Aziz Ansari is on top of the world.
He’s a popular stand up comedian, best selling author, and breakout star of one of the most beloved sitcoms of the past decade. He’s probably a renowned chef and was the first man on Saturn, with that kind of track record.
With that level of buzz comes opportunity, and Ansari has capitalised by putting together what is clearly a labour of love.
In Master of None - a new Netflix series premiering Friday November 6, co-created with Parks and Recreation writer/Mouse Rat bass player Alan Yang - Ansari plays Dev, a thirty-year-old actor in New York. The ten-episode series finds Dev, loosely based on Ansari himself, struggling to figure out where his life is heading both personally and professionally.
The first episode, Plan B, focuses on Dev’s relationship with children and his ambivalence towards the idea of having them. The subject matter should be familiar to any thirty-something who has wondered whether they should have kids, or wait a little longer, or crank them out quick-smart because of a loudly ticking biological clock. The plot of the episode doesn’t feel especially groundbreaking; Dev has a romantic notion of parenting, which is thoroughly tested when circumstances contrive to force him into babysitting a couple of kids.
Where this episode - and Master of None generally - finds its unique angle is in the tone. Ansari, Yang and their writing team have a background in sitcoms like the aforementioned Parks and Recreation, with broad humour and extremely high JPM (that’s Jokes Per Minute, to us in the biz. By “us in the biz”, I mean me. So by “biz” I mean sitting on my couch eating corn chips and watching sitcoms. I am a captain of industry), and it is clear that they know their way around a good old fashioned setup and punchline.
But that’s not all this show is interested in. Outside of a few brief, deftly deployed dream sequences, the world of Master of None is a naturalistic one. Rather than the heightened, cartoony reality of Pawnee, this show essentially takes place in our own world, giving it a relatable, slice-of-life quality. This is a real city, with real people, facing real problems. It’s just that these real people are sometimes funnier than us.
The tone is greatly informed by the direction of James Ponsoldt, who tackles several episodes. Ponsoldt has a background in indie film, having directed The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour, and he brings that low-budget, dramedy feel to Master of None.
I am aware, by the way, that I just used the word “dramedy”. I apologise. I won’t do it again.
Where Master of None really shines is in its explorations of dating. Ansari has written a book on romance in the technology-driven modern world (called, appropriately enough, Modern Romance) and it’s a frequent subject in his comedy. He has a keen sense of what’s funny, interesting, and awful about dating in the time of texting, Tinder and Uber, and he brings that to this show.
At times, it almost feels like a Linklater-esque romantic comedy (this is not - I repeat, NOT - a bad thing. Just to be clear). This aspect of the show is especially clear in the third episode, Hot Ticket, in which Dev finds himself with a spare ticket to a concert and tries to find a girl to go with him. Again, a standard setup as far as sitcoms go, but Master of None fills the episode with jokes and observations that feel like they couldn’t have come from any other writing team.
The second episode - Parents - expands on the world of the first, introducing Dev’s parents. The fact that the first two episodes focus on kids and parents, respectively, is deliberate. This is a show by and about a particular generation, and by immediately bringing the stand-in for that generation into conflict with those both before and after, the show defines the parameters. It’s not about the adults, and it’s not about the kids. It’s about those stuck in between, realising that they’ve gotten too old to be the latter but don’t feel equipped to be the former.
It’s eminently relatable, and brought to life by an immensely likeable leading man, great supporting cast (including Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric fame and an adorable child actor who I swear I’ve seen before in something it’s just driving me crazy) and huge talent behind the scenes.
Watch Master of None, is what I’m saying. Jeez. It really shouldn’t have taken seven hundred words for me to get to that point, but here we are.
Daniel Hall is a screenwriter and pop-culture commentator who has written about a variety of shows for a variety of websites.
Twitter - @danieljohnhall