Nirav Desai staff writer
Aziz Ansari has proven himself to be a renaissance man on a mission over the past few years with his scene-stealing supporting role on the recently-canceled Parks and Recreation, a successful filmed stand-up gig at Madison Square Garden and the release of critically acclaimed book “Modern Romance.” Ansari continues his fruitful multi-faceted approach with “Master of None,” a show now streaming on Netflix so mind-numbingly insightful that it manages to elicit both laughter and disgust from audiences in an age of anti-political correctness and emoji-based courtships.
Laughter, due to Ansari’s and co-creator Alan Yang’s knack for nuanced social commentary, and disgust, due to viewers’ constant identification with the mistakes of Dev Shah, Ansari’s witty character who manages to be simultaneously self-confident and self-deprecating. The show’s sharp examination of Dev’s erroneous behaviors are the bread and butter of writers Ansari, Yang, Zoe Jarman and Sarah Peters. Though it may seem self-explanatory that Dev is a master of nothing in the subtly welcoming-yet-unwelcoming city of New York in 2015, the show’s writers manage to spin the obvious-sounding premise on its head by actively poking holes in characters’ justifications for their actions. “Master of None” truly is a next-level contemporary show, for Ansari and the rest of the creative team forgo an easy chance to hammer away at the low-hanging societal fruit of today, instead focusing their aim on the hypocrisies that young people opt to take for granted.
The best examples of this device turn up when Dev discusses the romantic minefield of helping married partners cheat and sending suggestive emojis with a relatable set of three close friends: voice-of-reason Denise, a black lesbian played by Lena Waithe, emotionally-stunted Arnold, an oversized manchild played by series co-director Eric Wareheim, and inadvertently-charming Brian, a ladies’ man played by Kelvin Yu. The chemistry exhibited among the four characters is palpable, and Ansari’s and Yang’s well-publicized efforts to cast the show as a reflection of real-life America are welcome in a comedy landscape that frequently lashes back at political correctness so it can still include the stereotypical likes of “The Big Bang Theory,” where two awkward, white, straight male scientists hang out with a token awkward Jewish geek, a token awkward Indian nerd, and a lone attractive-though-clearly-not-as-intelligent white, blonde woman. The cast’s chemistry is even more apparent when Dev interacts with and underappreciates Ansari’s real-life parents, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari, whose frequent guest-spots on the show as Dev’s parents have garnered enough attention to land Dr. Ansari a sit-down with his son and Stephen Colbert on CBS’ “The Late Show.”
Amazingly, the show, though plenty critical, never becomes preachy in the sense that acclaimed Aaron Sorkin shows often do. Ansari is not an intellectual outsider who surfaces every few years to angrily condescend modern things he does not understand in a way that still sounds cool enough to win Emmys. Rather, Ansari more closely resembles the viewers of his own show, an oversaturated-with-information, casually narcissistic Millennial. Though, he is one who has noticeably gone through the fire of researching the intricacies of romantic relationships, American institutions that Millennials such as Dev seem to be revolutionizing, in his book. As a result, “Master of None” shares a quality with all sharp comedies in the sense that it treats its viewers as equals. Shallow, misguided and inconsiderate equals, but equals nonetheless in an effort to transcend electronic screens, tap viewers’ shoulders, point out something not-so-cool that everybody does from time to time and share a depressing laugh about it.