Pop Culture at its Best

Master of None, Season 1 is Netflix’s best comedy yet

Master of None, Season 1
Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
Premiered Friday, November 6th on Netflix
5 episodes watched for review

After the success of shows like Orange is the New Black and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and standup specials from talents like Aziz Ansari and Chelsea Peretti, it was clear that Netflix was on its way to becoming a major player in comedy. Master of None, the new series from Ansari and Alan Yang, will perhaps become the crown jewel of Netflix’s comedy empire. The perspective the creators have brought to the show feels more on the pulse of its generation than Hannah Horvath could have dreamed of ever being.

There are ten episodes in the first season, five of which were watched for this preview. Each episode plays like a half-hour short film, with predictably hilarious dialogue and more visual flourish than expected. Ansari plays Dev, a thirtysomething aspiring actor (recognizable to the average person from a Gogurt commercial) in New York City. Ansari excels at the comedic moments but also plays the character with a sense of vulnerability that he has only been allowed to show brief flashes of in previous roles.

The series certainly focuses on Ansari’s recent interest in modern romance (he wrote a book, titled Modern Romance) and makes incisive observations about dating and communication in the age of the smartphone. Dev consciously flakes on a girl saying, “We can be shitty to people now, and it’s accepted. It’s one of the great things about being alive today!” In the first scene of the show, a broken condom leads to Dev and a partner Googling pre-ejaculate and sperm. Ansari plays many of these moments for laughs, but is not afraid to find the beauty in two people just talking to each other, like the Before trilogy for Netflix.

The second episode, however, is where the show both justifies its existence in the crowded television landscape and really hits its stride. Entitled “Parents,” it chronicles the relationship between Dev and his Taiwanese-American friend Brian and their immigrant parents, specifically their fathers. Ansari directed the episode as well, and he is just as skilled behind the camera as he is in front of it. Two flashback sequences are visually rich, shot in a dreamy sepia tone that portrays the immigrant experience deftly using just a few short scenes. The simple act of two children reconnecting with their parents is both incredibly sweet and hilarious.

Where many shows cut from the same millennial cloth have failed on the diversity front (there may be more think-pieces written about the whiteness of shows like Girls and Togetherness than there are people in Luxembourg), Master of None makes identity a key part of the show’s core. Ansari tackles both casual and insidious racism on the show, whether it’s Asians being denied services at a restaurant due to their race or Indian-American actors being asked to do offensive accents for bit parts on television shows. The fourth episode begins with a montage of how Indians have been represented onscreen, and it’s not even in the neighborhood of a flattering portrayal: They’re all gas station owners or campy villains or (worst of all) Ashton Kutcher in brownface. Dev then struggles with whether or not to expose a racist email from a television executive when it could jeopardize his big break. It’s a hilarious but all too real plotline, and it would not be surprising to learn Ansari or some of his costars had experienced the same exact struggle.

Ansari has surrounded himself with a talented cast of costars and guest stars as well. Dev’s close-knit group of friends is both diverse and hilarious, with Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu, and Eric Wareheim all managing to flesh out their parts, making them more than just sounding boards for Dev. The movie he’s filming features Colin Salmon playing himself and H. Jon Benjamin playing a character named Benjamin, though it’s unclear if he’s also playing himself. Actors with impressive IMDb pages like Cady Huffman, Claire Danes, and Noah Emmerich all show up and make the most of their screen time.

Perhaps most impressive are the performances from the lesser known talents that Ansari has cast. The biggest laughs from the first episode come from the two child actors (Harrison Wright and Leila Grace) playing kids that Dev babysits. And in casting his own parents as the parents of Dev, Ansari has revealed that his comedic chops are perhaps genetic. Shoukath and Fatima Ansari have some of the funniest line readings on the show, with Shoukath in particular stealing scene after scene from his son. Ansari said in an interview with Vulture that the reason he cast his own parents is because there are so few Indian-American actors in Hollywood, and while that fact is incredibly disappointing, the result here is comedy magic. The whole show, in fact, is comedy magic. May Netflix and the rest of television continue to give shows to creators with both unique perspectives and talent.

 

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