Your opinion of Aziz Ansari might determine whether you’re going to tune into his new Netflix series, Master of None. For the record, I am a big Ansari fan, but I was wondering how he was going to lead an entirely new program that he had such a dominant hand in creating. Watching a guy be funny on a Netflix special is one thing, but creating an entire sitcom is another animal. Master, the brainchild of Ansari and Alan Yang, succeeds due to its easygoing pace, and, yes, Ansari’s maturing performance.
Aziz Ansari somehow manages to be the least douchey heterosexual young male comic working right now. I don’t mean that as a knock. His pointed delivery in his standup is my favorite thing about him, and him screaming in his routines is one of the things that will always make me laugh. He’s not very threatening in the best way. If Ansari’s persona on stage was more bro-tastic, the show might not work as well as it does.
In Master, he plays Dev, an actor living in Manhattan who seems to have everything together, and he’s simply taking life as it comes his way. The entire series starts with him in bed with a hookup, but the condom breaks halfway through, prompting a rather frank discussion about sex that can only be had in this Snapchat generation. Dev and his partner, played by Noël Wells, immediately go to a pharmacy and insists that he pays for the Plan B. “It’s on me,” Dev nervously explains.
It appeared that the entire show was going to become a Netflix Knocked Up, but the second episode shifts gears entirely. With the second episode, “Parents,” Dev and his friends realize that they have never appreciated their parents and the sacrifices they made when they came to America. Dev seems disturbed by his lack of participation in his father’s life, and he and his friend, Kevin, try to thank them—or at least make time in their busy schedules for them.
All of the episodes are more like mini movies with a common thread throughout with the same characters. They don’t feel strung along like a “traditional” sitcom, but they all inhabit the same space and people. Some episodes are a lot lighter (“Hot Ticket” is looser and features Dev trying to secure a date for a concert), but “Indians on TV” might be one of the better written pieces. After Dev refuses to use an Indian accent in an audition, he’s accidentally included on a network executive’s private emails that make some racist comments about him and another Indian actor up for the same part. The executive is overly apologetic and tries to make it up to him, but the topic of casual racism is handled well and with some very funny commentary. It manages to be one of the very few shows that meets the topic of racism in the entertainment industry head on.
Ansari is an easy draw for a series like this. Dev is easygoing and fun, and even though it doesn’t seem that he has any real struggles (he seems financially secure and happy with his family), he embodies the ever-relatable quality in all of us where we want everything to be perfect in our personal lives. He has an charming chemistry with Wells, and his circle of friends (played by Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu, and Eric Wareheim) aren’t flashy, although they could be a bit more present and fleshed out. Claire Danes even shows up as a woman trapped in an unhappy marriage who goes aggressively after Dev. Tony-winning actress Nina Arianda should be considered for a Guest Actress Emmy as a crazy date for Ansari.
Master of None continues the winning streak for Netflix. It’s an easily watchable series that kind of turns the concept of the romantic comedy around by having a mess up of a man in the lead. It doesn’t go out of its way to be edgy or overly comedic, but it manages to make you laugh at the same.