I was a huge fan of Parks and Recreation. The sitcom, which ended its run earlier this year, was a great and funny look at friendship and work, with great characters and ridiculous over-the-top archetypes that make up local government and small towns across the United States. Out of all the characters of the show, Aziz Ansari’s Tom was my least favorite. He was, in my opinion, too cartoonish – and that is an impressive feat in a world populated by the absurd. I didn’t find Aziz Ansari a very good actor, and ultimately found myself bored or irritated when he was on the screen, especially when the show focused on his romantic life towards the end of the series. I have also watched a couple of his stand up specials and felt even less impressed with the comic and his weird brand of humor, which is made up mostly of him being surprised by events and how people behave. His immaturity and easy placement into the bothersome man-child category that I really dislike only reinforced my feelings that Ansari is simply not very good at his job.
That has changed with his new Netflix sitcom Master of None. A New York City based television show about a man in his early thirties navigating life, friendships, family, and relationships in the twenty-first century. Ansari plays Dev, an Indian-American commercial actor. His group of friends is made up of the lovable yet weird Arnold (Eric Wareheim), the handsome and aloof Brian (Kelvin Yu) and a woman-loving truth-telling Denise (Lena Waithe, who is a revelation and consistently one of the best parts of the show). Although during the first few episodes of the first season Dev dates several women (look for Claire Danes playing against type and being funnier than expected), however pretty quickly he begins to exclusively spend time with Rachel (Noël Wells, who was forgettable on SNL but is finally allowed to shine here).
Aesthetically the show is very reminiscent of Woody Allen’s style, and that, to me at least, is a good thing. From the title and credits at the beginning of each episode, to the way in which the characters speak and interact with New York, even the choice to use jazz influenced renditions as backing music, Allen is a clear referent for Ansari’s vision of the city and the stories he wishes to tell.
This fun series is also very candid in its discussion of interesting, current, and sometimes uncomfortable topics, and it does it also really well. Death and aging, sexism and feminism, immigration, family dynamics, racism, marriage, infidelity… No topic is off limits. The tone is a perfect balance of funny but also avoids being disrespectful or offensive, proving that these topics can be looked at with levity without ridicule or mean-spiritedness.
This is a much more grown up Ansari, one who can still act childish or ridiculous, be finally more self-aware as well. Dev is someone who knows when to stop acting a fool, who can realize when he has gone too far, who is capable of engaging with issues in a more mature way while still reflecting the modern state of people in their early thirties who may not really see themselves as quite grown up yet. Dev may be a “master of none”, but Ansari finally shows that he is more masterful than I would have otherwise thought.