Could there be any comedic boundaries left following Amy Schumer and Louie CK? The answer is yes! Master of None, in ten half-hour episodes (a Netflix original), we see an extraordinary depiction of New York life created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang (both from “Parks and Recreations”). , I’ve only seen two episodes so far (the series premiered on November 6), and I’m hooked.
Dev (Ansari’s character) is a wannabe actor relegated to trying out for commercials. His friends are also grappling with jobs, love life, and trying not to be losers. In raw yet disarming dialogue, Master of None begins to eviscerate the vision of New York life for a thirty-something single guy of color.
In Episode One Dev and his meet-up, someone he barely knows, are Googling on their cell phones, to learn what to do since his condom broke. So much for the romance of the moment. Impressive in conveying anxiety, lack of experience, and decency, Dev and the girl friend, Rachel (the charming Noel Wells), navigate the awkwardness of the moment with an endearing concern for each other. Nobility of character—in a comedy.
Episode Two raises the question: Do we ever really know our parents? As immigrants, the parents are even further removed: not only by age but by culture. But this episode is not just another “adult children think their immigrant parents are old codgers from the old country” story. In a touching, but not maudlin, restaurant scene we see, in self-assured writing, the Taiwanese parents’ of Brian, Dev’s friend, connecting with Dev’s Indian parents (played by Ansari’s father and mother). Dev and Brian are incredulous at seeing this side of their parents.
In a series of flashbacks we see the hardships of the immigrant parents’ childhood contrasted in raw and unsparing scenes with their privileged sons’ New York lifestyle. These scenes are deeply affecting, not only for the first-generation/second generation experience but for how we all, in some way, are strangers to each other. And knowing that Ansari’s parents are playing the roles of Dev’s father and mother makes these scenes even more intimate and moving.
Not only immigration, but race, impacts the two friends’ daily lives. There is no beating around the bush. Ansari is particularly scathing about racial stereotyping. And turns it on its head. In the first episode, when Dev meets Rachel’s grandmother, he is expecting her to be put off because he is of Indian descent. She isn’t. When Ansari seems a bit surprised, the grandmother retorts: “You think because I’m an old white lady, I’m racist?!”
And “Master of None” continues being a lot of fun…without sermonizing but without letting us off the hook either.
Now on to Episode Three.