This is my first review for my new blog, What to Watch When… Hope you enjoy, and that I can inspire you glue yourself to the screen of your choice. Spoiler-free of course!
Master of None is a comedy/drama on Netflix created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, with Aziz in the leading role as Dev Shah. There are currently two seasons with ten episodes each, with most episodes being around 30 minutes long. Here’s why you should watch it.
I watched the first episode of Master of None a couple of months back. I couldn’t figure out to watch next, and I recognized Aziz Ansari from Parks and Recreation, one of my favorite TV-comedies. So I thought, why not give it a try?
That first episode didn’t really captivate me. I felt like it was trying to be something good, but not really hitting the mark. Dev felt a little too detached from situations – just a smidge too awkward to hit the balance between funny and cringe. So I dropped the show, and had no plans to pick it up again. That is, until I found myself in the same situation again: what would I watch next?
So I pressed play, and started episode two months after I’d seen the first, and boy was I in for a pleasant surprise. Master of None has so much going on: an honest look at serious issues, beautiful scenery, cool guest stars, good music, a truly genuine performance from Ansari and a ton of delicious food. I’ll start from the top.
The show’s portrayal of a vast number of issues is what makes me love it so. It brings up a lot of social issues: being an immigrant in America, being a minority in the entertainment business, the difference in a night out for men and women, coming out and more. Some of these issues are best tackled in the episodes that don’t feature Dev and his friends as the focus – the show dares to give us narratives that follow a number of different people, not involved in Dev’s story, yet in some way intertwined in his life. There is a short scene in the second season where we follow a deaf woman through a conversation with her friend, and later her boyfriend. The scene has absolutely no sound: no music, no audible dialogue, none of the subtle noises that make up the daily lives of many. The scene was funny, lighthearted, and incredibly strong. Watching the actors sign in American Sign Language was something very new for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of the deaf community in this versatile show.
Aside from the social issues, the show takes an unflinching look at relationships. Today’s dating culture is highlighted in the episode “First Date”, where Dev takes multiple women from a Tinder-esque dating platform on the same date, on separate nights. It tackles the morality on cheating, and if it is unequivocally bad or not. It takes a long, hard look at a relationship losing its spark, and it asks a question many of us will be faced with: am I happy with this? At what point should we just abandon the quest for a perfect soulmate and settle down with the comfortable partner that’s great, but are they really “the one”? The show looks at complicated relationships, where what’s right and wrong isn’t easy to define, and emotions run high. It’s a beautifully complex, and undoubtedly human portrayal of love.
The scenery in Master of None is amazing. The widescreen format in which the show is shot contributes to the artsy feel that many of the shots have. The cast is frequently seen in aesthetically pleasing bars and restaurants with amazing lighting, creating cool effects as an entire scene can be shot in red in black, or with amazing shades of blue. The outside scenery is no beautiful. The show takes an especially artsy turn by showing the entirety of the first episode of the second season in black and white – which only makes the beautiful Italian scenery that the episode is shot in more intriguing.
Dev’s apartment is absolutely beautiful, which makes the scene where his father tells him to move to a nicer building mildly infuriating, but I digress. It’s cool, light and nothing like the usual pads of comedy protagonists (I immediately think of Friends, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt… the closest one in style that I can think of would be the common area of the apartment in New Girl).
The guest stars are impressive. My personal favorites are Dev’s parents, played by none other than Anari’s real parents. John Legend, Busta Rhymes, Danielle Brooks (famous for playing Taystee in Orange is the New Black), Raven Symoné, H. Jon Benjamin (voice of Archer) and Claire Danes (known for Homeland) are just some of the famous faces that show up throughout the series.
The show’s soundtrack is captivating and diverse. In the first few episodes, we can hear tunes from the indie rock band Broken Bells, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, The Twin Peaks theme (?!) and the 2006 song “Master of None” by dream pop band Beach House. The soundtrack gets better all through the series, with episodes featuring 2Pac, Vengaboys and Italian music from the 60s. It may sound like a chaotic mix of genres, but I assure you that the soundtrack is thoroughly enjoyable, and suits the tone of the show to a tee.
Next in line is Ansari’s performance. As I said, I wasn’t captivated right away. I think some of my wariness stemmed from my previous knowledge of him as an actor. I had only seen Ansari as Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation, and though he’s lovable in his own way, he is kind of insufferable. However, I can confidently say that his performance as Dev is far removed from our boo Tom. Dev is indecisive, slightly awkward. He’s relatable. He has the fears and insecurities we all have, and he’s faced with dilemmas that many of us will encounter during our adult lives. I sympathize with him, and I can see myself in the character. Ansari is a master of expressing himself without words: in one episode he’s alone in a cab after dropping off a complicated love interest, and in the minute it takes the cab to drive him home, you can really feel how heavy his heart is, how many emotions are swirling inside him. All without him saying a word, or obviously expressing it. Aside from his relatable and emotional performance, he’s also very funny. It’s a comedy after all!
Last but not least, the show has garnered a bit of fame for featuring a lot of restaurants and mouth-watering food. Although delicious, I kind of question how Dev and his friends are able to eat out like every day? Even if they were loaded, it’s damn hard to coordinate their amount of frequent hangouts. But TV isn’t really known for being realistic in that sense (here’s looking at you, Friends). Besides, when we’re getting all of these great pasta gifs, who cares about realism?
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Master of None, and I’m now happy to say that it has placed itself among my favorite shows. When Netflix gets it right, it really does get it right. Master of None is on Netflix.
Thanks for reading!