Master Of None

“Religion” opens with a montage of resistant kids being dragged by their parents to their respective places of worship. Including a diverse array of religions (including Scientology, which heightens the humor a little too much), the montage suggests a widely relatable concept. But as it zooms in on Dev, starting with his childhood discovery of bacon and the fact that he isn’t allowed to eat it due to his religion, “Religion” ends up telling a much more specific story, acting as a quasi-sequel to season one’s “Parents.” It’s similarly both sweeping and personal in its portrayal of Dev and his cousin reconciling with their parents’ religion.

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“Religion” does tap into some more universal ideas about religion and family. Dev’s friends Denise (Lena Waithe) and new character Tanvi (Lakshmi Sundaram) share their respective experiences with religion, with Denise pointing out that some of her more religious family members didn’t take kindly to her coming out. But “Religion” also grapples with intersecting aspects of Dev’s identity as a second-generation immigrant in an Islam-practicing Indian family. It’s as much about Dev’s life as a second-generation young person as it is about religion. The two are inextricable for Dev. The pressure on him to pretend he’s more religious than he actually is when around family is tied to the relationship with his parents so poignantly and complexly explored in “Parents.”

Dev’s auntie, uncle, and cousin Navid (Harris Gani) visit for Eid, Dev’s father reminding him he needs to perform piousness in front of his family members in order to keep up appearances. Without the parents around, Dev takes his cousin out to eat and attempts to poke holes in the religious facade Navid has also put up for his parents’ sake. He’s surprised to learn Navid really doesn’t eat pork, but Navid confesses to not following all parts of Islam, admitting that he has started drinking and has no intentions of letting his parents find out. “You’re Indian, gotta keep up that facade,” Dev says, cracking a joke about oversharing white kids. Denise makes fun of Navid and Dev when they literally dive behind a tree at a barbecue festival (that one bite of a Cuban Dev coaxes Navid into having speaks quite the immediate pork obsession), thinking they saw Navid’s father. But for Dev and Navid, the fear of letting their parents down runs deep. Rejecting their religion would be seen as rejecting their heritage, rejecting their identity, rejecting the traditions their parents have fought to preserve in a country that largely regards their religion and identity with hostility.

Still, Dev does decide he’s too old to keep lying to his family. Over Eid dinner at a Thai restaurant, he orders the crispy pork special, much to the disappointment of his mother, who says they will leave if he insists on ordering it. Ansari’s real parents’ performances as Dev’s parents were a delightful gem in season one, especially Shoukath Ansari as Ramesh. You can tell they aren’t actors, but it weirdly works, their loose line delivery adding a sense of naturalism and authenticity. Fatima Ansari is perfectly deadpan throughout, and then Shoukath brings that same goofy Desi dad energy that was so infectious in season one, even during the more serious scenes. After the debacle at the Thai restaurant, Ramesh visits Dev to explain why his defiance was such a big deal. He tells him he’s free to do whatever he wants in life, but when he does certain things, like eat pork, in front of his mother, it hurts her feelings. It makes them feel like they have failed him, Ramesh explains.

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His explanation seems succinct and straightforward, but it evokes the intensely complicated nature of the fraught relationship between immigrant parents and their children. Ramesh and Nisha are certainly supportive of Dev. They want him to live his life the way he wants to, but they also have certain expectations, want to instill in him certain aspects of their culture and traditions so that isn’t lost. His mother gave him a Quran to take to school, just as her mother had done for her, and the inscription he revisits at the end of the episode is touching and insightful, the loving words of a mother who just wants to protect her child.

But the best part of “Religion” comes at the end, when director Alan Yang weaves together two scenes: Ramesh praying at the mosque and Dev meeting his friends for brunch. The scenes are stitched together in a way that emphasizes their similarities, father and son partaking in the rituals they care about, both surrounded by people they care about. It’s a powerful image and a rare instance where practicing Islam is normalized on television, making “Religion” quietly subversive in the same way “Parents” is. Though it has some universal themes, “Religion” is compelling in the specificity of Dev’s relationship with religion and how it interplays with his relationship with his parents. In a way, that wordless final montage says even more than much of the dialogue in the episode. It’s a manifestation of the Quran passage Dev’s drawn to: “To you be your religion, and to me my religion.”

Stray observations

  • The episode is co-written by Aziz and his brother Aniz Adam Ansari.
  • Without going into too many details, I’m no stranger to having to pretend around my Indian relatives. Many parts of this episode resonated with me but also reminded me of my father, who wouldn’t be caught dead drinking in front of his parents.
  • Old people confused by technology is such an overdone comedic premise, and yet the show manages to make Ramesh’s iPad befuddlement so damn real and familiar that it works.
  • Shoukath’s model poses killed me. Also, the genuine enthusiasm behind his insistence that there should be more Indian models is so endearing.
  • All those meats at the barbecue festival had me salivating, and as a former frequenter of Smorgasborg in Williamsburg, that scene was very familiar.

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