Written by Christopher Diggins
Master of None Plot Summary:
A condom mishap and a kid’s birthday party prompt Dev to consider the reality of having children.
A comedian creating a TV show loosely based around their own life is certainly nothing new. Shows like Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Louie all follow this basic formula, and there are countless others that do the same. To stand out in a field like that, you have to bring something special, a unique flair or viewpoint that’s entirely your own. So does Aziz Ansari’s Master of None provide that? Truth be told, I wanted to say no at first. It seemed to me like it was just treading old ground. But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized that there’s a charm to it, an honesty that sticks with you long after it’s over. And this simple sincerity really does make it stand out.
The first episode (which is all I’m reviewing here, to be clear) starts off with a very simple premise. Ansari’s character Dev has a series of encounters, from a broken condom to a birthday party for his friend’s son, that make him consider whether or not he might want children. The episode charts a fairly predictable course from here. He offers to babysit his friend Amanda’s (Maria Dizzia) kids, and at first he has a lot of fun playing with them. But as time goes on it becomes more and more of a hassle, and he becomes disillusioned with the idea of having kids. That is, until they do one last sweet gesture for him and he becomes unsure again. It’s nothing we haven’t seen many times before in past sitcoms, and the plot doesn’t really try to break the mold.
Anyone expecting the energy and craziness of Ansari’s character Tom Haverford from Parks and Recreation may be a little disappointed as well. The show aims for a more understated style that doesn’t rely on such high-energy antics. Ansari still brings his particular dramatic flair, but it’s much more grounded and realistic than usual. Even the requisite wacky friend character, Arnold (Eric Wareheim), doesn’t reach the ridiculous heights of your average Kramer. Still, don’t take this to mean that the show isn’t funny. Quite the opposite, really. By grounding itself in the everyday, Master of None is able to find humor in the mundane in a way that feels very real. It doesn’t go high energy because it doesn’t really need to, an exercise in restraint that’s pretty rare to see, let alone to see done well.
That realism in its humor is emblematic of the style that ultimately makes Master of None stand out. As stated before, there’s nothing about the actual plot of the episode that feels new or original. But that in itself is kind of refreshing, in its own way. The show has taken an old cliché, dusted it off, and presented it simply and directly. In Ansari’s capable hands, it isn’t cloying or saccharine. Instead, it’s just honest and relatable. After all, such a plot is only a cliché in the first place because the decision to have kids or not is a pretty universal concern. By choosing to depict that as sincerely as he can rather than add layers of irony or cynicism to it, Ansari has made something strangely unique in TV’s current landscape.
I don’t have anything against irony or cynicism, of course. I think some of the best shows around right now are highly cynical and make liberal use of irony. But the thing is, the truly great shows use those to get at a larger point or meaning. There’s a kind of sincerity to the most cynical of shows, your Louie or your Rick and Morty, a deeply felt truth that they want to express. Master of None chooses to do away with the layers of obfuscation and appeals directly to your heart from the very beginning, a tactic that is no less meaningful for its simplicity. I do hope future episodes are a little more original, but I can hardly fault this first one for it when the end result is so good. For now, I look forward to watching the rest of this show and seeing what else Ansari has to say. I have a feeling I’ll be glad to hear it.
Rating: 8 out of 10