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Master of None, Netflix's brilliant new comedy, is immediately one of TV’s best shows

It has a confidence in its first season that other shows take years to develop.

Noel Wells and Aziz Ansari are brilliant in Master of None.
Noel Wells and Aziz Ansari are brilliant in Master of None.

The new Netflix comedy Master of None defies comparison to other shows. Few look as confident after several seasons, let alone just a few episodes. In just 10 half-hour episodes, this instantly joins the conversation around TV's very best series.



That could seem surprising if all you know of the show is its premise, which is as straightforward as they come. Dev (co-creator Aziz Ansari) is a 30-something New York actor who's grappling with his career, his love life, his friends, and himself.

But dig a little deeper, and the show's genius reveals itself. Master of None is so thoughtful and self-assured that it never feels as routine as its logline, thanks to the clear vision of Ansari and his writing partner (and Parks and Recreation writer/producer), Alan Yang.

Most impressively, every single episode could be its own self-contained movie. There are romantic episodes, devoted entirely to Dev's relationship with Rachel (the astounding Noël Wells). There are episodes devoted to family, to friendship, to a random but absolutely delightful side adventure eating pasta with Rachel's grandmother. Each chapter is so thoughtful and so self-assured that it's a bonus when you take a step back and realize they also form a beautiful bigger picture.

Here are four big ideas this show tackles as well as anything on TV.

1) Immigration — and the love parents have for their children

Dev, Brian, and their parents try to connect.

The moment when Master of None becomes something special is five minutes into its second episode.

"Parents" takes a story from Ansari’s standup material about his mother and father, immigrants from India who built a life in the United States and whose struggles are so far removed from his own as a first-generation American kid that he can barely comprehend them.

As Dev whines about not wanting to be late for the newest X-Men movie, his father (Shoukath Ansari, Aziz's father in real life) flashes back to his childhood and young adulthood in India. He tells his family he wants to go to America, where he's immediately confronted with not-so-veiled racism, regardless of his medical skills. And after we see Dev as a newborn, and then a young boy with his first computer, the episode smash-cuts back to Dev, whining about that dumb X-Men movie.

Getting a personal window into the immigrant experience would have been remarkable and noteworthy in and of itself. But then "Parents" doubles down, cutting to Dev's friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) as he tries to exit a conversation with his own father so he can get to X-Men already. Cut to: Peter’s childhood in Taiwan, where he had to kill and eat his own pet chicken (a real story from Yang's father). He flashes back to many of the same milestones, and even when surrounded by the dreary mustards of the 1980s, the script (and Ansari’s own direction) give these memories a deeply affecting feel.

The rest of the episode continues to shine the spotlight on Peter and Dev’s parents, letting them tell their own stories to their wide-eyed and incredulous sons. Ansari’s father and mother might be noticeably less experienced actors, but their relationship to their son shines through and lends the story incredible intimacy. It's astonishing.

2) Race — and trying to find work as an actor of color

Dev auditions
Dev auditions for a part in a movie about a viral outbreak.

There's no reason for Ansari and Yang to pretend race isn’t a factor in their daily lives, which led to the stunning "Indians on TV." This fourth episode is a scathing look at how Hollywood treats minority actors.

There is no beating around the bush. The episode opens immediately with a damning montage of the Indian caricatures and brownface that have plagued television for years, from Short Circuit's Ben Jabituya ("they got a real robot and a fake Indian!") and The Simpsons’s Apu to Mike Myers's Love Guru and Ashton Kutcher’s embarrassing PopChips commercial.

Then we watch as Dev rejects putting on a thick accent for a bit part audition. He finds out he was passed over for a potentially huge sitcom just because the series already had cast another Indian actor, and didn't want to cast another for fear of becoming "an Indian show."

The point is clear: This is unacceptable, and yet we keep accepting it.

Ansari’s standup has touched on his parents’s immigrant experience and the continuing racism he experiences, but Master of None’s takes feel like the wholly realized version of his original vision — raw material given depth and room to flourish.

3) Dating — and maybe finding someone you love

aziz ansari master of none
Dev and Rachel, meant to be — unless they're not?

Dev dates around a bit in the season's early going, which makes for some hilarious moments. He goes on a disastrous date with his friendly neighborhood bartender (Nina Arianda), whose attractiveness gets outweighed by her commitment to acting out in increasingly destructive ways. He has an affair with Nina (a magnetic Claire Danes), an unhappy food critic with a dangerous and irresistible glint in her eye. Dev and Rachel bump into each other along the way, matching wits if not good timing, until their first official date — a spontaneous, lovely, bittersweet weekend in Nashville.

But just over halfway through the season, Dev and Rachel make a commitment to each other, and Master of None commits to digging in a little more deeply than most shows dare when it comes to relationships.

Dev and Rachel are good together — maybe even great together. But that doesn’t belie the fact that being in a relationship is hard, constant work once you get past the honeymoon stage.

Eventually, a perfectly deployed Sylvia Plath metaphor makes Dev face the possibility that his refusal to make a firm decision regarding the relationship — or his future in general — could be freezing his entire life in place: "I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose."

"Mornings," Master of None’s ninth episode, focuses entirely on Dev and Rachel’s progressing relationship, from the starry-eyed beginnings of discovering another person to the crushing disappointment when you inevitably realize they still have flaws. Ansari and Wells sell the giddy romance of Dev and Rachel’s early flirtation just as beautifully as they do the halting slog of forging full speed ahead into a long-term relationship.

You could easily pair it with "Nashville," entirely divorced from the rest of the series, if you feel like letting the depth of Ansari and Wells’s work alternately charm and devastate you.

4) How society treats men and women

Arnold (Wareheim), Dev (Ansari), and Rachel (Wells) hug it out.

The best thing about Master of None is how much craft has obviously gone into it. You can feel the tremendous thought put into each episode, each scene, each storyline, all of which twist and flow in both predictable and startling ways. The overall scope is hugely ambitious, taking on several big threads and devoting time to points other series address fleetingly, if at all. It’s also beautifully shot, with personal touches from directors Ansari, Eric Wareheim (who also plays Dev's friend, Arnold), James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), and Lynn Shelton.

One of the most telling episodes of the series is its seventh, "Ladies and Gentlemen." While not one of the series’s strongest installments, it's still so refreshingly frank and funny about how men and women are treated that it is worth watching, even out of context.

But the most fascinating — and encouraging — thing about the episode is who’s behind it. The basic premise of "Ladies and Gentlemen" comes straight from Ansari’s standup, Shelton directed it, and the writing credits belong to Sarah Peters and Zoe Jarman. Ansari very easily could have written this episode with his own material, but instead he handed it over to women who could write and direct from their own lived experiences.

This spirit of trust, collaboration, and commitment to having people speak from their own unique perspective runs throughout Master of None. While Ansari is the de facto face of the series, his partnership with Yang is crucial to honing Ansari’s raw material into stories for television. Wareheim’s direction and easy chemistry with Ansari deliver just enough absurdity to give the series a little bounce. Ansari and Wells create one of the most even onscreen relationships in recent memory. Sharp jokes that take unexpected left turns, making you grin through a disbelieving laugh, embody the brilliant spirit of Harris Wittels, Ansari and Yang’s friend and frequent collaborator who died in the middle of production.

All told, this is a fully realized production from a collection of dazzling talent that rarely takes a misstep as it strides confidently forward. I have no doubt a second season could be just as great — but if these stellar 10 episodes of television are all we see of Master of None, that will be more than enough.

The entire first season of Master of None is streaming on Netflix.

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