The archetype of a young person finding his or her way in the world is a familiar one. We’ve seen this character in countless coming-of-age television shows, movies and novels. But perhaps the reason why stories continue to revolve around this archetype is because we all encounter similar personal obstacles at some point in our lives. For 32-year-old Aziz Ansari, this character could not be more relatable. Known for his sharp stand-up comedy and his role as the goofy, cultured Tom Haverford on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” Ansari adapts this archetype and his own experience of living in the modern world in his semi-autobiographical show “Master of None.” Gleaming with ambition and charm, “Master of None” offers insightful commentaries on the entertainment industry, technology, family, diversity and dating.
In addition to writing and creating the show with “Parks and Rec” writer Alan Yang, Ansari plays the protagonist Dev Shah, a 30-something, up-and-coming actor navigating through life in Manhattan with his diverse group of friends and his parents — played by Ansari’s actual parents. Though the show only delivers a meager 10 episodes, each has its own deft blend of hysterical one-liners, tasteful cinematography and perceptive drama. The show’s opener “Plan B” explores the perks of single life versus married life through Dev’s botched one-night stand and venture to a child’s birthday party. “Parents” focuses on Dev and his friend Brian (newcomer Taiwanese-American actor Kelvin Yu) and their generational gap between their hard-working, immigrant parents. “Hot Ticket” presents Dev’s date gone wrong as an examination of the unexpected pitfalls of romantic relationships. Despite how most topics covered on “Master of None” are used in Ansari’s stand-up and best-selling book “Modern Romance,” the dialogue on the show still sounds rich and authentic, evoking a naturalistic style reminiscent of works by Woody Allen and Richard Linklater.
When watching “Master of None,” it’s easy to draw parallels to Louis C.K.’s acclaimed meta-satire “Louie” and Chris Rock’s star-studded comedy film “Top Five.” Each primarily takes place in New York City, uses innovative aesthetic techniques and features famous celebrities as exaggerated versions of themselves. Rock, C.K. and Ansari also write and act in their own work, playing characters who embody the traits of their creators. However, “Master of None” is noteworthy in its own right. It’s not as cynical as “Louie” nor as flashy as “Top Five.” “Master of None” simply combines the best qualities of both and adds its own distinctive flare.
Visually, “Master of None” is incredible to look at. It employs a warm color palette that saturates the streets of New York and scenes of Nashville from the Ansari-directed episode “Nashville.” The show also boasts an incredible soundtrack that includes music by Mac DeMarco, Lou Reed, Father John Misty, Broken Bells and Beach House. Ironically, Beach House’s dreamy tune “Master of None” is used in one episode, possibly as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the show’s title. In addition to the gorgeous visuals and outstanding music choices, “Master of None” enlists a fantastic cast of talented actors: Eric Wareheim (“Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”) plays Dev’s dorky single friend Arnold; Noël Wells (“Saturday Night Live”) plays Dev’s love interest Rachel; Lena Waithe (“The Comeback”) plays Dev’s deadpan lesbian buddy Denise; Ravi Patel (“Transformers”) and H. Jon Benjamin (“Archer,” “Bob’s Burgers”) play Dev’s actor friends. Even Claire Danes (“Homeland”), Danielle Brooks (“Orange is the New Black”) and rapper Busta Rhymes make some unusually delightful cameos. Ansari manages to craft these characters as three-dimensional and intriguing people, rather than portraying them as superficial, clichéd caricatures. Surprisingly, each side character also seems to have natural chemistry with Ansari, especially the lovely Wells.
While “Master of None” delivers Ansari’s topical humor, the show challenges viewers with socially relevant issues as well. In the seventh episode “Ladies and Gentlemen,” feminism and sexism come to light as Dev gradually comes to understand the double standards women face in today’s society. In the standout episode, “Indians on TV,” Dev ruminates over the misrepresentation and stereotypes of Indians seen in television and movies, citing Ashton Kutcher’s brownface in a Popchips commercial as an example. In one pivotal scene, Dev auditions for the role of “unnamed cab driver,” where he is reluctant to use an Indian accent when asked. “You know, Ben Kingsley did an (Indian) accent in Gandhi and he won the Oscar for it, so … ” the casting director remarks. “But he didn’t win the Oscar just for doing the accent,” Dev retorts. “I mean, it wasn’t an Oscar for Best Indian Accent.” This exchange not only showcases Ansari’s quick-witted humor, but also underscores the casting director’s microaggression as an example of how the industry undermines people of color in acting roles. These are just one of the many instances in “Master of None” that exhibit Ansari’s range as a groundbreaking actor and writer.
“Master of None” is a classic coming-of-age story, but Ansari perfectly nails every facet of a young person’s life, whether it’s discovering new things, falling in love or thinking deeply about the world we live in. One thing is for sure: Ansari may be a “master of none,” but based on this show alone, he has the potential to become the “master of everything.”