We gave it an A-
Confession: Actor-comedian Aziz Ansari was, for me, the least hilarious element on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, one of the true gems of TV’s ridiculously good modern era. His Tom Haverford, a get-rich, get-lucky single guy hustler-entrepreneur, was too broad to be hilarious, too on point to be endearing. To be really honest, my anti-Tom attitude left me indifferent to all things Ansari, including his acclaimed stand-up. He could rarely make me laugh on one of the greatest sitcoms ever. I assumed he couldn’t make me chuckle elsewhere.
Another confession: I’m wrong on Aziz, and maybe an idiot. Because I’ve just seen Master of None, a 10-episode Netflix binge of Ansari’s creation, and it’s a powerful expression of his perspective and range—and one of 2015’s best shows. Another entry in the burgeoning genre of indie TV comedy that spans from Portlandia to Broad City, Master of None recalls the personal auteur nerve and New York City grit of Louis C.K.’s Louie and the ribald relationship comedy of You’re the Worst and the surprising wisdom both can generate—yet it possesses a refreshingly sweeter spirit than either of them. Seventies Woody Allen is evoked, in the style and placement of the credits, in the wide-screen observational aesthetic. It’s a vibrant work that also fills the screen with greater diversity in representation, in richly drawn, casually worn fashion.
Ansari plays Dev, the wholly American millennial son of Indian immigrants, a commercial actor trying to break into movies. When he’s not working a bit role in a lazily mounted, CGI-heavy zombie flick targeting black audiences (H. Jon Benjamin and Colin Salmon as his castmates steal every moment they get), he’s hanging with his single pals, a group that includes fresh takes on the Grating Kooky Friend (Eric Wareheim) and the Wise Gay Friend (Lena Waithe). Dev’s also looking for love, or at least a mutually beneficial hump. In fact, we meet him in bed with an entertainment publicist (Noël Wells), dealing with a condom breakage. The unsexy situation unspools into a satirical set piece about new-century hooking-up (Uber is involved), but it also effectively reboots Ansari as a rom-com leading man.
Every episode drills down on a single theme. One standout episode explores depictions of Indians in pop culture. (Remember when Fisher Stevens wore brownface in Short Circuit?) Another winner, blessed with guest turns by Claire Danes and Noah Emmerich, watches our flawed yet empathetic hero wrestle with the ethics of sleeping with an unhappily married woman. The stories can veer in tone—the premiere, about kids and marriage, grows hilariously dark—but always remain grounded. The second ep has Dev and another friend (Kelvin Yu) daring to engage their parents as human beings and investigating their immigrant journeys. It’s a gem of deep hilarity and a beautiful artistic statement. Forgive me for underestimating you, Aziz. You are clearly a master of much. A–