With the hotly anticipated release this Friday of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, we bring you another week of recommendations of Netflix AND Amazon Prime Originals you should watch. Starting off this week is a newcomer to the streaming world, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None
BY NOW it seems inveitable, Aziz Ansari is going to be a mega-star. After bursting onto our screens as the screaching, awful comedian ‘Raaaandy’ in Funny People, Ansari has made himself a mainstay of the American comedy scene through seven seasons of brilliant character work as Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, well-choen guest spots on shows like Bobs Burgers and The League, oh and his last stand-up special (also available on Netflix, also brilliant) sold-out Madison Square Garden. Maybe it was wrong to say he’s going to be a mega-star, he pretty much already is one. This brings us to Master of None, a new ten-part Netflix comedy-drama series created by Ansari and Parks & Rec writer Alan Yang and starring Ansari, SNL’s Noel Wells, Eric Wareheim (of Tim and Eric), H. Jon Benjamin (the voice of Bob of Bobs Burgers, Archer on Archer, and of course, the Can of Vegetables on Wet Hot American Summer) and Ansari’s parents as… his parents.
Ansari stars as Dev, an actor in his roughly thirties living in New York and trying to make a career out of it with only a surprisingly lucrative yoghurt advert to his name. It’s not exactly a set-up we haven’t seen before, we’ve all seen tales of frustrated creatives falling in love in New York, it’s a formula that many might say was perfected by Woody Allen in the seventies (and pushed to obnoxious self-indulgence by Woody Allen in the late 90s) and it has shades to it of everything from Curb Your Enthusiasm through Girls even a hint of Chapelle Show in there in it’s unflinching yet humourous look at the world through a distinct viewpoint. It is is unique nature of Ansari’s viewpoint along with (The Spectaular Now director) James Ponsoldt’s naturalistic approach that make this something truly special.
The two big through-lines of the programme are Dev’s involvement with a brilliantly terrible sounding sci-fi movie that he has a small role in and also his romance with Rachel (Wells), a music publicist who the series opens on him having a one-night stand with, both of which are played with laughs and heart. His relationship with Rachel is particularly affecting in its unflinching normality and the dazzling chemistry between Ansari and Wells Whilst it might seem that from the description, this could end up being just a rom-com with a lot of Hollywood in-jokery, it manages to swerve and avoid this as over the course of the series manages to cover episodes about ageing, sexism, racism and the immigrant experience. Particularly powerful is an episode in which Dev and another actor, Ravi (Ravi Patel) take us through the experience of being an Indian actor and the constant tedium of only nbeing called out for roles like taxi Driver and shop owner. I was reminded of Gone With The Wind‘s Hattie McDaniel commenting that as a black woman in Hollywood, she had to take jobs playing maids on television and film because it was that or end up working as a maid.
Yet, the prograamme would completely fail if it were either too funny or gave up its own scruples and wrote in stereotypes. Luckily, it never does. Everyone from Dev and Rachel through their friends (including Lena Thwaite, a black actress playing a lesbian character but neither of those two thing are ever played as part of the joke or anything other than just who she is) through to one-line bit parts are given a chance to shine and add to the humour and colour of the show’s palette, especially with Ansari’s parents stealing every scene they’re in with their oddly ‘unperformed’ comic energy working to really feel like actual people instead of just his parents reading jokes. The show’s real trump card is Noel Wells, an actress who was never given a real chance to shine during her brief tenure on SNL, who gives a real charm offensive. Her Rachel is no standard male-led rom-com interest, she imbues a spikiness, a knowledge and most importantly a strong humour into all of her scenes leaving a lot of the rest of the cast scrambling to match her energy and talent. A mid season episode that the vast majority of which is just a trip between Dev and Rachel to Nashville and the penultimate episode which is literally just the two of them in their apartment (it’s like what would happen if Him & Her had actual people instead of loose sketches filled out by actors)are real standouts that could’ve been a real drag without such talented performers. If anyone other than Ansari could go stratospheric from this, it’s Wells.
Master of None is a triumph. Perfectly acted, brilliantly directed, beautifully shot with some truly brilliant, daring scripts. It’s the kind of programme that I can see myself coming back to and having sped through season 1, I can’t wait for Season 2. It’s already in my Top 5 of Netflix shows, and at this rate, it could end up proving its title wrong and being a (if you’ll allow me this pun) Masterwork.
NOTE: One of the key writers on the programme in its development, despite only getting credit on one episode was Harris Wittels. This is because he tragically passed away near the beginning of this year. He was possibly my favourite modern comedy writer and not a week goes by I don’t find myself feeling his loss despite never knowing him personally. I’d recommend checking out the work he’s left behind in memory of a true modern genius.