In the current age of stand-up comedy, it's almost never enough for a comedian to just be on stage. Through podcasts, writing books, acting and more today's top stand-up acts are constantly using a myriad of media forms as an extension of their material. And what better place than Netflix for a modern comedian like Aziz Ansari to be given creative reign for unfiltered thoughts, which is exactly what audiences get in his new series Master of None.
Ansari plays Dev, an actor, who for years has made a name for himself in commercials. In the series, he finally gets a film role as well as a number of other potential jobs to boost his profile. Watching Ansari purposely give over-the-top performances in a fake movie within the show, called The Sickening, and seeing him frighten a bunch of people with a public Skype audition in a coffee shop, serve as great fodder for the underbelly of Dev trying to break into acting.
Ansari makes use of a fantastic cast, including a completely absurd Eric Wareheim, of Tim and Eric fame. Wareheim steals every second of screen time he has while playing Ansari's best friend. Smaller but significant parts from people like Todd Barry and H. Jon Benjamin also add a healthy dose of humor. The heart and soul of the show, though, comes by way of San Antonio-native Noël Wells, who plays Ansari's love interest, Rachel. Introduced in the first episode, and appearing sporadically until the back half of the series, Wells is adorable, funny, immensely charming and has a real palpable chemistry with Ansari. It's a breakout role that, with any luck, will lead to many more romantic leads in the future.
It may seem like a lazy comparison, but Master of None truly feels like Ansari's version of comedian Louis CK's hit series Louie. Stylistically, the show feels far more like independent film than a TV show, an aesthetic that is given some clout with indie film veteran James Ponsoldt (The End of the Tour) directing the pilot.
To further the comparisons with Louie, most of the first half of the first season of Master of None is episodic and self-contained, with no real ongoing storylines. Instead, we see Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang's take on several topics. While it isn't necessarily autobiographical, Master of None feels extremely personal to Ansari and Yang, who was a writer on Parks and Recreation, where Ansari got his big TV break. Through his unique lens, Ansari smartly tackles gender and generational gaps, like how children of immigrants can take things for granted and the stereotyping of actors of Indian descent. It is when the show begins to become slightly more serialized, however, that Master of None shows its true potential.
Without a doubt, the best parts of Master of None are those that study the relationship between Dev and Rachel. Watching the relationship move through different stages is a joy, as you can see the fluidity, complexity and ever-changing aspects, from the early honeymoon phase to eventual complacency. It's a shame that this storyline wasn't given just a touch longer to breathe, as it goes through several phases in what feels like a relatively short period of time.
Through his stand-up acts, and in his recent book Modern Romance, Ansari has shown a fascination with technology and how the younger generation not only uses it for virtually everything, but how it has changed dating and relationships. Master of None is no different, with almost every episode containing some sort of plotline of how technology impacts daily life. Whether it's Ansari getting lost in a vortex of articles and reviews and losing an afternoon trying to find the best taco in the city, debating on the right text to send a girl who might be ignoring him, or showing the differences in how women and men are treated on social media, Ansari's characters are constantly shown with their faces buried in a phone, displaying the shameless generational over-reliance on technology.
If there's a central theme of Master of None, it is about resisting, or at the very least, struggling with maturity. It's an appropriate theme, considering that this is easily the most mature thing that Ansari has ever done. In many ways, it is an extension of his stand up, but it also has earnestness, a deep sense of substance and something that Ansari has never been known for, subtlety. There are certainly some blemishes. Some episodes are a tad heavy handed, some end a little too abruptly, and the best plotline takes far too long to dig into. It's still great to see another side of Ansari and is a very welcome new and unique perspective on television.
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