Comedian Aziz Ansari has for the last few years been a rising star in the comedy world, carving himself a successful stand-up career before becoming a household name with his role of Tom Haverford on the critically acclaimed sitcom Parks and Recreations.
Now he returns with his self-penned sitcom Master of None which tells the story of one man’s journey through the trials and tribulations of adult life, often with hilarious and bittersweet results.
The series follows Dev Shah a semi-successful commercial actor who longs to break out and do more film work and take up his long desired hobby of pasta making, all the while trying to navigate the thorny issues romance, religion, race, family and various the various other issues that life throws his way.
Master of None largely covers the standard comedy plots that we’ve seen many times in many other TV comedies.
However, what Master of None does well is to take these familiar concepts and themes and not only make them feel fresh and innovative but also manages to make them feel funny again.
Take how the show manages to take the familiar “looking for love” trope which is the focus of several episodes, somehow turning it from a worn out cliché older than most fossils, into a beautiful story of the trials and tribulations of love and heartbreak.
Season 2 in particularly excels in making this kind of story feel fresh again, focusing its lens on the struggle of Dev and his feelings for his engaged friend, with it being the focus of some of the season’s best episodes.
I especially loved the extended episode titled “Amarsi Un Pro” a loving tribute to Italian cinema in which Dev finally after torturing himself with his feelings decides to bare all. It’s a moving and funny episode that that easily ranks one of the best of the entire show.
However, while I like the more plot-heavy episodes, my personal favourites are the more stand alone stories where the show decides to move away from romance and instead look at a different aspect of the life of Dev and his friends.
In my view, two of the best of these kinds of stand alone episodes are “Parents” from season 1 and the highly ambitious “New York I Love You” from Season 2.
“Parents” focuses on Dev and his friend Brian’s ignorance regarding the sacrifices made by their immigrant parents, who risked it all to come to America so that so that their children could enjoy a life of comfort and happiness.
It’s a sweet episode in which Dev comes to understand the long path his father took from working in a zipper factory in India to becoming a doctor in America and about his own personal dreams, with Dev coming to gain a new found respect for his father in the process.
“New York I Love You” doesn’t focus on Dev at all, with him only appearing at the beginning and end of the episode.
Instead, the episode focuses on a diverse set of strangers as they try to navigate their own struggles living in the Big Apple. From an overworked doorman at a plush apartment complex to a deaf shop worker and to a group of immigrant taxi drivers, the episode covers a varied range of characters all of whom face their own troubles and humorous shenanigans.
Such as the deaf woman who wishes her boyfriend would put more effort into their lovemaking, graphically signing as to what she wishes him to do, much to the annoyance of an angry mother nearby. Or the lovable taxi drivers who find their eagerly anticipated night out scuppered by overpriced drinks in a dead nightclub where their disappointment is scored the musical sewage that is the Vengaboys.
The episode is essentially a wonderfully funny short film that acts as a nice breather in between Dev’s adventures, showing that he’s far from the only person in New York struggling to navigate the familiar trials that life through at them.
My preference for these episodes is not to say that the other episodes of the series are of lesser quality, far from it.
Covering themes as diverse as the trouble of Indian-American actors to find parts that don’t reduce them to a stereotype, the issues of male privilege and the troubles faced by women in the world or the troubles of Dev’s efforts to claim to be a good Muslim in front of his more devout relatives while quietly enjoying the delicious sinfulness of bacon.
All these stories and others make for a series that is both funny but also somewhat insightful in its commentary on these issues.
The performances throughout the series are excellent, particularly from the show’s star and co-creator Aziz Ansari as Dev, a likeable and funny guy who is easy to relate to, always quick with a funny remark and cheeky grin.
Although, I personally found Ansari to be at this best in the moments that allowed him to showcase his dramatic skills, such as in the season 2 episode “The Dinner Party” in which he bids his friend (whom he has romantic feelings for) good night and we see his quiet anguish and pain in his face and body language as he heads home alone in a brilliant near unbroken single shot that spans the final few minutes of the episode.
The supporting cast is also in great form though they don’t quite the chance to shine as much as Ansari does, and more often than nought its the recurring guest characters of the series often steal the limelight.
I personally really loved the performance of Colin Salmon (a familiar face to fans of Brosnan-era James Bond films) as a slightly eccentric version of himself.
Regularly speaking about his lost cat Shakespeare and of his desire to make a film about a man who transforms into a car, citing his reasoning that “Batman has a Batmobile and Thor has a Thormobile”, it’s a frankly bizarre, but utterly hilarious performance with Salmon’s dramatic straight-faced delivery only making it all the funnier.
The real show stealer of the series is that of Ansari’s real life father Shoulkath Ansari as Dev’s father. A truly hilarious turn in which the elder Ansari essentially plays himself, imparting wisdom about life to his son in his time of need, but also quite keen to discuss the various unpleasant things he’s pulled out of people’s bodies in his job as a doctor.
The man is a simply hilarious to watch with his pitch perfect timing and peculiar delivery being all the more impressive given his lack of acting experience, with his performance feel all the more natural and funnier as a result.
Headed by a funny and charismatic leading man, aided by some smart and funny writing and backed up with a very funny father, Master of None is a wonderful trip through life’s various troubles and wonders.
While it might not be to everyone’s comic tastes, it nonetheless manages to cram enough laughs and charm into its two short seasons that you are guaranteed to at least crack a smile or two. A very funny show from a very funny man. Check it out.
| Graeme Robertson
Comedy | USA, 2017 | 15 | Streaming Now | Netflix | Creator. Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang | Aziz Ansari, Eric Wareheim, Lena Waithe