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Aziz Ansari's Sharp 'Master of None' Tactfully Fills Culture Gap

TV/Film ReviewEzra CarpenterComment

Aziz Ansari’s Netflix original series Master of None is an urban romantic comedy in the mode of an early-thirties, American-Indian actor’s exploration of what it takes to satisfy a young man in twenty-first century New York City. Ansari shines in his leading role as Dev, navigating bad dates, workplace disappointments, and a progressing relationship with his signature enthusiasm and sharp humor throughout the first 10 episodes. 

We learn about Dev through dialogue comprised mostly of questions he poses to his friends Denise (Lena Waithe) – the voice of reason, Arnold (Eric Wareheim) – the quirk, and Brian (Kelvin Yu) – Dev’s fellow first-gen American. Each presents his and herself as an expert on the topic of inquiry, giving Dev unique answers that speak to their personalities. While Dev’s friendships set up the show’s most interesting narratives, much of the show’s appeal is owed to Dev’s relationship with Rachel (Noël Wells). 

Though Rachel’s introduction is ambiguous and awkward, chemistry builds quickly between her and Dev. Ansari and Wells are natural complements to each other on screen, authenticating their characters’ playful humor. We are made to believe that these two were made to laugh together. Their jokes, while obviously methodical, are so intimate and endearing that we elevate their comedic interplay to an ideal. We aspire to their shared laughs and imagine ourselves within their vibrant and seamless relationship. 

Master of None engages itself in contemporary arguments regarding underrepresentation (typecasting in particular), feminism, and the generational culture gap between immigrant parents and their American-born children. The series is not condemning in presenting its case, but makes its point through instances of absurdist humor that offer poignant criticisms from minority perspectives. The gravity and relevance of the topics Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang have chosen to take on seem to have overshadowed the show’s merits in early reviews, but Master of None is undeniably tactful in how it addresses these issues and revolutionary in how it combats the discriminatory practices addressed in the show by how it conducts business in real life.  

Where the show does seem to falter is in its transitions between the aforementioned absurdist humor and its more realistic humor founded in common experience. There is no middle-ground comedy bridging the downturn of Dev’s romantic endeavors with a pitch to rebrand the Washington Redskins as “the Washington Breadsticks.” Like Ansari’s stand-up material, the show can sometimes be overly dependent on its battle-tested humor (racial jokes, Ansari’s mannerisms), but each cast member brings a personalized comedic sensibility that resonates with its audience by nature of its distinctiveness. 

Master of None's debut season features full-bodied storylines whose humor is at all times conscious of what has already happened. Case in point: “You cut in line in front of me at the ice cream store.” “So you fucked my wife?” The narratives demonstrate equal retrospective reach. Interlocking themes reappear five episodes later, developing Dev and Rachel’s relationship as fully as the brevity of ten episodes allows and making the show perfect for the binge-watching exploits of both religious and casual fans to romantic sit-coms. An impressive first production by Ansari, Master of None walks you through the cultural moment with insightful humor and criticism that only its dynamic multicultural cast can provide.