I’m probably coming into this review with a completely different mindset because I’m not familiar with Aziz Ansari’s work. I always just assumed he was funny from other people’s opinions and the fact that Parks and Rec was an incredibly popular show. Somehow, I managed to avoid everything he made (including that pizza delivery movie he made with Jesse Eisenberg or something). But after hearing about Master of None and its unanimous 100% rating for both seasons on Netflix, I decided to check it out one night with my roommate. Boy, was that an uncomfortable experience due to the opening sex scene. I wasn’t fully sure how I felt after watching the first episode (I mean, there were a few funny parts, but nothing really stood out), so I decided to put it aside for a while. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I revisited the show that I began to discover the genuine human story behind Master of None.
The structure of the show is quite unique. It is comprised of episodic vignettes centered around Ansari’s character Dev and his friends hanging out in New York. For some, this might be a bit disorienting; most people like their TV shows to tell a complete linear story from beginning to end. I was similarly skeptical after watching an episode that had no ties to the previous one. But at the same time, I recognized it as an ingenious technique; for most Americans, this is how life operates on a day-to-day basis. We experience random events that don’t depend on prior knowledge but rather instantaneous feeling. Sure, Master of None carries through several storylines that you would expect from television like the romantic subplot, but it largely allows the audience to walk alongside Dev and discover new things with him. I don’t think we get enough of that in this day and age.
If the show had just focused on Dev, I doubt it would be as strong. Thankfully, our energetic protagonist is joined by some memorable sidekicks like his awkward white friend Arnold, the non-stereotypical Asian friend Brian, and the lesbian black friend Denise (who’s probably the funniest of them all). This is an excellent case study where I don’t think they’re stunt-casting diversity. It really seems like Ansari, who I’m sure borrowed a lot from personal experience, would actually have friends like them and you can tell by their onscreen chemistry that all the actors work well together. Also included are Dev’s parents (played wonderfully by Ansari’s real mom and dad) and what I consider a breakout role from Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). It’s hard not to like any of the characters, making the show infinitely easier to watch.
But what makes Master of None truly worthy of that perfect Rotten Tomatoes score is its commentary on real-life issues. The obvious ones include relationships and racism, but others cover coming out to your parents, equal representation in media, family religion, and having kids. I may not necessarily agree or identify with everything this show decides to discuss, but it paints a realistic portrait of everyday Americans (and to a greater extent, human beings in general). Some of these are issues that people of a different skin color or sexual orientation have to struggle with and they often get pushed under the rug in favor of less controversial storylines. Master of None boldly explores those topics without forcing you to accept their worldview. Especially concerning shows with heightened versions of reality, honesty is an absolute necessity and it provides that in spades.
Still, I can find flaws with the show, particularly regarding some of the jokes. A surprising number of them just didn’t land with me for some reason, many of them from Arnold. While an endearing character, it seemed like the writers were desperately trying to make him look cool by delivering quirky lines that no one else would say. Sure, there may actually be people who act just like him, but it didn’t work all the time for me. Maybe the bar was set way too high (it’s pretty rare for anything mainstream to receive a perfect rating), subconsciously making me believe that every joke landed right on the money. Nevertheless, Master of None balances it out with exchanges like this one that perfectly line up with my experience:
Arnold: Dude, I’m hungry too. Let’s eat. I’m good with whatever.
Dev: Why do people always say that? That’s no help at all. “I’m good with whatever” basically means “I’m bad at helping decide things.”
I’m sure if you were a big Aziz Ansari fan before Master of None, you will absolutely love a show that perfectly fits his beaming personality and showcases his skills as a jack of all trades (actor, writer, director). But for me, this also served as a great introduction to his comedic genius. The guy just gets humor and delivers it well, elevating everyone around him. The production value is top-notch for a Netflix original series; I was impressed by the smooth camerawork and the use of music playing over dialogue-free scenes. The celebrity cameos are also nicely woven into the show without fanfare (my favorites are Claire Danes and Angela Bassett). You can jump in with any episode and have a good time. If this seems like too much praise, it’s well-deserved. Master of None may not be a 100% in my book, but it sure comes close. Now I should go back and watch Parks and Rec.