Much like his character Dev, a commercial actor muddling his way through New York City’s dating scene, Aziz Ansari’s new comedy Master of None (streaming now on Netflix) can be unabashedly meandering — but that’s in no way intended as a criticism.
The Parks and Recreation vet — alongside co-creator Alan Yang — has created a deeply specific, highly diverse portrait of thirtysomething life in New York City, with a talkiness that recalls early Woody Allen and a sentimental streak that may be the show’s greatest asset.
Master of None kicks off with Dev’s condom breaking smack in the middle of a hookup with music publicist Rachel (SNL‘s utterly charming Nöel Wells). While that incident yields immediate hilarity (including a debate over whether to upgrade from Uber Black to Uber X to procure the Plan B “morning-after” pill) it also provides a jumping-off point for Dev to examine what exactly he wants out of a life with a sometimes paralyzing number of options.
Over the course of the show’s first three installments (there are 10 total), Dev spends time babysitting a friend’s kids, trying to view his parents as fully realized individuals and enduring a date from hell (a night that ends in surprisingly swoon-inducing fashion).
His touchstones for navigating everything from text etiquette to TV binge-watching are his pals Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Brian (Kelvin Yu) and Denise (Lena Waithe) — although their advice doesn’t necessarily always lead Dev to the best conclusions. “We can be s–tty to people now and it’s accepted! It’s one of the great things about being alive today!” he declares excitedly, after deciding to cancel a date after a last-minute invite from a woman “so hot that if I’m seen with her, people would assume I’m some Indian billionaire.”
It’s Dev’s dad (played by Ansari’s own father Shoukath Ansari) who sums up what may the greatest blessing but also the biggest curse Dev and his inner circle face: “You realize fun is a new thing, right? Fun is a luxury only your generation really has!”
Ansari and Yang’s clear-eyed writing and the cast’s uniformly organic performances make it clear Dev and his contemporaries want more out of life than extended good times and adolescent connection — but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be satisfied with a bowl of white rice at a restaurant. Does becoming a parent give you a greater sense or purpose, or is that just “bulls–t you say at a party”? Should you expect immediate magic on a new date, or do some people only become magical when you take the time to get to know them? Can you find real happiness by reading that article in The Economist your dad sent you?
Master of None examines all those questions — while even finding time to critique Hollywood’s sometimes dubious ideas of diversity — and in the process, earns its place as one of the year’s can’t-miss comedies.
The TVLine Bottom Line: Master of None masterfully balances a big heart with big laughs. Don’t be surprised if Ansari finds himself on the Emmy ballot next summer.