You’ve done it again, Netflix! Thanks for another great comedy. I’ll add Master of None to one of my favourite comedies of the year (a list which includes Orange is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, three other Netflix originals.) Someone high up in the comedy department at Netflix is hiring the right people then giving them the freedom to dream up and create auteur works of TV. In this instance, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang have created a moody but funny 10 episode comedy: Master of None.
Master of None stars Ansari as Dev, a mid-thirties flaneur, living in New York off the occasional acting gig. He eats a lot of food, hangs out with his friends, and gets himself into little pickles. Dev is an observer of life (a lot like Ansari in this regard) and discusses all of his observations with his circle of friends. Based on what I’ve seen of Ansari’s stand up comedy, Dev seems loosely based on Aziz himself but much mellower and with less ambition.
In the first episode,“Plan B”, Dev hooks up with a girl only to have the condom break. In bed, they pull out their phones then google whether or not pre-cum can impregnate someone. On the advice of one website, they decide yes, it can impregnate someone, so they call an Uber and go to the drugstore for the Plan B pill. Dev insists that the pill is “on him” and buys her an apple juice along with the purchase. The specificity of this sequence – the googling in bed, the Uber, the Martinelli apple juice – plants Master of None firmly in 2015. I’ve heard it called the “Louie of the Millennial generation.” I think by that the writer of that article meant that the show has a very specific voice, like Louie, and centres around the protagonist who seems loosely based off the comedian creator. Certainly, without the precedent set by Louie of long form, slow moving, auteur comedy, Master of None wouldn’t have been made but I think the similarities between the two shows are actually quite minimal. Where Louie is episodic and surreal, Master of None gently moves in a straight line and remains grounded in reality. Both shows have moments of hilarity and deep sadness, but Master of None is without question a comedy, whereas Louie often has episodes that are strictly dramatic.
For a series where the protagonist’s main problem is lack of forward momentum, Master of None has no pace issues. Any given episode glides easily through 30 minutes of meandering jokes, but it never feels rushed or worse, lagging (a problem so many comedies with this type of seemingly improvised dialogue have problems with. A further note, I read on Ansari’s twitter Q&A about the show that scenes were improvised and workshopped in rehearsal but were written before going to camera, giving the scenes their natural, fluid rhythm.) Scenes are given room to breathe and the actors are given room to shine, but more-or-less, every scene advances the action. Speaking of acting chops, the supporting cast on Master of None rivals any other TV comedy. Shout out to Noël Wells, who plays Rachel, for grounding her character in a very specific, very charming and silly reality. She’s a great match for Ansari’s Dev and together they have a light, loving onscreen relationship.
Each episode more or less stands alone but the series doesn’t feel episodic. Dev may float through life but his curiosity about life allows him to pick up lessons along the way: his parents are actually interesting. Old people aren’t useless. Women have a very different life experience than men. Dev may not have drive but his enthusiasm for life drives away any sense of ennui the “restless man” character might have in other similar comedies. Further, even though many episodes revolve around a big issue (racism: “Indians in Hollywood”, ageism: “Old People”, sexism: “Ladies and Gentleman”), Master of None steps just shy of preachy, all because Dev is so chill. He learns a lesson, gets really excited about it, tells all his friends, then moves on.
Although the season’s through-line (Dev’s lack of forward momentum) is understated, by the end of the finale episode, “Finale”, there is a definite sense of growth and change. Small moments, bits of life that Dev has experienced, synthesize into a last minute realization, and in the final moments of the show, the writers lead the viewers through a seemingly pat ending into one that is both surprising and true to Dev’s character. I never got bored watching Master of None, and I barely flicked around on my phone. All the elements of the show were put together with a loving hand and a subtle touch, and the result is a show with a truly personal voice. When such great care is put into a show, it shows.
Master of None is available to stream on Netflix.