Aziz Ansari is best known for the charismatic, well-dressed, hyperactive Tom Haverford in the wonderful Parks and Recreation. His stand-up is also well worth checking out, and new Netflix series Master of None, with acting, directing, producing and creator credits for Ansari, completes the trifecta of his personal brand.
Each Ansari character is basically a hyper-version of his stand-up self. His bug eyes often pop with excitement, he chatters often non-stop and he likes to get a bit silly.
But the beauty of Master of None is that while it finds time for its star’s trademark silliness, it also tackles some serious topics with real thoughtfulness in a fashion rarely seen in most half-hour TV comedies.
In one episode, Dev (Ansari) realises the importance of spending time with his parents and finding out about their past including the journey from India to America. In another, he realises how lonely old people can be and how they appreciate a bit of company, spending a lovely day with his girlfriend’s Grandma Carol.
Other topics include racism in TV casting – Dev is an actor who realises how stereotypical parts for Indian actors usually are – and dating etiquette in a world with texting and Tinder, a topic Ansari looks at in even more depth in both his stand-up and recent book, Modern Romance.
One memorable device follows Dev and Rachel (Noël Wells) solely within their apartment after she moves in, showing how things in their relationship change throughout the subsequent months. It’s almost a classic bottle episode but with more meaningful narrative purpose which really is effective.
Sometimes these deep points feel slightly shoved down the viewer’s throat, with Dev or one of his friends saying the lesson very carefully and pointedly out loud, but aside from this one niggle it is definitely an interesting way to anchor each episode – especially when combined with some laughs.
Speaking of the comedy, full marks to Dev’s circle of friends. Arnold (Eric Wareheim) is the best, probably peaking when he falls in love with a robotic seal. Kelvin Yu as Brian (starring in the aforementioned immigrant parents episode) and Lena Waithe as baseball cap-wearing, no holds barred Denise also brighten any scene.
I also have to add my voice to the wave of appreciation for Ansari’s real life parents who play Dev’s parents on the show, after he struggled to find anyone else quite right for the role. They have natural warmth and the father in particular is a bit cheeky, clearly having the time of his life (he’s said he only did it to spend more time with his son).
Also very enjoyable are the snippets we see of The Sickening, the black virus movie in which Dev plays a scientist. The over-acting, science fiction cliches and H. Jon Benjamin are a joy to behold.
Overall, Dev sums up being a confused 30-year-old in New York in a more relatable and likeable way than many shows out there (I’m looking at you, Girls). Master of None is something fresh and rarely seen in today’s TV climate – comedy with a message, but also comedy with feelings and with fun.