The first season of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s new comedy series Master of None has just premiered in its entirety on Netflix for your binge-watching convenience. And binge watch you will. Following the misadventures of Dev Shah (Ansari), a thirty-something small-time actor struggling to make the leap from Go-gurt commercials to feature films, the offbeat comedy addresses the idiosyncrasies of millennial love and life in the Big Apple. In a pilot aptly titled “Plan B,” we watch as Dev holds priceless conversations with friends (single and otherwise) in a desperate effort to confront the existential crisis of his generation: to breed, or not to breed. In a series of stylized silent film montages, we become privy to Dev’s hilariously absurd imaginings of life as a family man, both idyllic and nightmarish. Ultimately, we come to suspect, as Dev does, that the reality probably lies somewhere between the two extremes.Ansari in this role is effervescent—instantly recognizable as the self-centered cool-guy who first charmed us as Tom Haverford in Amy Poehler’s hit show Parks and Recreation. While you may find yourself wondering if this overconfident, overzealous man-child is the only character Ansari can play, the thought is quickly offset by the pure joy he brings to the small screen as Dev Shah.
Episode 2,“Parents,” establishes Master of None as a rare media portal into the lives of second-generation immigrants coming of age quite differently than their parents did. Dev and his Taiwanese friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) realize just how little they know about their immigrant parents’ upbringings and invite them to a nice dinner to hear their stories. The ensuing scene will be familiar to any child of immigrant parents—a dinner complete with the highly realistic long silences and occasional scolding rarely showcased on mainstream television. That Ansari cast his real-life mother and father to play his onscreen parents only adds to the naturalism vital to crafting a relatable sitcom. Indeed, Master of None humanizes the often ridiculous Ansari we have come to expect. Instead we see in Dev a compelling representation of Ansari’s own struggles to find success in an industry that does not take kindly to difference. Ansari celebrates this difference by inviting the people who made him who he is to take part in the festivities.
The remaining eight episodes in this noteworthy opening season do not disappoint. Master of None offers a truly refreshing twist to the “struggling young adult in NYC” premise that has been cropping up everywhere since Friends. While still exploring the relationship, friendship, and career issues we expect from the genre, Ansari avoids obscuring the differences in ethnicity and upbringing that complicate such topics for so many viewers. If at times the show seems too self-aware of its own hyperrealism, it is because Ansari and Yang are committed to an uncensored delivery of the ugliness of daily life. When it comes to asking the big questions, the true test of any exceptional sitcom, Master of None is fearless and unapologetic. Subtlety may not be Ansari’s strong suit, but he wears bluntness well. He doesn’t toe the line—he points it out, repaints, and steps over it with people watching. And everyone should be.
Master of None rises above its inauspicious title to prove that one show really can do it all.