Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix original series “Master of None” is an almost seamless comedic commentary on the frustrations and challenges of adult life. Ansari plays the main character Dev, a 30-year-old aspiring actor in New York City who struggles with understanding and maintaining his relationships with family, friends and significant others. Each episode centers on a specific theme such as having one-night stands, relating to immigrant parents or having an affair. The show discusses difficult and often serious issues with tasteful, creative and satisfying comedy.
One of the show’s biggest accomplishments is addressing race in an accurate yet humorous way. The episode “Indians on TV” discusses how most Indian actors are only offered stereotypical roles of cab drivers or storeowners with fake Indian accents in television shows and movies.
When Dev auditions for a main role on a network sitcom and accidentally gets sent a racist email from the producer, the producer bribes Dev with courtside tickets to a basketball game to prevent the email from being leaked. Dev meets hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes after the game, who advises Dev to milk as much free merchandise and opportunities as possible out of the guilty producer while he can.
The Busta Rhymes cameo is hilarious. It successfully makes the point that white producers and employers in the entertainment industry are often ignorant of the difficult experiences of minority actors and their representation in media. It’s refreshing to see a show—that casts people of color in almost every major and minor role—be able to tackle race issues with humility and humor.
Additionally, Dev’s relationship with his girlfriend Rachel is dynamic, relatable and ultimately heartbreaking. The two meet during the first episode “Plan B” when their one-night stand is cut short after their condom breaks—and they fatefully reconnect a few episodes later. Through their relationship, the show touches on the inevitability of relationships burning out and becoming routine as well as the anxiety of being marrying-age but not wanting to get married. The relationship also gives Rachel—and other female characters in the show—a platform to discuss sexism and challenges women face that men do not.
Dev and Rachel’s eventual break-up brings a touch of reality and melancholy to the mostly uplifting show. It’s a good reminder that dynamic couples who have great chemistry together do not always live happily ever after, as most television shows and movies lead us to believe.
While Ansari gives a great performance as Dev, the show boasts diverse and unique talent with its supporting roles as well. Dev’s friend group consists of Denise, a black lesbian who keeps Dev down-to-earth when he makes bad decisions; Brian, the smooth, cool guy who is Asian-American; and Arnold, a goofy white guy who delivers some of the show’s best lines. It’s great to finally have a show based in New York City that accurately represents the city’s diverse population, especially with well-rounded and relevant characters.
One critique I have of the show, however, is its disrespectful and lazy jokes about fat people. Dev and Rachel make fun of the politically correct term “full-bodied.” This would’ve been excusable if they didn’t have a running joke about watching overweight people to see which restaurants they go to—because, as the joke goes, fat people love to eat and must know where the best restaurants are.
This joke was rude and pretty out-of-place with the rest of the progressive tone of the show. I was a bit disappointed with Ansari; “Master of None” accomplishes a lot for people of color and women, but didn’t care too much about disrespecting fat people.
Despite this, the show cares about its characters and the realistic situations they find themselves in. Ansari doesn’t sugarcoat the difficult issues, but he doesn’t shove them down our throats either. He finds the perfect blend of humor and lesson teaching that makes facing conflict both entertaining and thought-provoking. So much knowledge and emotion is packed into 10 short episodes of a series that deserves to be re-watched again and again.