By greenlighting interesting projects and taking new chances, Netflix has become the new HBO, transforming the landscape of TV much as HBO did back before its success ossified them into making over-produced, underwhelming product. The new Aziz Ansari series Master of None is another quirky, different project from the Netflix stable: a breezy one-camera sitcom that turns out to also be a charming examination of modern society through the eyes of a refreshingly self-aware comedian.
Ansari plays Dev, a cavalier young actor in New York City, looking for love while muddling through life on odd-job roles and commercial royalties. An early hookup with music PR rep Rachel (Noël Wells) turns out to be the awkward start of an important relationship in Dev’s life, as he transitions from the aimless hedonism of his twenties to a pre-midlife search for his calling.
Master of None has some rocky patches: an awkward pace here, an amateur performance there, a misguided joke or two. But overlooking these minor glitches is easy enough, because the show is otherwise such a joy. Ansari steps beyond his fast-talking Parks and Rec persona to prove he can be an unconventional leading man, and while Dev is clearly an Aziz analogue, it doesn’t matter, nor does that fact that the lines occasionally exchange like stand-up monologue ricocheting between multiple characters. Ansari has a keen eye for observation, and he trains it unflinchingly on relevant issues: everything from relationships and family to racism and rape culture. The results are often hilarious, but also true and earnest. If Ansari occasionally displays his sociopolitical blind spots, he also seems the type of guy to take himself to task for it; indeed, much of the material stems from his own failings and personal growth as he tries to see past his perspective and figure it all out. That, perhaps, is the most winning thing about the series. The world needs more shows like this, where people examine their perspectives, adapt and learn, and grow to be better people. For a series that could easily have been light, throwaway comedy, that’s an unexpectedly uplifting takeaway. Highly recommended.