Move over, “Girls” — Azis Ansari’s “Master of None” is the new definitive …

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Master of None’ a mature take on immaturity.

Aziz Ansari, who played Tom Haverford on seven seasons of “Parks and Recreation,” has a show of his own now, “Master of None,” whose 10 episodes have just become available from Netflix. SERIES PREMIERE: “Master of None” (Netflix streaming), the highly anticipated comedy from Aziz Ansari (“Parks and Recreation”), is here for your weekend binge-watch needs.As an undergraduate at NYU, the comedian Aziz Ansari, the son of a gastroenterologist and a healthcare worker, initially planned to double major in biology and business.

Created by Ansari and “Parks and Rec” writer Alan Yang, it is somewhat based on — or shares certain interests with — Ansari’s recent humorous book of serious sociology, “Modern Romance,” about finding love in an age of apps, and is smart, sweet and funny in ways both familiar and fresh. The comedy—a small-scale, stylish sitcom that mixes tones and observes social norms like “Louie,” “Girls” and “Togetherness”—starts out with a broken condom, an awkward Uber ride, and Martinelli’s apple juice; a comedic situation, if there ever was one.

On “The Amazing Race 27” (CBS at 8 p.m.), the contestants head to the Netherlands, where one team falls behind after getting carried away with a sightseeing session. 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.

Ansari plays Dev, a New York-based actor — not quite successful yet not really ambitious enough to be called struggling — floating free at the dawn of his 30s. RETURNING SHOW: The Season 4 premiere of “MasterChef Junior” (Fox at 8) introduces 24 new kid contestants, tasked with turning mystery box ingredients into edible fare that will impress their famous judges: Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi. But halfway through “Master of None’s” 10 episodes (which begin streaming Friday), I realized that I was binging — and straight-up enjoying — a show that could just as easily be called “Millennial Louie.” The differences are as striking as the similarities. Commercial work has paid his bills, and as we meet him here, he is auditioning for a small part in “The Sickening,” a “black virus” movie — which is to say, a movie about a runaway virus with an ethnic cast. (Colin Salmon of “Arrow” and “Limitless” plays a cockeyed version of himself, after the fashion of Ricky Gervais’ “Extras.”) Like a less extreme version of Tom Haverford, Dev is a little selfish, a little lazy, a little more insecure than he would like you to know. In “Parents,” Dev (Ansari) and Brian (Kelvin Yu, though it seems plausible that Brian’s experience is a stand-in for co-creator Yang’s, just as Dev’s is Ansari’s incarnation) both become mildly aggravated with their parents.

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. 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. As is the case with many comics turned actor, there is something of Ansari’s stage persona in his screen personae, from which combination a sense of the person behind them might be triangulated. Meanwhile Brian’s father is after him to read an article in the Economist about how farm subsidies are leading the country to a drought, and then asks him to go out and pick up some rice. On “Hawaii Five-O” (CBS at 9), McGarrett and Lynn have their first date on a deserted island, where they find themselves dodging a dangerous mob boss, who has been using the island as a secret hideaway.

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. Just as naturally, Brian is not that excited about diving into the depressing article, and he can’t pick up the rice, because he and Dev have made plans to watch a movie, and they really don’t want to miss the trailers. The retrospective “Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ to Do” (WETA and MPT at 9) explores the career of the Broadway legend as part of the PBS series “Great Performances.” SERIES PREMIERE: Restoration master Jay Chaikin sets out to transform an old tractor barn into a splendid retreat on “Restoration Wild” (Animal Planet at 9). 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.

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 has spent hours researching online has run out of tortillas just as he has arrived.

All in all, Modern Romance reads a little bit like what might happen if a sociologist wrote a scholarly but accessible book about 21st-century human mating rituals, posted it on the website Genius, and Aziz Ansari annotated it with some personal experiences and jokey stories: It’s occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, occasionally touching, and, for stretches in between, kind of dry. As in “Modern Romance,” Ansari’s subject is what his book identifies as “emerging adulthood” and what older generations might less charitably call “arrested development,” the extended period of self-searching and mate-shopping that now occupies the years in which earlier generations would have started and even raised families. Dev’s dad, first watching a bully trample his beloved abacus in Thiralnalveli, India, and then putting together enough money to buy a computer for his son. 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. Both flashbacks are thematically appropriate—Dev’s lack of interest in helping his father with the iPad is counterbalanced by his dad buying him a PC in the ’90s; Brian’s refusal to get rice is balanced by his father being ordered to kill the chicken.

Misty Copeland, principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre, will also appear. “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” (NBC at 11:35) hosts actor Christoph Waltz, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda and musical guest Meghan Trainor. And both are pretty gutting, for the dads; growing up in a third-world country and then immigrating are not easy experiences, but they pale in comparison to getting your kids to respect you. 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. In episodes titled “Old People” and “Parents,” humans of advanced years are not brought in to be mocked, or merely to be mocked, but offered as interesting, impressive, even magical in their way. If the series stayed in this mode, it would be a fine version of the kind of urban-singles hangout comedies that have multiplied like pour-over-coffee joints in Brooklyn. For Ansari, it’s the perfect mix of standup and exploration. “There are definitely ideas I was able to explore on the show that I wasn’t able to do with the standup and things like that,” he told Television Critics Association members ahead of launch. “I would say this is a blend of the both.” Like the novel Ansari penned, this is as much a tale of navigating the modern world of dating as anything else.

This week, the comedian went on The Leonard Lopate Show to discuss the newest undertaking. “The stand-up and the show and the book, do they all have certain things in common?” Lopate asked. Ansari’s own mother and father, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari, have been enlisted to play Dev’s parents, and that they are clearly amateurs somehow works in their characters’ favor. As Brian observes to Dev’s father, when the two meet in “Parents,” Dev’s biggest problem right now is that his Wi-Fi is kind of spotty in his apartment. 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.

While it’s not exactly issue-oriented, the show does have real-world things on its mind: the relationship between first-generation Americans and their immigrant parents; the stereotyping of nonwhite actors; the extra burden of male obnoxiousness that women daily bear; the joy and tyranny of children. 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 foodcentric: “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? This thematic water is ably carried by a shifting ensemble cast that includes Eric Wareheim (of “Tim and Eric” fame and also the director of several of this series’ episodes), Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu, Ravi Patel (of the “Meet the Patels” Patels), Jon Benjamin (as a voice of wisdom, for once) and Todd Barry. When you’ve been delivered, contrary to the whims of fate, from nearly the bottom of the global totem pole to the very top, what are you supposed to make of your life? 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.

The show is presented in a wider-than-usual widescreen format that gives it a feel we still call “cinematic” and which betokens a certain seriousness. 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.

Dev is driven by curiosity and self-aware humor—not as depressive as “Louie’s” Louie, or as narcissistic as “Girls’” Hannah Horvath, or as far along in life as “Togetherness’” Brett and Alex. 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. That the episodes are longer than average — an advantage of not being made for the traditional time-bound TV grid — also gives them a subtly felt added weight. But overriding it all, as is clear from how early in the season “Parents” airs, is this confusion that the life his parents worked to provide him might not be all it’s cracked up to be. “Parents”—which is directed by Ansari—also stars both of his parents playing Dev’s parents.

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. Yang have built a show that’s both binge-worthy and graze-worthy, basing episodes on single, strong concepts, but structuring the season around the love-story arc. “Ladies and Gentlemen” (also excellent; may I change my mind again?) contrasts the everyday harassment women experience with the happy bubble that men occupy. (Dev and Rachel compare the Instagram comments they get for posting a picture of the same frittata; he gets “Yumtown! 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.

His mother laughs at the notion. “You realize fun is a new thing, right?” his father responds. “Fun is a luxury only your generation really has.” But in Dev’s everyday life—which we observe as the season continues—he isn’t having that much fun. He’s stymied by dating; unsure of the prospect of having kids; disillusioned with acting, which he appears to be good at, but so far has just been stuck in commercials. Dev’s story—and Ansari’s, and Yang’s—is the immigrants’ story, of trying to make something of the world when your parents worked really hard to get you there. 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. The story lines often carry real emotional weight. (There are also lots of laughs and completely bizarre tangents, like Dev’s friendship with a muscle-bound Dwayne Johnson–type costar who is obsessed with his dead cat, baking Cinnabons, and playing with dominoes.) Early on we meet Dev’s Indian-born doctor father, played by Ansari’s actual Indian-born doctor father, Shoukath.

Without getting either sentimental or tragic, the show plumbs Asian-American identity, filial obligation, the anxiety of settling down, and the looming specter of a dead-end career in a not-too-gritty portrayal of New York City. Favorite activities include binge-watching Sherlock, scouring the city for new ramen places, and hitting up the matinee showing of the latest superhero movie. When Dev invites a hot waitress on a date to a Father John Misty concert and she leaves him hanging for days, he gets to drive home one of Modern Romance’s primary conclusions: “Treat potential partners like actual people, not bubbles on a screen.” (Literally, Dev bemoans: “Why are people so rude? A third episode presents Dev with a quandary about his own moral code: When he meets a hot restaurant critic named Nina (played by guest star Claire Danes) who is intent on hooking up with him to get back at her coked-up, serially unfaithful, corporate stooge of a husband, what responsibility does Dev have toward the institution of marriage? It’s a perfect segue into the ideas explored in the MR section “Monogamy, Monagamish.” “Maybe they have one of those open marriages, like a Will and Jada situation?” speculates Denise. (In MR, the example is the rapper Pitbull.) They don’t, as it turns out, but when Nina and her husband reconcile, they preach concepts cribbed from Ansari’s MR interview with the sex columnist Dan Savage (fans of the Savage Lovecast will recognize strains of one of his favorite rants): “A marriage is a beautiful thing that you make together,” says Nina’s husband, newly sober and loving both his wife and his new hobby of furniture making. “It has many parts, one of which is monogamy.

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