Perhaps you’re coming into Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series Master of None with some assumptions. Let’s address those first. Actually, no. First, let’s say that Master of None is really good, just in case you’re the type of fast-twitch, impatient person who only reads the first few sentences of things. You should watch it. That’s the main story here.
But now, about those assumptions.
Some viewers might know Ansari primarily from his role as the status-obsessed, hyperactive Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation. Maybe, if you’re one of them, you’re coming into Master of None expecting something along the lines of Tom: The Sitcom, where Ansari bounces all over New York trying to work his way into the Manhattan elite through a series of half-formed business ventures funded by an incompetent sidekick who has remarkable hair and a trust fund. If that’s what you’re looking for, I have bad news: it is not that. It is kind of that, sometimes, only because Tom Haverford was like if Aziz Ansari was a character in Madden and you went in and jacked up all his attributes to 100, and there are still some recognizable pieces lingering at the base levels. He still likes fancy food, he still kind of freaks out over a dinosaur toy, etc. But this is a different, calmer, more thoughtful version of Ansari than we saw on Parks and Rec, so throw that assumption out.
Or maybe you watched the trailer and read the description for Master of None and thought to yourself, “Oh, it’s like Louie. It’s a series that is loosely based on his life, and he’s starring in it and co-writing and co-directing it, and it’s about a single guy in the entertainment industry living in New York. Just like Louie.” But nope, it’s not that either, even though, yup, it’s kind of that, too. It has some of the feel of Louie, in the way it can move from being profane and funny to sweet to sad all within a single episode. And it breaks form and scoots off down little unexpected paths sometimes, too, which are narrative moves Louie uses even though they’re not, like, “Louie moves,” per se. But Master of None is fundamentally different in a number of ways, not the least of which being the outlook on life it presents, which is probably a representation of where the two comedians are in their lives.
But now that we’ve covered the things the show isn’t, let’s get into what the show is.
Master of None, which Ansari co-created with Parks and Recreation veteran Alan Yang, stars Ansari as a character named Dev. When we meet Dev in the pilot, he’s an aspiring actor who’s out doing auditions and paying his rent with royalties from a Gogurt commercial. He’s at that age — Ansari is 32, so it’s safe to assume Dev is in that ballpark, too — where a split develops in your group of friends, with some settling down and getting married and having a million babies, and the ones who haven’t settled down starting to wonder exactly what it is they want out of life. Kind of a one-third- or two-fifths-life crisis, if you will. The first episode addresses this head-on by having him step in to emergency babysit two of his friend’s kids, one of whom is a delightful little demon named Grant who likes to shout “Farts!” and rub his wiener on things at the grocery store. We like Grant.
Later episodes branch out from there, sometimes centered around relationships and babies, but not always. One episode deals with the issues Indian actors face in the casting process. Another, the second, titled “Parents,” is a really wonderful take on the typical immigrant story, in which Dev and a Taiwanese-American friend try to relate to the parents that came to America to make a better life for them. It cycles from heartbreaking to heartwarming to hilarious, thanks in large part to Ansari’s real-life parents, who also play his parents on the show. What they lack in acting chops, they make up for with enthusiasm. If the idea of Aziz Ansari writing his real-life doctor father into the show and having him repeatedly say “Sh*t” while trying to make sense of his dinging iPad doesn’t bring a smile to your face, then man, you are too far gone for help.
All in all, it’s a really promising show, and a really interesting turn for Ansari. It’s warm, fun, and serious, and incredibly binge-able. And if you really insist on that Louie comparison from before, let’s say this: Louie is a show about someone saying “Okay, what do I do now?” Master of None is a show about someone saying “Okay, what do I do next?”