Aziz Ansari has always been one of the harder comedians in the business to peg. While I usually found him funny on ‘Parks & Recreation’, in comparison to some of the other actors in the ensemble, particularly Aubrey Plaza and Chris Pratt, he often seemed to have something of a disconnect. So I was reluctant to get involved with his new project with Netflix, ‘Master of None’, even though the reviews bordered on the exceptional. The descriptions of the series made it sound like another one of those ‘comic in real life’ series such as ‘Louie’ or ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm, shows that have never struck me as brilliant as the rest of the world seems to find. Then the Golden Globes and Critics Choice nominated Ansari for Best Actor. Maybe it was time to give it a look.
Upon reviewing the first three episodes, its definitely far more engaging than those series were at first glance. Ansari plays Dev, a thirty-year old actor living in New York, trying to make it in to the business, engaged in hookups, hanging with his best friend Arnold and his lesbian friend Denise.
Admittedly, Dev seems to be more of a man-child than the majority of these comedians playing themselves are. But there is an added wrinkle absent separating that show from this– his Indian identity, something that was nearly completely ignored from ‘Parks & Rec’ . In the second episode, Dev is frustrated with his father for only using him for fixing his Ipad. Then, in a very amusing flashback, we saw Dev’s father’s childhood, the poverty he lived, the devotion to work he followed, the racism he endured when he came to America. We then saw a similar path for a Chinese friend of his. And slowly, we saw the generational gap bridged in a far more casual way than most series in format have dealt with before. It was quietly moving and also very amusing, especially in the last two minutes.
Dev’s path to Hollywood has always been more engaging than usual. Throughout the first couple of episodes he has been auditioning and eventually getting cast in a really cheesy zombie movie known as ‘The Sickening’, a film so awful, you can pretty much imagine it being cast and shot as we speak. This has also led to some of the more typecasting of Indians that we have seen, and some of the more appalling shortcuts Hollywood has taken. (One of the episodes started showing ‘Short Circuit’, an 80’s hit that featured Fisher Steven in brownface. Ick.) It also features a tongue-in-cheek approach to how actors measure each other. H. Jon Benjamin has a role in this film, demonstrating that he can steal scenes when he’s not doing voice-overs. It’s silly in its way, but it’s a far more telling type of satire.
This is a fairly substantial triumph for Ansari who, like so many of the other heads of these types of series also writes and directs many episodes. And even though he was often highlighted to good use on the most recent sitcom, ‘Master of None’ demonstrates such how talented he truly is. It’s still not quite a masterpiece – the other actors don’t seem to have yet been used nearly as well- but in simple scenes where they all sit around and binge watch ‘Sherlock’, you can tell than this series has a much more solid grip on reality than ‘Parks & Recreation’ ever did. It’s not yet a perfect show, but it makes very clear that Aziz Ansari is not going to be a one-hit wonder.