Note: Contains spoilers.
Whilst Netflix’s diversification into original content scored an early home run with House of Cards, they sorely lacked a similar comedy jewel in the crown.
Aziz Ansari’s Master of None attempts to remedy this, transplanting his distinctive observational comedy into sitcom territory, a perfect fit for a thoroughly millennial media platform.
Ansari took his first non-stand up foray into exploring the topic of love with his book Modern Romance, which was released earlier in 2015.
If this work was an unexpectedly somber tome, taking a sociological slant with its graphs and historical context, then Master of None thankfully humanises the experience.
However, the show contemplates not just relationships, but also misogyny, racism, ethics, family relationships and the immigrant experience. These are deftly distilled into 10 30-minute vignettes.
This is clearly a project close to Ansari’s heart, and he plays protagonist Dev, a kind of Woody Allen for the Tinder generation, with an upfront, affable honesty, heart firmly on sleeve.
Dev is a 30-year-old jobbing actor in New York City, with Master of None’s narrative revolving around his personal and professional life, with all the adventures, rejections and moral and ethical dilemmas they entail.
Dev is principled, but hypocritical. Whilst he bemoans technology as allowing rudeness to become socially acceptable, he inadvertently blocks out what he doesn’t want to hear.
This can take the form of refusing to challenge a misogynistic director when they casually ignore his girlfriend, to more blatant examples such as when his friend attempts to explain his dating woes. Dev is instead distracted by a text back from a potential date.
The show tackles race brilliantly, taking a fair-weather morality angle to illustrate its complexities. After a racist email is accidentally leaked by a casting director, he takes Dev out to make amends.
It is implied that Dev will be given a lucrative sitcom role for his part in keeping silent about the email. When Dev is introduced to no less than Busta Rhymes, he asks for his advice in confidence.
Busta tells Dev “don’t play the race card, charge it to the race card”. Following the shows green light, Dev argues with his friend Ravi following an argument over who has to play the accented Indian in the show.
Dev tells Ravi “I get a shot at the Schwimmer money and now you have a conscience” after Ravi refuses, as he has played up to Indian stereotypes in previous auditions.
A video of Indian TV characters at the start of the episode reminds us that culturally ingrained stereotypes are still passively tolerated by society, without seeming overly preachy.
It’s a great episode that tackles the often awkwardly handled issue, and the show is full of moments like these. Ansari consistently explores common themes that are at once classic yet timely without being uncomfortably patronizing or pseudo-intellectual.
It captures the zeitgeist with nonchalance, name-dropping Uber, Shazam and Yelp as though the terms were common lexicon. Ironically, despite the show reflecting on the paralyzing impact of limitless choice, nothing feels stilted.
Indeed, the show is capable of endearing intimacy and poignancy, helped immeasurably by the brilliant Noel Wells as Dev’s love interest Rachel.
The final episode serves as a reminder to not take love, or life, too seriously. Following a friend’s wedding, Dev and Rachel contemplate their own anxiety ridden vows, with “I’ve invested two of my prime years with you, so I might as well go all in” and “getting married is just a safer bet at this point” among the more touching sentiments.
The ending is surprising within the context of the show. Love isn’t necessarily beautiful, it certainly isn’t perfect, and is frequently tedious.
The show is in no way nihilistic however, or even soberingly realistic for that matter. It’s humanist values shine through, extolling the virtues of friendship and family more sincerely than any show I can remember in recent memory.
It carves itself out a promising spot not just among the cream of the New York centric millennial comedy wave, but as simply the best new sitcom in quite some time.
Featured image via Netflix