Master of None, Season 1
Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
Released Friday, November 6th, 2015 by Netflix
After a stellar first half of the season, the second half of Master of None solidifies it as the best comedy on Netflix. Aziz Ansari’s show, which he co-created with former Parks and Recreation writer Alan Yang, is a breezy binge of ten thirty minute episodes, although some episodes might require viewers to pause before proceeding to collect the pieces of their heart from off the floor. Though not as acutely focused on race as some of the earlier episodes, Dev’s identity as an Indian man continues to come up in ways that feel all too real for minorities. The show also settles on a single love interest for the latter half in Rachel (played wonderfully by Saturday Night Live alum Noel Wells), allowing it to more deeply investigate a relationship in modern times than its previous episodes. The show still manages to make clever and witty observations about communication and love, but it feels more like a fleshed out and complete story, rather than adapted bits from Ansari’s standup.
Though a few of these later episodes don’t feel as essential as “Indians on TV,” as poignant as “Parents,” or as masterful as the penultimate episode “Mornings,” even the more uneven episodes of the show are still hilarious. “Old People” goes off on several weird tangents, including Arnold befriending a robotic seal companion called Paro, but the payoff scene, watching Rachel’s grandmother perform at a jazz club, isn’t as beautiful as the show wants to believe it is. And while “Ladies and Gentleman” makes some powerful points about feminism and gender roles, especially the cold open about the difference between a man and a woman walking home from a bar, some of it is done in clunky ways, like Dev and Rachel’s fight over a director not offering her a handshake. While Ansari and Wells are normally at their best together, the acting in this scene lets down its larger argument. Condola Rashad is a perfect guest star in this episode though, and the episode also gives Lena Waithe some of her best moments in the show, including the pitch perfect line reading of Denise yelling “This is a citizen’s arrest! This is real thing that real people can really do!” at a masturbator on the train.
Master of None is still an excellent show despite these missteps, and the last two episodes of the show are a gut punch. “Mornings” is easily the best episode of the series, and it’s a simple and intimate one too, as it tracks several mornings in Dev’s apartment over the course of Dev and Rachel’s relationship: their sweet moments, their sex life, their small quarrels, Rachel moving in, and their first major fight. Ansari and Wells are the only two performers onscreen for almost the whole episode, although Ansari’s parents Shoukath and Fatima (again, playing Dev’s parents) have a brief and touching cameo where they finally meet Rachel.
“Mornings” pairs especially well with the sixth episode “Nashville,” as each episode is focused almost entirely on Dev and Rachel’s relationship. Both episodes really capture the inside jokes and references between two people that they always return to, those brief nuggets of knowledge of another person you latch onto, those quiet moments of uncertainty even when you’re lying next to someone. The writing is top-notch, and Ansari and Wells really elevate their performances around each other, finding a natural chemistry that manages to stay away from the quirky perfection of the central couples in movies like Garden State or (500) Days of Summer. Both actors allow their characters to be flawed while making arguments, with Dev often being too selfish and Rachel often taking things too personally. Dev’s ending monologue cleverly takes place not on a morning but at night, and is framed like many of their conversations in “Nashville,” filmed from above while in bed and facing each other. The monologue describes their relationship as a fairytale, and is a beautiful piece of writing where Dev manages to mythologize it without creating an ending for them – he’s not ready to say happily ever after. The monologue is the best scene in the whole season and the sweet, swollen heart sentiment it captures is reminiscent of the monologue in Frances Ha about finding your person, or the entire film Weekend. Honest human connection between two people is so rare, and at its heart, that’s what Master of None is searching for, whether it’s in a romantic relationship, with one’s parents, or understanding and appreciating differences of race or gender.
“Finale” continues the strong finishing stretch of the show. Dev brings his friends, his parents, and Rachel to a screening of The Sickening, which he finds out he has been cut out of while at the screening. After a huge fight involving possibly the worst relationship game ever, where Dev forces each of them to write down the percentage that they think their relationship is working, Rachel leaves Dev, only returning to reveal she has quit her job, dyed her hair, and is moving to Tokyo. These are three exact things Rachel said she has always wanted to do in “Nashville,” so the move is stunning without being unrealistic or out of character. The overall arc of Dev and Rachel’s relationship is plotted out so perfectly that and ends up as one of the better portrayals of a modern relationship in a show on television.
The final scene’s fake-out plays with audience expectations in a masterful way as well. Throughout the show, Dev and Rachel have been positioned by the show and by the characters themselves as a pair with incredible chemistry who might be living a fairytale. And Dev has proven himself a romantic time and time again, from that first date in Nashville to the homemade pasta gesture after their first major fight. He even gets a pep talk from H. Jon Benjamin’s character Benjamin about relationships just prior to the final scene. In a lesser, more obvious, or typical show, Dev is on a plane to Tokyo to confess his love for Rachel. But Dev is not going to Tokyo; he’s going to Italy to follow his dream of learning how to make pasta, a dream that Rachel first turned him on to. It’s a beautiful, somewhat surprising ending that shows that his relationship with Rachel affected him deeply, even if she might not have ended up as “the one.”
The show has yet to be picked up for a second season, though given the rapturous reception it has received, Netflix would be making a huge mistake in not doing so. Ansari has been engaging with fans on Twitter to answer questions about the show, even writing an op-ed for the New York Times on diversity in Hollywood. Master of None becomes the umpteenth piece of media (following, among others, the record breaking television show Empire and the Broadway phenomenon Hamilton) this year that continues to make the entertainment industry look incredibly foolish for resisting diversity for so long. The show is just the tiniest step in the right direction, but it’s a step that deserves all the plaudits it’s receiving.