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Aziz Ansari's Master of None: Netflix's best comedy series yet?

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As is often the case with Netflix original series, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Master of None surfaced without too much hype and then, over the space of one weekend, became the must-see TV series around the world thanks to social media, word-of-mouth and glowing critical reviews.
This seemingly modest 10-part series about a struggling 30-year-old actor in New York is packed full of razor-sharp observations about communities and relationships in the digital age, family, ageing, and — perhaps most notably — race in the film and TV industries.
Ansari, whose parents moved from India to America in the years before his birth, started his career as a stand-up comedian in the early 2000s before co-creating and starring in two seasons of MTV’s sketch comedy Human Giants. He then became even more widely known with his role as Tom Haverford, a cocky, confident, image-obsessed public servant turned entrepreneur on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
But with Master of None, which Ansari created with Parks and Rec writer Yang, Ansari digs deeply into his own personal experiences and comes up with something that’s immediate and undeniably fresh.
It’s not a perfect series by any stretch of the imagination — much of it is too obvious in its aims and the opening scene of the first episode is sort of lazy. It’s your standard sitcom sex scene where a condom breaks and then two characters ignorantly and embarrassingly discuss the biological factors of sex. The thing which makes it “bold” is that Ansari has cast himself, an Indian actor, in a sex scene. And how many sex scenes have you ever seen on TV involving an Indian actor?
When the series hits it stride, it’s like a breath of fresh air with a bittersweet aftertaste. In the third episode, the show makes a difficult but clear point about dating in 2015: it’s become just plain mean. Dev reads out an abrupt and borderline cruel text message exchange between himself and a potential date. Are we all starting to forget that the person on the receiving end of a text is actually a person?
Many critics have already heaped praise onto the second episode, Parents, which is an excellent look at the experience of Ansari and Yang as the second generations in migrant families. Ansari’s real-life parents play his parents in the series (and do an excellent job as non-actors) and the episode becomes a sharp examination of the differences in life experiences and expectations between various generations.
The episode Indians on TV is even stronger — an all-too-real indictment on Hollywood’s race standards. In the episode both Dev and his actor friend Ravi (played by Ravi Patel) are auditioning for a new sitcom which has its three leading characters open to actors from any ethnicity. The network likes both Dev and Ravi’s performances but decides (as Dev finds out thanks to a mistakenly forwarded email) that they couldn’t possibly have two Indian actors in the series.
Dev and Ravi talk about how long these attitudes take to change and what they can do to change them, discussing ’90s sitcom Will and Grace, and pointing to the fact that it had two gay characters in its main cast. And it was all the way back in the ’90s.
If you look at Will and Grace now, its representation of gay men living in New York is a little too obvious and often uses cliche to connect with a broader (and straight) audience. It was, of course, groundbreaking in how it put two gay characters into the living rooms of straight families all around the world but it now seems a little gauche, even though it remains warm and hilariously funny.
I imagine (and hope) that in a decade or two elements of Master of None will be viewed in the same way. This is a series that will open up conversations about race on TV and the experiences of migrants and their children. And even when it lacks nuance, just as Will and Grace often did, it’s setting an agenda which will be expanded on by TV creators in the future.

5 responses to “Aziz Ansari's Master of None: Netflix's best comedy series yet?

  1. We don’t want any series from netflix, nor original movies, but movies we would like to see, that have already been released, esp older ones. They are failing in what we want.

  2. That may be what you want, but I personally want the original TV shows. I never watch old movies on Netflix or Amazon. I’m pretty sure I’m in the majority since that is what Netflix is pushing.

  3. Yeah – it’s pretty good. Reminded me of the brilliant “Extras” from Ricky Gervais. Aziz has got the face for comedy, and his co-writing in this is first class. Very easy to binge watch the 10 eps.

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