More and more, comedians are starting to embrace television as an outlet to complement their material, and more accurately, their psyche. This has happened with Louis C.K. and his FX series “Louie,” and Jim Gaffigan’s “The Jim Gaffigan Show” on TV Land. Television works incredibly well as a medium that turns comedians’ everyday thoughts into a 22-minute episode. That’s why it’s no surprise the format is a natural fit for the comedy of Aziz Ansari, best known for his role as Tom Haverford on “Park and Recreation” and his engaging live performances.
The actor-comedian specializes in delving into today’s culture and why we date each other like we do and why we behave so crudely. His comedy dares to go deeper into these issues rather than settling for a cheap sex joke here and there. Netflix’s “Master of None” is Ansari’s first stab at a sitcom, and the many issues he brings up onstage and in his book “Modern Romance” become fully realized, leading to not just an often affecting and hilarious show but also contributes to what Ansari wants to accomplish with his comedy.
Ansari stars as Dev, a young Indian actor who deals with everything from his heritage to pregnancy scares in New York with biting compliance. This character isn’t too far from what Ansari usually plays as he inserts his trademark high-pitched exclamations here and there for laughs while living the attuned 20-something life as he shifts around the streets of New York with his friends Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Denise (Lena Waithe) and Brian (Kelvin Yu) looking for that next relationship while pondering why everything went wrong with the last one.
The show isn’t strictly about who Dev dates and the search for love in today’s society, but also his Indian lineage, including the powerful second episode, “Parents,” involving Dev’s parents, who are played by Ansari’s actual mother and father, and the struggles they faced making enough money to enter America and start a family. This examination of their lengthy journey from then to right this second is contrasted as Dev’s father asks for help with his iPad’s calendar while Dev insists he doesn’t have time to fix it for him. Ansari’s commitment to switch up what he wants to say with each episode supports the thesis of “Master of None,” which is a varied, nonlinear collection of musings only slightly connected through Dev’s continuing relationship with Rachel (Noel Wells), who may or may not be Dev’s first real connection of the show.
Another striking element of the show is Ansari’s willingness to be honest and put his character in situations that have wild outcomes. In the fourth episode, “Indians on TV,” Dev auditions for a part in a sitcom named “Three Buddies,” a sitcom with three ethnically varied friends living in New York City. Dev and his friend both audition and notice how every audition they take part in asks them to use an Indian accent. Dev accidentally receives an email from the head of the network making a racist remark about having two Indians cast in lead roles. The ensuing episode is a deep look at how Indians fill roles in television and movies. It’s hard to recall ever seeing a show examine such a niche problem with honesty and hilarity. As long as “Master of None” continues to probe issues that cross Ansari’s prudent mind, every season should be filled with gratifyingly insightful episodes
The title “Master of None” implies Dev is still learning how everything works while retaining not much of anything. Through the foibles of single life in New York, the struggle to adapt to today’s culture of overload seems overwhelming following Dev around. It’s no secret that Dev is pretty much Ansari, who has embraced the pop-culture savvy required to live such a trendy life while not exactly trying to prove a point about the relationships and culture, but give perspective as to how it all works. Dev may be a “Master of None,” but Ansari is clearly a master of understanding modern life while immersed in it all, and it’s refreshing to have someone reveling in the now while also taking a step back to examine what anything even means in this fragment of the 21st century.