Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix series follows the life of actor Dev Shah, a guy in his 30s living in New York trying to figure out love, life, and success. The premise is tried and true, with numerous television series over the decades depicting various groups of friends living their lives in New York City and the experiences they have on a daily basis. We’ve all seen shows like “Friends,” “How I Met Your Mother,” or the quirkier, funnier “30 Rock.” However, “Master of None” takes the “friend group in New York” trope and applies an artistic, refreshing perspective to the scenario.
Netflix released all ten episodes of the first season simultaneously and it is totally feasible to watch the entire series in one sitting. The season intertwines together like one five hour film, yet each episode could also stand alone as a vignette. The production value of the show is excellent. Although the events in the series depict very normal phases of (financially stable) young adults living in New York, the cinematography was artfully orchestrated–far more refined than any situational comedy that has appeared prior in both film and television–creating a dreamy portrayal of otherwise mundane aspects of life.
Eric Wareheim, who plays Dev’s delightfully annoying friend Arnold in the show, directed four out of ten episodes and did so adeptly. The soundtrack for the series was carefully hand picked by Ansari and music supervisor Zach Cowie. From contemporary French R&B, Country, 80’s Bollywood and everything in between, every song chosen fit perfectly with each episode and added another sensory dimension to the show.
Each episode addresses a different topic, as demonstrated with titles like “Plan B” and “Old People.” Stand out episodes were definitely “Parents” and “Indians on TV,” and “Ladies and Gentleman.” “Parents” follows the stories of immigrant parents of East and South Asia and how different their struggles and values contrast with the lifestyles of their U.S. born children. Indian-American Dev and his Taiwanese-American friend Brian complain about their parents not understanding their issues as (somewhat vapid) first-generation Americans. The episode is filled with flashbacks of moments in their parents’ lives that lead up to their decisions to come to America, and it portrays their experiences in a nuanced and emotional way. Ansari casting his own parents in the show was really sweet, if not a little awkward considering his parents are not the greatest actors.
“Indians on TV” directly tackles issues of South Asian representation on television. It was nice to see Indian actors, aside from Ansari, portraying different personalities on screen at the same time. A favorite (if minor) character would be Anush, a body-builder who is in the process of creating a protein powder specifically marketed towards Desis.
“Ladies and Gentleman” displayed some perceptive screenwriting from Aziz and co-creator Alan Yang. The episode shows the very different experiences between men and women in nightlife, the workplace, and social media.
A large portion of “Master of None” is taken straight from Aziz’s stand up. If you’re familiar with his Madison Square Garden material, then you know that Aziz’s go-to topic was romance. The overall writing of the show felt very natural and conversational. But just because the conversations were very real, doesn’t mean they were necessarily groundbreaking. That could be because day-to-day conversations about race, love, and life are not uncharted territories to begin with, especially in this day and age.
Although the topic of race comes up multiple times, the entirety of the second half of the show focuses on romance and relationships. Aziz released a book earlier this year based on social-science research about dating in the digital age called “Modern Romance,” so he is well versed in relationship trends. However, there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between the two big topics Aziz addresses in his show. There’s an entire episode dedicated to race and representation on TV yet throughout the entire season, Dev only dates white women. It’s not my place to say anything about Aziz’s romantic preference, but considering he just spent one tenth of his season talking about how lacking South Asian representation is on television, he pays no attention to South Asian women. While Dev’s character has interesting and funny female African-American friends (the down to earth Denise and Diana), and goes on a quasi date with an East Asian woman, there are no female South Asians on the show outside of his mother. I’m aware that Mindy Kaling exists in the media, but “Master of None” would have been the perfect opportunity to introduce a complex, female South Asian character who fits into his modern, millennial New York lifestyle.
“Master of None” is the first of its kind. Not because of its premise but because of Ansari’s careful (yet lacking) assembly of a multiracial cast and the accuracy behind the show’s portrayal of how young adults live their lives today. Although the show is not perfect, it is evident that Aziz Ansari and the rest of the cast and crew of “Master of None” put a lot of effort into this show. The broad variety of topics that are tackled in this one season was ambitious and for the most part, it was done really well. The show captures many human experiences humorously and realistically, proving “Master of None” really is a jack of all trades.
Photo courtesy of Netflix