The official description for the new Netflix comedy Master of None is, “Personal and professional life of a 30-year-old actor in New York who has trouble making decisions.” That sounds just like a show that's canceled every couple of years. But Master of None still manages to be groundbreaking. Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, the show draws heavily from Ansari’s stand-up. Like his jokes, it combines humor with sharp social commentary. It’s pretty fricken' great.
Ansari plays the show’s main character, Dev, a struggling actor with no real passion for acting. He’s navigating the world of modern dating along with his wonderfully diverse group of friends, Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Denise (Lena Waithe), and Brian (Kelvin Yu). Arnold is white, large, and a bit strange. Denise is a black lesbian, but much more than a token. Brian is a nice Taiwanese-American who we’re told is popular with the ladies. The whole cast does a fine job, but probably best of the bunch is Rachel (Noel Wells)—Dev’s love interest. The cute, sweet music publicist almost comes off as annoyingly perfect initially. But by the end of the season, she proves to be a well-fleshed-out character who, like Dev, isn’t a hundred percent sure of what she wants out of life.
Many critics have singled out the second and fourth episodes of the show, “Parents” and “Indians on TV” as the best. This is for good reason. “Parents” explores the relationship that Dev and Ryan each have with their immigrant parents. Through flashbacks, it contrasts the privileged lives they are living with the hardship each of their dads faced growing up in their respective countries. When they take their parents out for dinner, they realize from their parents’ stories just how lucky they are to have all the things they do. “Fun is a luxury only your generation really has,” Dev’s father, played charmingly by Ansari’s real-life father, tells him.
“Indians on TV” deals with the lack of good roles for Indian-American actors in Hollywood. Dev blows his chances of getting a part on a show by refusing to do an Indian accent. Then later, he auditions for a show about a group of friends. He finds out that he didn’t get cast because his friend, fellow Indian-American actor Ravi (Ravi Patel), did. Apparently, two people of Indian descent on one show would make it an “Indian show” . . . .
Other stand-outs from the season include: 1) “Ladies and Gentlemen,” which examines the way men and women continue to be treated differently, 2) “Mornings,” which brilliantly documents several months of mornings in Dev and Rachel’s relationship; and the finale, which uses Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar to look at the dissatisfaction that can come with having too many choices.
With its thoughtful exploration of hot-button issues and a social-media-obsessed Millennial culture, Master of None is about as modern a show as it gets. And unlike some other smart shows, it has an optimistic tone and a protagonist, who, while flawed, is fundamentally a good guy. Anyone who’s a fan of Aziz Ansari, or who just wants a good comedy to binge, should definitely check it out on Netflix.