It’s not very often that you find a show that perfectly captures what it’s like to be you, let alone your entire generation. That is until Netflix gave Aziz Ansari a show.
The 10 episode first season of Ansari’s “Master of None” is easily one of the best first seasons of a comedy ever. There’s not a single false note. There’s never a moment of a freshman misstep, but maybe that’s because the show captures so well what it’s like to be in that freshman stage of life when you’re young, totally indecisive, and faking adulthood until you figure it out. If you ever figure it out.
“Master of None” is the story of Dev (Ansari) and how he navigates adulthood in NYC as a struggling actor with his friends and family. We’ve seen that kind of setup for a show billions of times. But this time with Ansari, one of the sharpest comedians out there, the show isn’t just a stiff comedy set up for jokes; it’s the perfect combination of funny and heartfelt. The characters make plenty of jokes, both observant and at other characters’ expense, but the real kicker of the show is that it finds comedy in real life situations that everyone under 30 faces. There’s an episode about connecting to grandparents; an episode about dealing with your friends that are getting married and having kids; an episode about talking to your parents; an episode about what happens when you sleep with someone else’s wife; an episode about how to ask someone out in the golden age of texting.
Anxiety is a common theme in every episode. Dev faces anxiety about settling down and starting a family, choosing career goals, and finding a great taco. What’s particularly honest about “Master of None” is how it deals with the modern relationship. Ansari’s book “Modern Romance” goes in depth into what it’s like to live in our technology-driven world and the struggle to find someone to share that world with. The book is excellent and you should read it if you haven’t already. The show takes on this same type of tone, presenting real situations in which Dev gets confused about how to date because this is 2015 and Tinder is a thing. He meets women in real life sometimes, sure, but he also goes on a date with someone he met on an online dating service who is clearly only interested in him for the free meal she’s getting. He struggles with writing the perfect text to ask someone to go with him to a concert and then painfully waits days (days!) for said female to text him back.
I’ll admit, I teared up while watching some of Dev’s dating misadventures because of how closely they resembled my failed attempts at finding love. How does Aziz Ansari understand me so well? We’ve never met, but I feel like he stole someone of these episode ideas right from my awkward dating life (or lack there of).
That anxiety isn’t always about relationships, though. Anxiety about careers and wasting time looking for that illusive eternal happiness is a common theme throughout the episodes. Dev often worries along with his friends if one day it will be too late for him to find love and have a family and do the whole textbook life thing, if that’s even what he wants. The show often directly points out that line we walk between being an adult but still feeling like a kid. In an odd turn of events, the final episode of the season has Dev jetting off to Italy to become a professional pasta maker because he can’t waste any more of his life not making pasta? Pasta could lead to eternal happiness I suppose.
When the show isn’t making you sweat about life goals and relationships, it’s busy pointing out problems with how we deal with race, not just as a social problem but also in television. It’s very meta. So meta that Ansari decided to cast his own parents to play his parents on the show because he didn’t want them to become typical Indian stereotypes (and they’re not because they are too busy being the funniest characters on the show). One episodes points out the problem with being a minority actor. Dev is asked to do a humiliating Indian accent to be able to play an Indian cab driver for a role. When he asks why he almost immediately doesn’t get the part. “Master of None” doesn’t handle race delicately; making it actually feel like a real conversation about stereotypes in our world and why we still insist that a dude with an Indian accent is funny.
With all these smart ideas floating around in different episodes, the segments tend to be disconnected often being able to stand on their own, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t flow together. Sure, storylines are brought through each episode, but you can watch them out of order and still understand what’s happening. Characters seem to come and go, too. In the very first episode, “Plan B,” Dev offers to babysit one of his friends’ kids for the afternoon. The friend is grateful and later he eats dinner with her and her brother. Those characters are never seen or heard from again. Sometimes Dev has scenes with his lady friend Rachel, sometimes having whole episodes with just the two of them, and other times we have no idea where she is. Not all of Dev’s friends appear in every episode. But that’s OK because in real life not all of our friends are with us for every single thing that happens to us during the day. We have different groups of friends depending on the situation. Your work friends may be totally different from who you go to dinner with on a Friday night. It makes sense really that we have multiple people that come in and out of our story every day.
Lastly, the thing that stuck out to me the most about “Master of None” was the entire episode “Ladies and Gentlemen.” It tells the story of how men and women are treated very differently in this world. The episode features a storyline at the beginning when one of Dev’s actor friends, a female, walks home by herself after a night out with friends where she is followed home by a drunk creep that kept trying to get her attention at the bar. She ends up having to call the police because she can’t get him to leave her alone. And, clearly, she wasn’t asking for that attention. The episode goes on to explain that there are so many things that a guy can do that a girl could never do. Dev’s girlfriend Rachel is going to pick up a couch she bought from a guy online. It’s a nice couch from a reputable guy but she insists she can’t go alone to a stranger’s apartment, especially a male stranger, because you never know what could happen. She points out that a guy never has to worrying about the buddy system.
Ansari doesn’t just capture the struggle of a young person. He remembers that women are also people and that their struggles often come with ridiculous added bonuses we did not ask for. Either he really gets women, or he listens to his girlfriend in real life very well. Either way, I’m thankful to a comedian that is finally taking the whole “show based on events in his life” thing and making it less about himself and more about an audience that is out there and waiting for someone to give it a realistic voice. There’s nothing smarter and funnier than reality.