season ended with everything exposed and Noah wanting to be with his mistress full-time.

The second season of The Affair finds Noah and Alison living at a guest house secured by the publisher of his forthcoming book. As with the first season, The Affair reviews the same events from the different perspectives of each character. The first season limited this to Noah and Alison’s viewpoints during their infidelity, but the second season includes their spurned partners in the story, Helen and Cody.

Tierney became well-known in the 1990s through roles on the sitcom Newsradio and ER. She was great as Noah’s wife in season one, but we had trouble understanding who exactly she was, what she did that made it so easy for Noah to dump her for a younger, more sensual paramour. This season Helen Solloway has emerged as the signature star of The Affair, a performance that culminated in a masterful episode where she drank to excess, took a “pot lozenge”, and accidentally crashed a car with her young children inside.

Amazingly, Helen came out of all this even more sympathetic than she has before. The Affair does a perfect job describing a phenomenon that has never before been accurately portrayed in the television medium: how something ostensibly good can be terrible, and something awful on the surface might actually be for the best.

Here is what I mean: in the wake of his separation from Helen, Noah seems to be doing everything right. He has finally finished his long-awaited second novel, Descent, and he is in a love relationship that actually pleases him. Due to Helen’s accident and arrest, full co-custody of his children is granted to Noah, and his soon-to-be ex-wife is even paying his attorney’s fees to defend him from a vehicular homicide charge. Things could not be going better for him.

Yet on the inside, Noah is corrupt. He goes to visit Alison at a yuppie retreat and fucks her up against a tree in an abrasive scene that rubs up against sexual violence in a disturbing way. When we aren’t right in our love relationship, The Affair seems to be suggesting, everything else is destined to fall apart. Being white, rich and gorgeous, guys like Noah usually get away with his crimes, but watching The Affair, we know better. His punishment is his life.

As Alison, Ruth Wilson was a bit out of place in season one. She was so clearly not from Long Island that it was a bit silly to see her as a native Montauk girl. In season two, the show’s writers have been able to dig a bit deeper into who she is, and Wilson has responded by massively improving her own acting. Because of the loss of her son (to secondary drowning) Alison was already the show’s most sympathetic character, but she suffers even further here. The rich couple she works for treats her horribly, and Noah is barely better. She has not made the best choices, but plenty were made for her.

Dominic West also has been astonishing this season. He was always great at anguish, but here his Noah is often spare and repressed. When he becomes angry he is frightening, but we are not scared simply by the depth of his rage. Rather, it is more at his ability to manage his anger, to integrate it seemlessly into who he is.

Noah’s friend Max pursues a relationship with his ex-wife without Noah’s knowledge, and gives him $50,000 in order to expedite the process of their divorce so that he can be with Helen. When she is filled in on the plan, she rejects the entire premise, and is drawn closer to her ex-husband through the sudden illness of their son Martin.

The scenes in which Noah and Helen meet with a mediator to settle the distribution of their assets are filled with tension and excitement. The Affair is most captivating when it focuses on the little horrors, when it completely avoids the soapy revelations of the Rimes-universe. Simple things like going out for lunch are fraught with a kind of dread that other serial dramas fail to approach in screaming denouements.

West found success with his portrayal of the morally solid cop at the heart of HBO’s The Wire, but in the role of Noah he has found something even more complex to sink into, to inhabit totally like a second skin. So many of the scenes where Noah discusses his view of writing are cringeworthy, but this is intentional — Noah is a semi-professional at everything, and there is no arena of his life where he feels completely at home.

Such a person — a fraud, but only sort of — is refreshing when we are used to seeing individuals at the peak of their powers. Even Don Draper, for being a distressing mess, did have some underlying speck of genius to salvage his life. Noah Solloway does not even have that.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Fields, No Body” – Matt Bauer (mp3)

In Which She Is Not Like Any Of The Other Wives

the bruins losssst

Restaurant Men


Dorothea Lange, 26, featured a high pitched voice and a pronounced limp. She made her living from portrait photography. She set a price and never haggled over it; no one quibbled with the results. For example:

various magaragarita

from 1932

They called it the slipper club. All of the photographer Dorothea Lange’s friends were Jews; exiled for a second time from the mostly gentile areas of Nob, Russian, and Telegraph Hills in San Francisco to Pacific Heights. Lange was not herself among the chosen people, but all her friends were. (They were as far from the immigrant Jews in the Fillmore as they were from the gentiles in the wealthier neighborhoods.)

The slipper club, so named because Dorothea gave all her closest ones footwear as a gift, met outside the circles of power due to the vagaries of a parlor anti-Semitism. They talked of gardening, the arts, their relationships…. It was through these people that Dorothea met the artist who would become her first husband, Maynard Dixon.


Maynard Dixon, 45, worked a pot-smoking illustrator whose sketches were featured in magazines with great frequency. His typical day involved waking up in the afternoon, getting high, and sampling the best of San Francisco’s world cuisine. After the earthquake of 1906, he and his friends perserved in their lifestyle, almost amongst the rubble. Their neighborhood was called the Monkey Block, and it was razed in 1959 to build the TransAmerica Pyramid. Nobody was in a position to complain by then.

Maynard showed Dorothea the “real” California. He loved wide open spaces, and his representations of Arizona and New Mexico during the period remain quite captivating. She was immediately attracted to his cowboy good looks, his way around children. Her own concept of style always accentuated her natural beauty and minimized her defects. Despite her infirmity, brought on by a childhood bout of polio, she could hike and picnic, dragging her right leg on the ground when she was tired. The only thing she could not do was run.

They were married in her studio in March of 1920. He wore a cape, a black Stetson and wielded a carved swordcane with a stiletto. Their marriage invigorated his artistic career; he completed 140 paintings during the first five years of matrimony, and his reputation as a talented muralist at first grew and grew. The fact that he was nearing 50 as she approached 30, initially a source of Dorothea’s apprehension, did not seem to matter a whit.

While others viewed Dorothea as a strong-willed entrepreneur, she did not mind how Maynard saw her. This was as a gorgeous young flower, a precious thing that could not be corrupted — but one had to try. He cheated on her with other women, often on long trips to the California wilderness he loved. Part of the reason the relationship sustained despite Maynard’s imperfections was the fact the two kept their own lives.

maynard dixon photo

Near the end of her life she said of him, “Maynard was a restaurant man, a raconteur, a striking personality, graceful, had style, wit and originality. Much of the wit was defensive. Women loved him.” Despite his considerable flaws, she viewed her new husband as an incandescent flame, and was most taken aback when his 12 year old daughter Consie Dixon came to live with them.

As a young child, Consie had been mistreated by her mother. At her stepdaughter’s age, Dorothea stood out as helpful, kind and resourceful. In contrast Consie resisted her every directive, and found Dorothea’s obsessiveness over her home frightening. (In later years, Dorothea would drop her sons in foster care while she travelled with Maynard and her second husband, Paul Taylor.) Maynard simply expected his new wife to care for the girl, who else would do it? To fill the hours with Consie, Dorothea began taking her picture. It looked like this:

consie dixon

consie dixon circa 1920

In light of the fact a child already lived in their home, Maynard and Dorothea used birth control with alacrity. By the age of 29, she decided it was time to have a child of her own, and she gave Maynard two sons. Tensions with Consie temporarily abated when the girl got a job as a reporter for the San Francisco Examiner days after she turned 19. It was the onset of the Depression that would ultimately lose Consie that job and destroy her father’s marriage.

Maynard’s latent anti-Semitism had driven away most of his patrons, and when the art market in San Francisco collapsed, he could no longer sell his murals to anyone. After losing her job, Consie moved to Taos, New Mexico, and encouraged her parents to follow. Trouble quickly emerged in their new landing spot — neither Maynard or Dorothea had any idea how to drive a car. Maynard broke his jaw flipping over the family’s first vehicle.


Taos, New Mexico

Even after that, Maynard tolerated the wide-open spaces of Taos far better than his wife. Dorothea had lost her clientele, her footwear association and the city she loved. The husband noticed none of his wife’s unhappiness, and even after agreeing to a move back to San Francisco, the marriage would only last three more years. Dorothea observed in a profile of the family published in the San Francisco News that “an artist’s wife accepts the fact that she has to contend with many things that other wives do not.” She had her friends again.

Ellen Copperfield is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She last wrote in these pages about Marlon Brando. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

with tharrrr sons

“Lord Willin'”- Logic (mp3)

“City of Stars” – Logic (mp3)

In Which We Hope You Can Still Be Friends

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to


My husband Anselm has always included me as a character in his poetry. His work is frequently whimsical, and every so often somewhat humbling. I try not to take offense, because it is his work.

Because of his encouragement, I have begun participating in a writing workshop at a local community college. Some of the prompts ask us to fictionalize real-life situations. Anselm read one of my short pieces and saw himself in the persona of a controlling man. It really wasn’t based on him – at least not consciously. He says this is rather different from his depictions of me, since they are all flattering.

Do we have a responsibility to whitewash our paramours, and how can I get him off my back about this?

Tova B.


Just tell your husband that you love him very much, but that you were only in love with the person who was not a hypocrite. Poetry about someone’s significant other is pretty much always shit. I am tryin to think of an exception to this rule and failing, kind of Lorine Niedecker and sometimes William Carlos Williams. Although those poems mostly had a residue of sadness and despair.

There is no such thing as a good “whimsical” poem, just an extremely literary stand-up comedian. (If your husband also beat-boxes, that would extend an extra layer of credibility to his appropriation.)

In contrast, the entire purpose of fiction was for the people writing it to discover how the feel about the world. You have expressed something you did not actually know on a conscious level – that your husband is a tool who makes John Mayer look like Pierre Reverdy. Normally the act of simply denying all wrongdoing is enough, but here it is probably best to double down.

Explain that your therapist suggested you express your concerns in a safe space. Lately, the mere mention of said space is enough to get anyone what they want. Emphasize that if your concerns are not addressed, you will be making Anselm a villain who cuts off the ambition of young women everywhere by severing one toe at a time from their feet. Be sure to mention that the prose style will be reminiscent of a young Donna Tartt, and leave the room with a bow.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen. Access This Recording’s mobile site at


“Alone No More” – Philip George ft. Anton Powers (mp3)

In Which We Were A Credit To The Human Race

Praise Him


Master of None is Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series about his life in New York City. The big takeaways from his life as an actor and comedian are the following:

There is a lot of racism directed at Southeast Asian people.

Aziz Ansari is one hell of a guy.

Women aren’t always nice to him.

He spends a lot of time texting, perhaps more than is healthy.

Isn’t he wonderful?

There is hagiography, which is what they did to Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs was the most implausible movie in recent memory, and could not even be salvaged by Michael Fassbender’s penis, which never made so much as a floppy appearance. Steve Jobs made an asshole seem not so bad, but Master of None makes a normal guy into the world’s biggest martyr.

Ansari ostensibly plays up-and-coming actor Dev on Master of None, but it is basically himself, except he never says so much as one word wrong. Dev is generous to his friends and kind to his family. He even sets up his dad’s iPad, and is so sweet to his co-stars on a movie called The Sickening. We have moved beyond hagiography into simple worship of Mr. Ansari.

Women are the only creatures placed on a higher pedestal. Dev worships them, in turn, like princesses. He wants to know all about their jobs and lives, in hopes of generating some kind of magic that will lead him into the type of relationship his parents enjoyed. When he rediscovers the pleasures of a Jewish girl with whom he had sloppy sex a few months back, he’s elated until she confirms she is trying to work things out with an ex-boyfriend. Even though he did not call her after the sex, he is crushed by her rejection.

Dev’s friend Denise (Dear White People‘s Lena Waithe) is a lesbian who hangs out with Dev and his male friends. They have many similar interests, including their passion for sharing strategies about getting laid. Dev’s other buddies are Brian (Kelvin Yu), a handsome Taiwanese-American, and Arnold (Eric Wareheim dressed as a post-prison Jared Fogle). He talks to them about what he should do to make these women like and respect him. While his friends genuinely care for him, Ansari’s paramours seem about as concerned with him as a chef is with the feelings of an egg.

His hopeless travails finding love represent the only flaw Aziz has. Ansari dedicates one whole episode to letting us know how much he appreciates everything his parents did for him. A lengthy flashback reviews the struggles his parents endured to make a better life for him in the United States. He is enriched by their sacrifice.

In another episode, Ansari takes a waitress named Alice to a secret Father John Misty concert. She ends up stealing someone’s jacket and getting kicked out of the venue. This is what he gets for doing something nice, and he is enriched by her sacrifice.

It is a credit to Aziz that he never accuses women of harboring any racism towards him. Amazingly this never comes up in his massive, wikipedia-level book about love, Modern Romance. As much as the book was a terrible chore interspersed with the funniest parts of his stand-up act, Master of None is completely charming.

The reason for the disparity in quality is that Ansari is not much of a prose writer; instead he is a captivating performer. The rest of the cast seems carefully selected not to show him up in any way, and their lessening works — Ansari’s charisma makes every scene compelling, no matter how slight. He revisits the boredom and humor of a career in acting in a much more entertaining way than was found during the entire run of Ricky Gervais’ Extras.

Perhaps most refreshing is that Ansari never relies on sight gags, one-liners, profanity or gross-outs to create his comedy, even though some of those things were obviously a part of the fun in his stand-up act. Every single laugh here is because of an extensed investment in who Dev is, a magnificent creature who should be celebrated by humanity, possibly with a statue?

Ansari’s adopted hometown of New York does not come across nearly as well. (The comedian was born and raised in South Carolina.) In the most accurate depiction of the place to date, New York is a city in decline. Indoor scenes are depressing and dark, the daytime jaunts are overexposed and painfully bright. Not one single place is suitable for hiding. There is no counter-culture left in the entirety of New York City, a situation analogous to Rome before the fall. There is only a bourgeois way of living that Aziz correctly analyzes as neither masculine or feminine, progressive or regressive. It is just slow-motion.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

“Writing’s On The Wall” – Sam Smith (mp3)