Master Of None is special. That is the best, and the simplest, way that I can think of to describe it. It’s one of those series that I have a hard time formulating thoughts about — which isn’t what I expected from Aziz Ansari, a comedian mostly known for his overeager and enthusiastic personality, in both his comedy and his TV characters (especially Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation). Here, he appears toned down and more mature (or at least more aware of his immaturity), and he uses the sitcom form to showcase the best, smartest aspects of his stand-up.
The ten episodes, all of which premiere today on Netflix, build up to a lovely story, but they also work as compelling standalone vignettes. Some episodes will make you laugh, others could make you cry. One will make you call your parents; one will have you apologizing to a partner over an old argument you both forgot about. This all seems like high praise, but the series deserves it: It’s not hyperbole to say that Master of None is one of the best new shows of the year.
Aziz Ansari plays Dev, an aspiring actor in New York City who spends his time looking for love (of course), going to auditions, decompressing with his friends (Eric Wareheim, Noël Wells, Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu), and balancing his love for his parents with how wildly frustrating they make his life. But fortunately, this isn’t just another bland show about a man’s Hollywood ambitions and the humorous trials and tribulations of a struggling artist. It’s incredibly personal.
The pilot episode — which opens with a hookup, a broken condom, and an Uber, and then follows a typical narrative of friends witnessing their other friends grow up and have children — is a fine half-hour, but doesn’t yet capture what makes the show so special. It’s the second episode, “Parents,” that first hints at something great. Dev and Brian (Yu) casually dismiss their parents in the way that kids tend to do (Dev doesn’t want to deal with his father’s iPad problems; Brian would rather get to a movie early than grab his father something from the store), as the episode flashes back to the parents’ time in India and Taiwan. It demonstrates the sacrifices parents (and especially immigrant parents) make for their children, and how those kids often don’t realize or appreciate it. But the episode doesn’t make this point in a condescending way; it remains funny throughout, and has a nice conclusion that I wouldn’t dare spoil here. In a sweet touch, the recurring characters of Dev’s parents are played by Ansari’s real-life mom and dad — who are absolutely wonderful whenever they’re on screen. Their participation brings a personal, loving aspect to the series, and they’re funny, too!
To get any more specific about the episodes that follow would ruin the fun for viewers. But I can say there are specks of brilliance sprinkled throughout: “Ladies and Gentlemen” expands some of Ansari’s best stand-up observations by contrasting the way men and women behave when walking home from a bar (Dev’s biggest worry is some dog shit on his sneaker; the woman’s is a drunk man following her into her building). It also touches on smaller, but still frustrating and depressing, gender-related annoyances, such as the differences in Instagram comments for the same photo. “Mornings,” one of the best episodes of the year in any format, spans the course of many months of a relationship. And “Indians on TV” frankly discusses the racism of television, when Dev and another Indian actor audition for a show, only to be told there can’t be two of them in the cast. The episode also features a funny but sad recurring bit about Short Circuit 2.
The diversity of Master Of None is perhaps its biggest strength. It’s in-your-face diverse (Ansari, Yu, Waithe), but that aspect of the show is only mentioned when it’s necessary to the plot. There are good jokes here and there, especially when it comes to interracial relationships, but the show is not just diverse for diversity’s sake. When it does tackle race and ethnicity, it goes all in (as in “Indians on TV” or “Parents”), but it doesn’t turn every half-hour into a special episode that’s trying to teach a lesson.
Master of None is a series that doesn’t lend itself well to a pre-air review; rather it should inspire endless conversation once viewers have had a chance to watch it. Each episode could have an entire thesis written about it — but each episode is also incredibly funny. It’s another entry in Netflix’s canon of addictive and unique series, the kind that stay with you long after you’re done watching.