Coming off his role in the much-beloved Parks and Recreation, a series of successful stand-up comedy specials and a New York Times best-selling book, Aziz Ansari is finding another home for his sharp and irreverent sense of humor on the streaming site Netflix with his new show Master of None. Equal parts satire, romantic comedy, character-study and social commentary, the show provides a uniquely refreshing take on the “single person trying to make it in the big city” show format.
The brain-child of Ansari and Parks writer Alan Yang, Master of None explores the many social mores of being a relatively privileged first-generation American while also hilariously and astutely dissecting complex issues like race, family, aging, twenty-first century dating, marriage, parenting and even feminism. To boil down the show’s message in a few words: we have everything, but we’ve learned nothing.
The series follows Ansari as Dev Shah, a 30-year-old actor whose greatest achievement is starring in a Go-Gurt commercial, as he tries to make it in show business, only to find that his options are limited by the fact that he is Indian-American. Throughout the series, we follow Dev on his constant quest to find a balance of success in love, career, family or just finding the best taco in the city.
There are similarities between Dev and Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation: both have the same quick wit and mannerisms, but Dev is much more of a grounded character than the hyperactive man-child he played on Parks, and rightfully so. Ansari portrays the lovable Dev with an honest passion that we haven’t quite seen from him so far, mostly due to the fact that Dev’s story isn’t too far from Ansari’s own.
A stand out episode of the series is, without a doubt, the second episode entitled “Parents.” The episode follows Dev and his friend Brian, who is Asian-American, and their relationships with their parents, who are all immigrants who came to the U.S. for a better life. On a personal note, the episode really hits close to home, and it was very refreshing to see that experience portrayed in a show.
The episode’s opening is just about the most beautiful thing ever, essentially a montage of how Dev and Brian’s fathers went from their tough childhoods in India and Taiwan, and how they ended up making a life for themselves and their sons in the U.S. It’s a scene that expertly balances first-generation nostalgia with almost cartoonish over-sentiment, resulting in a truly honest and funny series of flashbacks. As a first-generation American whose parents made similar sacrifices, I was definitely feeling all the feels.
Dev and Brian come to realize that they don’t really know much about their parents’ lives and have never really expressed gratitude for their sacrifices, so they decide to treat their parents to a nice dinner to say thank you. At dinner, Dev asks his parents a question I have always dreaded asking my own: When you were my age, what did you do for fun? Dev’s mom replies “We didn’t do anything for fun.” While dad gives his insightful musings on the concept of fun: “You realize fun is a new thing, right? Fun is a luxury only your generation really has.” All answers I have definitely heard at one point or another.
Dev’s parents are portrayed by Ansari’s real-life mother and father, and it shows through their adorably weak acting ability. However, Ansari’s father manages to steal just about every scene he is in.
Ansari and Yang’s sense of humor is smart and self-reflexive, while still managing to deliver moments of laugh-out-loud absurdity. The actors are all at the top of their game, with stellar performances from Noël Wells (Saturday Night Live) as Dev’s love interest Rachel and Eric Wareheim (Tim & Eric) as Dev’s lovably pathetic friend Arnold, among a host of other great roles and actors. Even the direction is beautiful, with each episode resembling a hip indie film. The soundtrack is unparalleled, with a song or two in every episode that is sure to please music fans of all stripes. Even the opening credits are a fun mix of old school cool and trendy minimalism.
While the exact tone of the show is hard to pin down, it’s safe to say that the writing is superb. Tackling a host of issues with an irresistibly light-hearted approach, Master of None manages to preach without being preachy. Opting to tell a story rather than a lesson, and peppering in moments that are as sharp as they are silly.
If you’re going to watch any show this weekend, make it this one.