No new show is more suitable for Netflix binge-watching than Aziz Ansari’s completely charming, funny, and smart new sitcom Master Of None. The ten episodes that Netflix started streaming on Friday are like your favorite candy or potato chip — you consume one and feel compelled to have another. And another…
Ansari came to mass-audience prominence as the hyper-capitalist Tom Haverford on Parks & Recreation. Since then, he’s used stand-up comedy routines and a recent book, Modern Romance: An Investigation, to try and expand his subject matter beyond clever takes on hedonism and stardom. In this, Master Of None, created and written by Ansari and Alan Yang, represents a big leap forward.
Ansari plays Dev, a New York-based actor who gets by hustling roles in TV commercials and low-budget films. He hangs out with pals (played by Eric Wareheim, Lena Waithe, and Kelvin Yu), hits clubs, flirts with girls, dreams of being a star or of inventing a killer app. So far, just another 21st-century sitcom character, right? But Ansari instills in Dev qualities missing in most current sitcom protagonists, chiefly a conscience, and a curiosity about things other than himself. Sure, he’s prey to self-absorption: He resents having to attend a family meal, and whines when his favorite pairs of “sneakies” are ruined by an accidental encounter with dog poop.
But the stories gain richness when Dev moves outside his comfort zone. The episode about having dinner with his parents — played by Ansari’s real parents — is very funny but also very touching, as he comes to realize the sacrifices they’ve made that he too often takes for granted. (This realization is presented, it should be said, without framing it as a sentimental epiphany.) There’s a lot of talk about the importance of diversity in television these days, and that’s another level on which Master succeeds without calling attention to itself. A constant, witty-yet-serious undercurrent of ethnic and gender themes in society and pop culture plays out in every episode.
Early on, Dev begins dating a woman who shares his sense of humor and adventurousness, Rachel, played by Noel Wells. The gradual development of their relationship results in one of the best romantic comedies television has yielded recently. There is no level on which Master Of None does not bring pleasure. The guest stars — from Claire Danes feeling gloriously liberated from Homeland moroseness as a randy food critic, to the wonderful stage and screen actor Cady Huffman in a small role as a woman Dev auditions for — are superbly cast. The music is exceedingly well-chosen: When Dev and Rachel go to Nashville, the soundtrack doesn’t play any old Johnny Cash song, it plays a really good Johnny Cash song, “There You Go.”
Master of None already seems like one of the most confident success stories around.
Master of None is streaming now on Netflix.