Netflix has really hit its stride as a platform that produces undeniable programming that captures the zeitgeist. Part of that can be attributed to the all episodes available at once streaming model of their original programming, but to place all the burden on their unique model would be selling short the sheer quality and thoughtfulness that comes through in most of their original shows. These days, Netflix is probably second only to HBO in terms of batting a thousand when it comes to critically adored and buzzworthy shows. That hot streak continues with its latest debut, Master of None.
Here’s what you need to know about Master of None: it’s got Aziz Ansari all over its blueprint. As its co-creator and star, Master of None is a platform for Ansari’s comedic style, talent and tone, carrying it outside of his standup routines into a scripted comedy series about a 30-something man who stumbled into commercial acting and sort of settled in every aspect of his life due to the simple comfortability a famous, nationwide Go-Gurt commercial provided for him. And as the writer for nine of the season’s ten episodes, Master of None is an unabashed vehicle for Ansari’s voice.
If you’re a fan of his standup, you’ll love it. If you’re a fan of his Parks & Recreation breakout character Tom Haverford, you could love it if you dial down expectations of seeing Ansari repeat Tom’s hyper, balls-to-the-wall portrayal. If you’re on the fence about Ansari, but are a fan of shows like Louie or Girls, give it a chance – Master of None is very much in the vein of those two shows, but goes to places and presents engaging storylines that only Ansari’s position as an Indian actor or as the son of immigrant parents could convey both comically and intellectually.
Throughout the 10-episdoe first season, Ansari’s character Dev slowly starts to mature and realize that a lot of what he has settled on in the past isn’t necessarily want he wants for his future, leading to a journey of self-discovery in all aspects of his life, from career to romance to kids. Each episode has a discernible theme or aspect of life that within thirty minutes is broken down by the perspectives of the characters and the insightful, often hilarious writing, and then built back up to not so much push through a definitive conclusion, but to present all sides of the argument or issue so to speak, allowing both the audience and the characters themselves to arrive at decisions that speak to who they are.
Watching this play out, especially with Ansari’s character and his tight-knit group of perfectly weird friends, is a hypnotizing joy to behold. Episodes that break down racism, feminism, family and commitment are all amazing one-shot stories that present strong viewpoints and sharp, comedic commentary, giving Ansari and the supporting cast great material to play off of, while getting some harsh realities across.
As far as serialized elements, two storylines play out over the course of the season that establish an ongoing, lived in world for the show. One is Ansari’s character Dev filming a “black virus movie” called The Sickening, and most of the scenes involving this plot thread deliver some of the nuttiest and most absurd laughs of the series, allowing Ansari to go big much like his Parks & Recreation character. The other story is the budding relationship between Dev and Rachel, played by former Saturday Night Live featured player Noel Wells. It’s through this storyline that Master of None becomes a fascinating look at modern romance, which is unsurprising considering Ansari wrote a book on that very subject.
Through this relationship, we see Ansari play facets and dimensions of Dev that the actor has never portrayed on screen before, showing once and for all that Ansari isn’t only wickedly hilarious, but has the acting chops to boot. Wells is a revelation as Rachel, a deeply funny and charming character, who is so sure of herself and what she wants that it leads to a gut-punching final episode after the issues the two have been facing come to a head. And then there are Ansari’s real-life parents who play Dev’s parents on the show.
Much ink has been written about their role in the show prior to its premiere. They don’t have nearly the exposure one would expect, but an early episode revolves around a dinner that Dev and his Taiwanese friend Brian set up to thank their parents for all their sacrifices in moving to America to give them a better life. While Ansari’s parents aren’t the revelation they’ve been made out to be, they do a serviceable job as non-actors embodying a believable relationship with their son.
It’s moments like these, as well as ones like a prolonged conversation between Dev and his squad on the proper way to approach reaching out to a girl about a date who hasn’t responded in two days, which give Master of None its undeniable and relatable comedic lens. For the record, I’m Team Arnold with the send a picture of a turtle popping out of a briefcase and then texting, “sorry, wrong person” strategy.
Even the look and aesthetic of the show is all its own. The episodes are directed beautifully, showing a true picture of New York and not a glossy, fantasized version of the city many other shows and movies portray. At times, the show almost feels like its shot like an art house movie, which while magnificent to look at, can sometimes feel tonally off, especially when Master of None embraces its goofier side on occasion.
The first half of the season is jauntier, going for the jugular on the punch lines and mining material for comedic shenanigans. Once the relationship between Dev and Rachel blooms, the second half dials it down a bit, but remains just as captivating. Boiled down, if Master of None accomplishes one thing, it proves that Ansari is a comedic voice of our generation to be reckoned with. Oh, and it’ll make you crave pasta like crazy.