No topic is too taboo for the new Netflix series Master of None. The show hit the mark with critics when it was released this month, culminating in universal acclaim for the way it handles issues relating to sex, race, aging, gen y culture, political correctness and everything in between.
The ten episodes for season one provide a more accurate reflection of Aziz Ansari’s comedy portrayed in his stand up routine. The series follows 30-year-old Dev, an Indian-American actor living in New York trying to make sense of his chosen career and place in the world.
Rather than introducing absurd plot twists or saturating the show with high profile casting, Master of None grounds itself in the real world. Dev’s relationships remain the focus with friends Arnold (Eric Warehiem), Denise (Lena Waithe), Brian (Kelvin Yu) and love interest Rachel (Noël Wells).
Each episode follows Dev and Rachel’s evolving love story within the framework of one particular topic. From their initial awkward one night stand encounter to living under the same roof, one episode would center around Dev’s pursuit of a female companion in “Hot Ticket,” to dealing with the couple’s first fight on “Mornings.”
The simplistic narrative of Master of None is a far removal for Ansari comically on Parks and Recreation, but given the overwhelming response to the first season, there is every chance Dev will be remembered and quoted more than Tom Haverford.
10. Clever Ensemble Casting
Each member of the cast brings something different and unique to the table. Denise (Lena Waithe) is the matter-of-fact lesbian friend who coldly analyzes every problem Dev throws her way. Arnold (Eric Wareheim) plays the role of the immature man-child, always tempting Dev back to his immature ways. Then there is Brian (Kelvin Yu), a likeminded Asian American who trades off relationship advice and stories of subtle cultural biases. Todd Barry and H. Jon Benjamin provide an experienced comedic framework, playing Dev’s work colleague and director respectively. Aside from a handful of high profile cameos, the cast is understated but performs their roles to perfection.
9. Insight Into Immigration Debate
Whether by accident or design, the heated topical debate of immigration in American society is directly confronted throughout two episodes – “Parents” and “Indians on TV.” Ansari’s real-life parents detail how they moved to the US in the 1970s where they were made to feel less than welcome. His father was not invited to join the inner sanctum of the hospital he was working at as a doctor and as a couple they were refused service at an open restaurant. Dev then experiences a 21st Century style of racism, unable to convince network executives that two Indians could lead a sitcom because it would then become an “Indian show,” something which domestic audiences were apparently turn off. The series does not contrive the issue, outlining how someone like Dev can milk the situation for his benefit. As his agent told him, “I want that David Schwimmer money!”
8. Embraces Louie-Style Storytelling
Since shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie broke out into the mainstream, comedy on television has felt more comfortable setting narratives around everyday, mundane and awkward moments. Particularly in the case of the latter, Ansari clearly took cues from Louis C.K.’s artistic license to take the character along unsuspecting adventures that feel authentic. During “Old People” he broke Rachel’s grandmother out of a nursing home and departed New York altogether for “Nashville.” At times the show has the look of a documentary where it is easy to forget that it is indeed scripted.
7. Challenges Stereotypes
Despite copping criticism from some quarters for Dev’s lack of love interests being women of color, Master of None confronts social norms and conventions head on. The episode “Indians on TV” is a perfect case in point, using Ansari’s real-life parents to retell their experience struggling to integrate to the culture from prejudice and bias. Fast forward to the 7th installment “Ladies and Gentlemen” where the camera follows one of Dev’s female work colleagues who is pursued by a creepy man from the bar. Whether it’s via direct dialogue or a character’s body language, the audience is subtly positioned to question what it means to be a 30-something, gay, mixed race or a feminist. This subject matter was something Ansari knew he couldn’t portray freely on network television.
6. Accurately Represents Gen Y Culture
Addiction to apps and technology, short attention spans and material pursuits – the series nails gen y culture as well as any program has done before. From the second scene where Dev hailed an Uber to take Rachel to the drug store, to constantly checking his cell during a binge watching session of Sherlock with his friends, Master of None sets itself purely in the world of modern millennial culture. All of the characters battle the eventual transition into adulthood in one form or another, striving to make the most of their comfortable East Coast lifestyle to something with more meaning and substance. Generation y’s relate to this as much as anything else on the series.
5. Clear On-Screen Chemistry
The pillar of the show without question is the chemistry between all of the characters that come into Dev’s world. His real-life parents Shoukath and Fatima Ansari only change their name, but replicate the bond the three share off screen. However, the breakout performance to date remains Noël Wells of Saturday Night Live fame. The fluctuating relationship between her character Rachel and Dev culminates in quirky mishaps, tender moments, emotional drama and genuine laugh out loud scenes. Rather than being overshadowed by Ansari, Wells matches the comedian by every measure and surpasses the role of a being a simplistic love interest. Viewers could easily be mistaken for thinking the pair were a couple in real-life.
4. Based In Reality
Broken condoms, Yelp reviews and Google checks aren’t normally plot points in television series, but then again Master of None is not a normal series. As an actor trying to break past his cameos on commercials to pay the bills, Dev doesn’t ascend into major Hollywood status by the end to create a perfect linear progression. He struggles to deal with the competition and expectations of the industry while failing to keep his relationships in tact. Drawing comparisons to shows like Seinfeld and Louie, those programs had a reputation for being “about nothing,” but if anything they speak more to the human condition than any sitcom possibly could.
3. Great Cameos
Master of None provides a healthy mixture of high-end talent used sparingly to give the story a different dimension. Claire Danes’ super sexy one episode cameo as food critic Nina headlined the lot of them and was a pleasant surprise far removed her role on Homeland. Throw in Busta Rhymes playing himself to offer Dev some advice on dealing with a corporate suit gifting him courtside seats over the guilt of a racist leaked email, and the series strikes a healthy balance of star power and underrated actors new on the scene. It would be a surprise to see Ansari deviate from this formula for the second installment when it is released sometime next year.
2. Every Episode Stands Out On Merit
With the show being streamed on Netflix the problem of keeping up to date is null and void, but if it was ever picked up by a network station then missing an episode would not hinder the enjoyment factor one little bit. The series follows the story arch of Dev and Rachel’s relationship mixed with an array of cameos and misadventures, yet by and large the two are not mutually exclusive. The tone of the series shifts towards black comedy as Dev experiences something of a midlife crisis, contemplating life, death and the meaning of his partnership with Rachel. While it is best advised to follow the show in sequence, as it is with any television program, each episode is a window into a different issue that Ansari explores with terrific comedic timing.
1. Showcases Aziz Ansari’s Talent
As Tom Haverford, Aziz Ansari became a quotable icon for brash young entrepreneurs. That Parks and Recreation character offered a lot of comic relief for a series that didn’t develop dramatically until the concluding episodes, as Haverford remained a fairly one-dimensional cast member. When his stand up Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive went to Netflix before selling out Madison Square Garden, the American comic announced himself as one of the world-class stars of comedy. With the release of his book Modern Romance: An Investigation this year, Ansari’s creative juices were flowing and Master of None provides the perfect insight into his skills not only as an actor but a writer and producer.