We should have seen it coming. All the warning signs were there. By the time his first Netflix stand up special Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive debuted in early 2013, anyone following Ansari's career was greeted by a decidedly mature shift in his comedy. Gone were name-dropping tales of awkward celebrity run ins, RealLifeDickParty.COM, and Joe Pesci trivia. That had been laid to rest in favor of insights and perspectives on various topics including the institution of marriage, having children, and the fear and inevitability of growing older. His follow up, Aziz Ansari: Live from Madison Square Garden, took it a step further, with Ansari deconstructing the idiosyncrasies of dating in the modern era and how the luxuries of it (cell phones, social media) make it difficult to even pick a place to eat let alone make meaningful connections. Throw in immigration, misogyny, and a bit on factory farming, and you begin to realize we're a long way away from
Yet, even with the writing on the wall, I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for just how good Master of None is. The show stars Ansari as Dev, a thirtysomething actor living in New York as he navigates the pitfalls of work, friendship, and dating in the city. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because it is. HBO's Girls has used this same bare bones premise as a way of exploring the moments in between for four seasons now (2 1/2 of which are great). But in a lot of ways this is the next step. This is what happens when the angst of your 20's becomes the dread of your 30's, and while few could say that Girls isn't honest in it's portrayal of 20's wanderlust, Master of None somehow finds intimacy and genuinely heartwarming moments in this dread.
The opening episode does a great job of giving a seemingly directionless series a bit of direction. Dev attends the birthday of his friend's child and begins to examine his station in life. The pilot also gives us the introduction of a stellar supporting cast led by the wonderful Noel Wells and Eric Warheim. Warheim is especially delightful as Dev's best friend, Arnold, playing just a slightly more hinged version of his child-like persona from Tim & Eric. Ansari's real life parents, Shoukath & Fatima Ansari, also co-star, and they are tremendous. I found myself often smiling at the authenticity of their performances. They may not be trained actors, but they are experienced parents and their chemistry with their son is one of the most enjoyable elements of the show. The most pleasant surprise of the series is the stand-out performance by Noel Wells. You may remember (or far likelier you do not) Wells' lone season on Saturday Night Live. The quirks and charms that made her an awkward fit for SNL are now the strongest showcases of her talent. It's hard to imagine anyone stealing scenes from Ansari and Warheim, and yet she does just that time and time again.
Of course it doesn't hurt as an actor to have great writing to lean on, and Ansari, taking on the majority of the writing duties, delivers scripts rich with laughs and character moments. It was a welcomed surprise to see names like Michael Schur, Dave Becky, Alan Yang, and Harris Wittels attached to the series. All four are veteran writers who worked with Ansari on Parks and Recreation. One has to wonder how much those collaborations rubbed off on Ansari while crafting this ten episode arc. After all, Ansari's Parks and Rec character, Tom Haverford, had begun to echo the same sentiments that Dev does by the end of the show's seven season run, and Dev seems like an honest continuation of that character. If there's any critisicm to be leveled at the show, it's that by being predominately based on material Ansari has previously covered the show can, at times, feel like an extended mouthpiece for Ansari's view on several topics. There's also a slight problem with the pacing of the story; characters come and go with little fluidity. These are very minor issues, though, and at no time do they distract from the story being told; they just make the show a great one instead of a perfect one.
Not surprisingly, it's when Ansari is fully in control that the show really soars. The two stand out episodes of the season "Parents" and "Nashville" were both written and directed by Ansari. In both episodes, everything is pitch perfect and really showcases the burgeoning directing talent of Ansari. The saddest moments of Master of None come in the final minutes of the season, both for our characters and for us the viewer. It may be at least a year until we revisit Dev, Rachel, and Arnold, but the wait should be well worth it.