Everyone gets their own TV show nowadays. The introduction of streaming services has forced traditional media companies to pour buckets of money into acquiring new, and retaining existing, programming. The highly competitive market hands out scripted series like Oprah hands out cars (or bees). So its no surprise that Aziz Ansari landed his own show like so many comedians before him. What’s unexpected is just how important and culturally relevant Master of None turned out to be.
Master of None has premiered with a confidence that most shows take years to develop. Its bravado is immediately evident in the second episode, Parents, where Dev’s parents recount their years of struggle emigrating to America that have culminated into an exact moment in time: when Dev turns down time with his family to go see the latest X-Men movie (he really doesn’t want to miss the previews). This rolls right into Indians on TV, a casual contemplation on the portrayal of South Asian characters and the politics of casting more than one minority on air. Master of None tackles these sensitive issues with a casual elegance unmatched by other shows. However, Master of None is not a “minority show”, as the TV exec in Indians on TV would try to suggest. You’ve still got your usual suspects: the horrors of dating, the realities of living together, having kids. In these moments, it more closely resembles an adolescent Louie: Nashville is a perfect example of the signature awkwardness that these two comedians are able to strike. While beloved for his over-the-top Tom in Parks and Rec, Aziz is similarly built for the conversationalist and non-confrontational realism (with some signature over-delivery, of course) that Master of None excels in delivering. None of its social commentary ever feels in-your-face or stitled, yet it sustains an unflinching lens into Dev’s painful acting career (despite the overused “life of an actor” trope). The show is a fantastic tool for examining both the obvious and perceived slights that a person of color like Dev encounters on a consistent basis. Unburdened by the hyper-specific pop-culture references that would have alienated new viewers (ahem, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Master of None is accessible to all audiences and has much to give to each and every viewer tuning in. It is Netflix’s best comedy so far. Its also a show that we didn’t realize we needed until it showed up in our queues last week.
Granted, its not all parmesan sandwiches and white barbecue sauce. There are still some growing pains to be worked out. The direction is often lackluster, resulting in some unimaginative camera work despite its attempts at equally uninspired tracking shots. When compared to the one-episode acting of some heavy-hitting players (Claire Danes, Noah Emmerich) and fantastic bit parts (Nina Arianda as Alice, H Jon Benjamin as Benjamin), the work of the primary supporting cast (Denise, Arnold, Brian) leaves much to be desired. They are often lethargic and do little to inject the episodes with some much needed enthusiasm and energy (which, granted, may be a result of the directing anyway). Aziz is not immune to criticism either; he’s at his best as a writer and conversationalist, but wields a brand of acting that is loud, obnoxious, and not especially deft. With all of that said, Master of None expertly makes all of it feel so purposeful. Much of the show is spent exploring minorities in film and television; that since only one minority can be cast, only the best-of-the-best-of-those-willing-to-humiliate-themselves make it to the top. At the same time its not an understatement to say that much of TV stars an underwhelming white person; networks are so forgiving when it comes to flooding the airwaves with white material that no one needed or wanted in the first place (in an ode to Indian stereotypes, Big Bang Theory is chugging along on its millionth season). As such, “the rest” are given virtually zero opportunities to succeed or fail, unlike their mediocre pale counterparts who are given every opportunity to straight up fail. The exposure of putting an mediocre Indian actor in the lead everyman role usually reserved for a white man, supported by an equally diverse cast, is the point. Because why not? The least anyone can do is give it a chance and see how it plays out; opportunity is all anyone is asking for. The perspective of Master of None is invaluable and necessary, so who cares if each individual element isn’t masterful? To end with an eye roller: a jack of all trades is better than a master of one.