In Aziz Ansari’s ‘Master of None,’ a new definition of Netflix-and-chill

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Aziz Ansari gives full comic voice to his new comedy series.

In the best episode of Netflix’s “Master of None” — I think, it’s hard to pick just one — Dev (Aziz Ansari) wants tacos, but doesn’t know where to go.As Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari spent seven seasons establishing himself as a narcissistic ladies man who was going to strike it rich with one simple invention.The new Netflix comedy series, whose 10 episodes premiere Friday, arrives as the latest in a TV genre of stand-ups (think Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K., Jim Gaffigan) depicting versions of themselves both on and off the stage.

The show (released on Friday) follows his semi-autobiographical character Dev, an actor living in New York, through the mundane confusions of dating and dealing with his family. So he whips out his laptop and smartphone, consults Google, Eater and Yelp, finds lists and reviews, dozens of them, New York City’s trendiest tortillas, dissected and annotated by social media. But halfway through “Master of None’s” 10 episodes (which begin streaming Friday), I realized that I was bingeing — and straight-up enjoying — a show that could just as easily be called “Millennial Louie.” The differences are as striking as the similarities. Co-created by Ansari and former Parks scribe Alan Yang, the series is loosely based on the comedian’s real life, right down to the fact that his parents, Fatima and Shoukath Ansari, play Dev’s parents on the show. But in his new Netflix show, Master of None, Ansari proves that he has far more to offer than the vibrant wonderment that’s defined his career thus far.

It’s Netflix’s first attempt at allowing a comedian to become star and showrunner the way FX has given liberty to Louis C.K., or how Comedy Central has allowed Amy Schumer to unroll her specific brand. I’ve enjoyed all the acting work I’ve done, but, until now, only in my stand-up have I felt like I’ve been able to get out my voice.” In the series’ first scene, he faces a potentially disastrous mishap: His condom breaks while in bed with Rachel, whom he met hours earlier at a bar. It picks apart the social conventions of his generation, ponders the insidiousness of racism and sexism in entertainment, and obsesses over his inability to form romantic connections—a smart comedy of manners that has more in common with Seinfeld than its contemporaries. After a dash to the pharmacy for a morning-after pill, Dev spends the rest of the episode in an exploration of the pros and (many) cons of parenthood as he observes it among his friends. View Archive As Dev, a 30-year-old Indian American actor who works mainly in TV commercials, Ansari (who is 32) seems physically and psychologically incapable of summoning the neurotic sadness of a character who experiences anything like the banal inhumanity that accompanies one of Louie’s rainy days.

And where most of Netflix’s original series treat themselves as extended films—often resulting in painfully slow storytelling—Master of None finds the perfect middle ground between the cinematic and episodic. A man-child who was emotionally stunted and unsure of how to get to that next level, he was that guy who spent most of his time chasing skirts and learning hard lessons. What he learned has definitely informed “Master,” he says, “although I didn’t want to do what might be called a dating show.” “Master” isn’t. But the second covers his relationship with his parents (played by Ansari’s real mom and dad) and the dynamics that play out between the first and second generations of immigrant families, and it’s a tremendous achievement—easily one of the best TV episodes of the year. A thousand tacos, a thousand dates, all available at a finger’s swipe, all of them presenting 999 avenues to close, 999 opportunities to choose wrongly.

He’s mildly successful thanks to his work as a commercial actor, but he lacks passion in anything he does (even his career is accidental, as he was discovered in a park). Perhaps Ansari’s biggest achievement is that he dials back his own natural, exuberant energy—the live-wire persona that shot him to fame as a stand-up and quickly won him roles on TV and in film after his debut in the MTV sketch show Human Giant in 2007.

The weather in his world is always cloudless and bright; Dev is happy-go-lucky even when his character experiences a momentary setback, whether he’s realizing (for a big example) that his role as an infected immunologist in a mediocre disaster movie called “The Sickening” is not the big break he hopes it will be, or discovering (for a small example) that the taco truck he’s spent hours researching online has run out of tortillas just as he’s arrived. Ansari was raised in tiny Bennettsville, S.C., where, despite his minority status, he recalls being targeted no more harshly than were the fat kid, the new kid and other outsiders. “My skin color and different background was just the thing kids made fun of when they made fun of me,” he explains. “But for the most part, it was OK.” He enrolled as a marketing student at New York University, where his future vocation suggested itself in the stories he’d spin for chums that kept them in stitches. “But my voice as a comedian has continued to evolve into more complicated ideas: deeper stuff about race, my immigrant parents, police brutality. He’s a child of immigrants who brushes all bummers aside, whether he is experiencing racist attitudes at a sitcom casting call or waiting too long for a bartender to finish assembling an artisanal cocktail. The real trick isn’t just making it funny, but getting the audience to think, ‘You’ve found a deeper insight that strikes a chord with me.’ ” “Like, I was feeling frustrated how I don’t read enough books. In the episode “Ladies and Gentlemen,” for example, Dev takes a stand against the daily aggressions women face by fighting for female representation in a commercial and performing a citizen’s arrest on a subway masturbator.

Yes, Dev is a struggling actor who attends auditions and has a small part in a B-list action movie, but those facts are mostly used as jumping-off points for other stories. Ansari created “Master” with the “Parks” writer Alan Yang, and Michael Schur, a “Parks” co-creator, is an executive producer.) Dev — an aspiring actor whose career highlight is a Go-Gurt commercial — is a version of the same guy, but made more complicated and placed in the world of actual problems.

But even as Dev is riding high on his small foray into feminist activism, he proceeds to write off his girlfriend Rachel’s (Noel Wells) frustration when a man pointedly ignores all the women at the table. The premiere introduces us to Dev’s maybe-girlfriend, Rachel (Noël Wells), and his pals Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Brian (Kelvin Yu) and Denise (Lena Waithe) as they notice others in their circle having kids — the ultimate permanent choice.

Dev and his friends (played by Eric Wareheim, Kelvin Yu and Lena Waithe as Arnold, Brian and Denise, or, categorically, a big white dude, an Asian guy and a black lesbian) are highly skilled at conversational sarcasm and hipster indifference. Each of the 10 episodes revolves around one specific topic (parents, dating) and delves into it with the idea that it’s not meant to feel contrived or jokey.

This moment isn’t included to paint Dev as yet another misogynist, but to remind viewers that feminism is a life-long process, and it’s okay to f— up now and then as long as you’re willing to listen and learn. On stage, he grappled with his own fame and how it had changed him, having reached the arguable peak of a stand-up’s existence by selling out a stadium. Dating apps where people make snap judgments are very much a part of the scene, as they speak to the larger issues at hand with Dev’s character. “This guy is in his early 30s and he’s doing pretty good.

A working actor with no real passion for the industry, Dev’s life is fueled by his own curiosity, and he’s constantly searching for the next thing to capture his attention. That’s no surprise to anyone who enjoyed Ansari’s antics when he was playing Tom on “Parks and Recreation” — his hyperactive sense of zaniness completely conveys here, as does his relentless good cheer and tweetable paroxysms of delight, much of it food-centric: “Oooh, that frittata is fluffy as helllll!” he chirps triumphantly. But there’s this period of your life where you realize, ‘Oh, s—, I’m an adult now.’ That’s kind of a scary moment,” Ansari said. “Those really big decisions like, ‘Am I ever going to have kids?

Dev often seems so concerned about where he is and where he’s expected to go in his life that he forgets to really connect with the people he meets along the way. These parents came to America so their kids would have the options that now torment them. (Dev’s parents have an arranged marriage; he has Tinder.) Simply having this amount of diversity on screen allows nuances impossible in a typical culture-clash setup, which would show one family or the other in contrast to the dominant white culture. One episode pushes back against Hollywood’s persistent stereotyping of South Asian characters; in other episodes, Dev gets into testy discussions with his female friends about gender discrimination.

But when Dev does engage—whether it be with Rachel, her grandmother (Lynn Cohen), or his own father (played by scene stealer Shoukath Ansari, the actor’s real-life father)—those are the moments when Dev seems the most at ease. When Dev complains about his parents’ harmless requests (can he set up their iPad, can he call them once a week), the show flashes back to his father’s hard-scrabble adolescence in India and his painful and isolating journey to America as an immigrant who’s distrusted at work and mocked by his children. Most of this is smartly written and agreeably portrayed, but it can also feel as if Ansari knows that comedians must now play a leading role in social discourse and commentary.

My fingers were crossed before.) When Dev competes with a friend for the designated Indian-American role on a TV pilot — because, a network executive says, “There can’t be two” — it sets off an encyclopedic, hilarious look at Hollywood’s history of stereotypes, forced accents and brownface. (Another of Dev’s actor friends, crushed to learn that an Indian character in the movie “Short Circuit 2” was really played by Fisher Stevens, asks, “Is Mindy Kaling real?”) Mr. A subsequent episode looks at the tortured casting processes South Asian actors have to go through to play stereotyped cab drivers and restaurant owners on television, and the lack of opportunities for more dynamic parts. This inspires each of their fathers to flash back to their youth—in India and Taiwan, respectively—and their immigration to the U.S., during which they worked tirelessly and faced massive prejudice in order to give their sons a better life. But while Dev’s father Ramesh reprimands his son for taking for granted the opportunities his own sacrifices have afforded him—”You realize fun is a new thing right?

It’s an anthology show where any of its episodes could be immediately put on and enjoyed, but watching it quickly and in order (as many Netflix viewers are wont to do) reveals larger threads and recurring themes that deepen the whole experience. We watch so much television in which we expect bad things to happen to self-absorbed characters who are subjected to excruciating awkwardness and heartache (“Girls,” “Shameless” “You’re the Worst,” “Orange Is the New Black” — all billed at one time or another as comedies), that it takes several episodes to recognize that those disastrous, humiliating moments aren’t in store here. And his commitment to building comedy on ideas — this year he published “Modern Romance,” a dating guide based in social-science data — pays off without showing off.

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