NOTE: This review may contain mild spoilers for the first season of Master of None. That said, the review is written to accommodate those who have not yet seen the season, and as such, will avoid discussion of major plot developments.
Aziz Ansari sure loves hanging out on Netflix. Ansari has several stand-up comedy specials on the ultra-popular streaming service, and it only seemed like a matter of time before he officially spearheaded his very own Netflix Original Series. That series has now arrived, in the form of Master of None, which is a series created by Ansari himself, alongside Alan Yang, one of his writers during his time on now-wrapped NBC comedy, Parks and Recreation.
Master of None appears to be at least quasi-autobiographical for Ansari, based around his own experiences of living in New York as an up-and-coming actor. Some of the show’s jokes directly pull anecdotes straight from Ansari’s stand-up routines, whether the Netflix ones or otherwise, and Ansari’s lead character’s parents on the show are actually Ansari’s real-life parents, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari. The show’s themes centering around dating insecurities and second-generation immigrants also seem to pull heavily from Ansari’s real-life experiences, as revealed in interviews and the like, so avid fans of Ansari will definitely have a lot to sink their teeth into for this Netflix’s show’s initial batch of ten episodes.
Even to those unfamiliar with Ansari’s life story or body of work however, Master of None carries plenty of appeal, since it’s one of the most subversive, clever and funny romantic comedies to come along in any form, in quite a long time. In fact, this is a new Netflix comedy series that starts out so strong, so inspired and so bold, that it even gives the infectiously lovable first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the vastly improved second season of BoJack Horseman a run for their money!
Of course, you might not realize that from the start. Master of None takes an episode or two to really hit its stride, especially when it introduces the show’s main love interest, Rachel, played in a standout part by Noel Wells, then appears to usher her off after the first episode, as if she were just a one-off diversion for Ansari’s lead, Dev Shah. Despite a solid comedic foundation of Dev having to awkwardly go fetch Plan B with Rachel at the local pharmacy, long before he ever gets to know anything about her, the first episode can be a bit of a drag, as if it’s rehearsing before really delivering its true final product.
Dev’s indecision also leads to a series of forgettable love interests that are mostly played off as gag fodder, albeit good gag fodder. The series really comes into its own when Rachel returns, and Dev finally begins his true personal journey to figuring out where he fits into his aimless 32-year-old existence. This is especially thanks to Noel Wells stealing the show with one of its best characters. Rachel is witty, idealistic, and yet, surprisingly human. She’s never portrayed as a perfect woman, but as a very good one that’s incredibly easy to love and root for. Even then though, her struggles with Dev don’t feel contrived or hackneyed. They unfold organically and realistically, and that makes the budding relationship between Dev and Rachel feel like it comes from a real place, leading to its twists and turns innately becoming more engaging and believable.
Dev similarly appears to be treading water in his acting career, despite making enough off of royalties from an especially beloved commercial to sustain a decent New York living. Much of these ten episodes have Dev take a role in a fictional schlock horror movie called “The Sickening”, where we get an amusing look at dead end jobs for actors via Ansari’s clever lens. This is also where we meet another of the show’s best supporting characters, Benjamin, played by Archer and Bob’s Burgers lead, H. Jon Benjamin, a laid-back actor buddy of Dev’s who is likable and down-to-earth, even when he offers some occasionally questionable advice.
This is another reason why Master of None feels like such a success in its debut season. It doesn’t try too hard. It focuses on quality over quantity, even in the episode count, it lets the writing breathe, never strains for laughs, and allows the personal, heartfelt journey of its lead character to carry a series of strong scripts and equally strong direction, with Ansari himself sometimes helming certain episodes to great effect. Granted, there are few moments where you’ll truly bust a gut laughing, but the laughs still aren’t hard to find, if you’re willing to accept the show’s more relaxed, witty pace. Yes, the show is obviously a bit dependent on you enjoying Aziz Ansari, and if you don’t, then Master of None isn’t for you, but if you do appreciate Aziz Ansari’s talent for comedy, you’ll find it utilized to its full effect here, without ever becoming obnoxious, or straining credibility.
Enhancing said comedy further is the fact that each episode concept is both grounded and relatable, yet distinctly carves out its own identity amidst so many other quasi-autobiographical comedy shows by other established comedians. You’re bound not to agree with every last conclusion that Ansari draws about every last conflict, but the journey is never less than sublime. No difficult situation is made easy, and not every resolution makes sense, because real life doesn’t always make sense, yet even when this happens, the right well-placed jokes help to distract from intentionally less-than-airtight fiction. Even the debut season’s ultimate conclusion is bound to take you by surprise, but in tying with the theme of risk-taking and believing in your own potential, it’s probably the best conclusion that this first season could have offered.
2015 has been an excellent year for Netflix Original programming, and particularly for Netflix Original comedy shows. Master of None is another excellent final product that the streaming service can be very proud of. Its unassuming marketing and first impression might not hook you right away, but if you stick with it, you’ll find the kind of bold, groundbreaking comedy offering that would probably only be allowed on an avenue like Netflix. On top of that, the series firmly establishes Aziz Ansari as one of the best up-and-coming comedians working on television at present, as if Parks and Recreation hadn’t done that enough already. Parks and Recreation was a goofy sitcom set in a goofy town though.
Aziz Ansari however will not be typecast as such. Already, he demonstrates incredible maturity and charm on his own merits, along with a brash, unapologetic wisdom to his approach in a firm planting of real-world material. I can’t wait to see where Dev’s journey may take him next. By all means, it must continue!
- Ansari's brilliant wit as a lead actor, director and writer
- Noel Wells' excellent love interest
- Bold, subversive comedic take on issues close to Ansari
- Doesn't hit its stride right away