TV review: ‘Master of None’

| Film Editor

As I neared the end of Aziz Ansari’s book, “Modern Romance,” I found myself wondering: “Where are the jokes?” Unlike recent comedic memoirs, my favorite genre of nonfiction writing, Ansari’s summer release focused on…science. Science of the analytical kind, definitely, and with jokes sprinkled in—but science, nonetheless.

In his latest project, the Netflix series “Master of None,” Ansari continues with this trend of experimental comedy. “Master of None” is a scripted series, a departure from the hour-long stand-up specials comedy fans have come to expect from Netflix partnerships, in which Ansari explores the nuances of millennial life, from relationships with parents to the idea of having children.

Ansari plays Dev, an up-and-coming actor living in Brooklyn who shares many of the same ponderings about modern day love and life as his creator. His friend group is diverse yet similar: Though they identify with differing ethnic backgrounds and sexualities, they live within the same hipster sub-culture, a world in which secret Father John Misty concerts and nights spent binge-watching “Sherlock” are the norm.

They are exceedingly privileged, seeming to lead comfortable lives that still provide them with ample leisure time. However, while sampling cocktails at a bar, they whine about the difficulties of their generation. The show particularly invokes the inherent vanity of millennials in its second episode, “Parents.”

In this episode, Dev and a friend are so wrapped up in their perfect lives that they forget about the sacrifices their immigrant parents made in order to provide these lives for them. When his father asks him to do him a favor, Dev’s reason for saying no is that he “doesn’t want to miss the previews” of the movie he is going to see. This behavior seems humorous until we see a flashback of his father’s life: first playing with an abacus in India, forbidden from toys; then leaving his country behind, penniless, to go to medical school in America. In the end, Dev buys his father a guitar and lessons after hearing that he was barred from such things as a child, but his father cancels the lessons, because he doesn’t like how playing guitar hurts his fingers.

Ultimately, this final scene is what saves us from viewing Dev in a negative light, by showing us that perhaps laziness is an American problem rather than a millennial one. But by showing us that we can all have our moments when we prioritize ourselves over showing appreciation for someone else, he removes blame from the children everywhere who feel guilt about their parents’ sacrifices.

This trend of referencing more serious topics than a typical sitcom would is dominant in “Master of None.” While sitcoms of yore would base a “very special episode” on a specific topic, the first two episodes reference ideas far more serious than Dev’s budding movie career, which has led him to the role of a scientist that gets grotesquely infected by a mysterious disease called “the Sickening.” Ansari’s position as an already successful comedian positions him to do this; as the show’s creator, he has expertly tailored “Master of None” to address topics that would be solely a punch line in the average sitcom.

It’s also darker than the typical comedy fare in that it doesn’t pretend that the world is perfect beyond the little world it has created. Dev and company are concurrently aware of their good fortune and terrified of the future and the seriousness it will inevitably involve. From a filmmaking perspective, each scene is treated tenderly. The flashbacks to India, which so easily could have gotten into campy territory, are shot to look more like an inspirational biopic than a sitcom.

While existential topics direct the episodic plots, Ansari’s moments of levity through these serious themes make the show enjoyable. The show’s unique format reflects the differences between the generations it portrays: Ansari’s friends don’t frequent the same coffee shop or bar every episode as their parents would have done, but, rather, are all over New York, from cool concert halls to married friends’ houses in the suburbs. The episodes reject tropes and each take off in a different direction than the one before, with Ansari’s budding career and group of friends as the constant features that link each episode to the next.

Lately, new situational comedy series have seemed tired, falling back on the same cliches and jokes. With its unique format and themes, “Master of None” rejects the traditional sitcom format, solidifying Netflix’s reputation for unique, deeper content and providing an avenue for future comedy shows to follow.

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