The plot of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix original is anything far from original: a thirty year old man tries to figure out his life. Although the premise of “Master of None” seems like your standard twenty-first century yuppie story, “Master of None” distinguishes itself the rest with its avant garde storytelling and diverse cast. Written in conjunction with Alan Yang, former writer for the critically acclaimed sitcom, Parks & Recreation, “Master of None” documents the daily happenings of Dev, an Indian-American actor in New York City.
Within the first ten minutes, “Master of None” defines itself as a timely and laugh out loud hilarious comedy. After breaking a condom, Dev makes an awkward trip to buy Plan B with his one night stand, Rachel, played by former SNL cast member Noël Wells. Dev’s awkward antics (ie. buying two bottles of Martinelli’s apple juice along with Plan B pills and having difficulty closing a taxi door) make the character simultaneously outrageous, but relatable.
In general, the direction of “Master of None” is not anything special. Jump cuts, slow pans from the foreground to the subjects, and rapid close ups create a what can only be described as “dirty Wes Anderson”-esque style that reflects the oddness of Dev’s life. However, the lack of uniqueness in direction does not immediately render the cinematic choices ineffective or banal; the show in itself has a subtle stunning aesthetic quality. The approach to lighting and composition reflects that of reality, with sometimes unappealing yellow undertones in restaurants, and the soft shadows provided by night lamps; in not trying to be grander than it is, “Master of None” is oddly gorgeous.
However, Ansari’s acting choices for himself and his cast can be questionable in some instances. In a conversation during the episode “Parents,” Dev and Brian, played by Kelvin Yu, holds an air of inauthenticity; Dev’s unnatural exclamations are reminiscent of the last role he reprised as the eccentric and money-driven Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation and pretty inappropriate for “Master of None’s” semi-realistic style of film and script. While Dev’s character differs little from other popular comedy characters, like Jake Peralta on Brooklyn Nine Nine, played by Andy Sandberg, the actor’s race plays an integral role in promoting diversity within Hollywood. Actors of South Asian descent are rarely shown as romantic interests, let alone alongside white woman who are pursuing them as sexual partners. Additionally, Ansari’s character, who does not do an accent, is in an artistic profession, and has incredibly supportive parents effectively going against the stereotype of tiger parents within the Asian American community.
Besides his own presence on the show, Ansari has featured a diversified cast, in regard not only to race, but also to sexuality. In Dev’s friend group: there is Denise, a queer black woman played by Lena Waithe, who has the magic ability to have her sexual partners climax more times than they have in the last six months, Arnold, your typical white middle aged guy played by Eric Wareheim, and Brian, one of Dev’s closes friends and a first generation child of Taiwanese immigrants. Like his own character, Ansari doesn’t allow the identities of these characters to become their entire being, contrary to the trend put forth by other TV shows.
The bottom line is this: “Master of None” is hilarious. But more than being the next sitcom on your “To Watch” list, Ansari’s Netflix series is an important show that answers the question that white-washed Hollywood ponders with a resounding yes: “Can we feature non-white actors without being racist?”