Thanks to his seven-season run on Parks and Recreation, four stand-up specials and his book Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari has been a prevalent figure in pop culture over the past few years. So, it's easy to understand why many fans might think they know exactly what Ansari is about. But in his new Netflix show, Master of None, Ansari proves that he has far more to offer than the vibrant wonderment that's defined his career thus far.
Master of None is the first project helmed by Ansari, and the series quickly positions the comedian as a card-carrying TV Auteur among the likes of Louis C.K., Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling. Ansari stars as Dev, a New York actor who makes most of his living off residuals from an old Go-Gurt commercial. And where most of Netflix's original series treat themselves as extended films - often resulting in painfully slow storytelling - Master of None finds the perfect middle ground between the cinematic and episodic.
Each of the 10 episodes feature a self-contained story focused on a specific theme - parents, sexism, race, etc. Despite broaching these heady topics, the series avoids feeling preachy. That's because Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang take the time to parse through the issues instead of putting forth a clear-cut thesis on each theme. Far too often complicated ideas like feminism are reduced to a blanket statement with no room for nuance. But Master of None embraces a spectrum of perspectives, giving voice to various views that challenge one another, even within a group of people who ultimately share the same ideals.
In the episode "Ladies and Gentlemen," for example, Dev takes a stand against the daily aggressions women face by fighting for female representation in a commercial and performing a citizen's arrest on a subway masturbator. But even as Dev is riding high on his small foray into feminist activism, he proceeds to write off his girlfriend Rachel's (Noel Wells) frustration when a man pointedly ignores all the women at the table. This moment isn't included to paint Dev as yet another misogynist, but to remind viewers that feminism is a life-long process, and it's okay to f--- up now and then as long as you're willing to listen and learn.
This eagerness to explore and the resulting awe at what he discovers is one of Dev's defining characteristics. A working actor with no real passion for the industry, Dev's life is fueled by his own curiosity, and he's constantly searching for the next thing to capture his attention. At its core, Master of None is about a generation of people who are gifted with unlimited possibilities but suffer from decision paralysis. Dev often seems so concerned about where he is and where he's expected to go in his life that he forgets to really connect with the people he meets along the way. But when Dev does engage - whether it be with Rachel, her grandmother (Lynn Cohen) or his own father (played by scene stealer Shoukath Ansari, the actor's real-life father) - those are the moments when Dev seems the most at ease. At least until the next bout of FOMO comes along.
Rather than becoming another project bemoaning the millennial generation's short attention span and self-obsession, Master of None mines the universality of life. In the excellent second episode, "Parents," Dev and his friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) both blow off their fathers in order to make it to the movies in time to catch the trailers and movie trivia. This inspires each of their fathers to flash back to their youth -- in India and Taiwan, respectively -- and their immigration to the U.S., during which they worked tirelessly and faced massive prejudice in order to give their sons a better life. But while Dev's father Ramesh reprimands his son for taking for granted the opportunities his own sacrifices have afforded him - "You realize fun is a new thing right? Fun is a luxury only your generation really has," he says - Ramesh also brushes off a thoughtful gesture from Dev in favor of playing games on his iPad.
But Master of None isn't all thoughtful musings on the state of modern life. It's also filled with delightfully clever banter between Dev and his friends, who weave in and out of the season in a way that feels refreshingly natural, as opposed to yet another harp on Friends. In one particularly memorable scene, Dev and his friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim of Tim & Eric) debate whether or not "Lose Yourself" is told from the perspective of Eminem or his Eight Mile character Rabbit. Dev and Eric tackle this question with the same level of consideration and passion that they exhibit when attempting to reconcile whether or not it's okay to sleep with an unhappily married woman or debating the merits of parenthood.
No matter what issue the characters are facing, Ansari and Yang instill an empathy and self-awareness within Master of None that is reminiscent of equally smart takes on the plight of the thirtysomethings on You're the Worst and Catastrophe, but with much less cantankerous characters. The result is an incredibly sweet and hopeful show about living, dating and growing up that balances the pathos of modern life with all the hilarity one encounters along the way.
Master of None debuts on Netflix on Friday.