The first season was provided for review prior to release.
It’s been said that you can’t get famous at standup comedy by being a standup comic. For many now-household names coming up during the ‘80s stage comedy boom, getting your own network television show was the golden ticket. How times have changed. Like many comics of the digital generation, 32-year-old Aziz Ansari rocketed to success through supporting film and TV roles, dogged touring, a strong social media presence –just about every avenue but his own TV show. In 2015, few comedians needed this rusty brass ring less than Ansari, but Master of None, his Netflix series debuting next Friday, could well be the crown jewel of an already sterling career.
The stigma attached to most comedian-created programs is that the show will simply adapt its creator’s onstage material. It’s an assumption Master of None has no real interest in disproving. Watch Ansari’s last two standup specials, and you can see the seeds for nearly every installment of the 10-episode first season. Observations about single life, texting etiquette, and paralyzing indecisiveness may provide Master of None its skeleton, but the distinct voice behind those observations is what makes the show uniquely Ansari’s. “I like talking about things that are going on in my life, because that’s always going to be different and original…No one else is gonna be talking about my personal experiences,” Ansari, a South Carolinian of South Indian descent, said in an interview from 2006.
Not much has changed. Nearly a decade later, Ansari’s material still comes from that personal space, but has developed perspective and texture that Master of None, in its present form, couldn’t have existed without. An earlier version of the series might have owed more to the aggressive improviser who co-created the MTV sketch comedy Human Giant, or the celeb-obsessed popinjay Ansari played so believably on Parks & Recreation. Master of None contains traces of both those personas, and several others Ansari has adopted on the road to performing for some of the world’s largest venues. Live at Madison Square Garden, his Netflix special from earlier this year, is where you’ll find the performer that’s commanding, blisteringly funny, and well rounded enough to make Master of None the gem that it is.
It’s certainly not on Ansari’s shoulders alone that praise for his show can be laid. Even more so than as a writer, actor, and (most recently) director, Master of None is an excellent showcase for Ansari the smart collaborator. The series is co-created and mostly co-written with veteran Parks & Rec scribe Alan Yang, and it’s his presence that feels responsible for turning 2-3 minute standup bits into soundly structured 30-minute narratives (having Parks creator Mike Schur* on as an EP couldn’t have hurt, either). On the surface, this makes Master of None appear rather traditional: Ansari’s 30-year-old insert, Dev, is a working actor and wellish-to-do Manhattanite looking for love and fulfillment in the big city.
*A third, instrumental contributor to the show brought over from Parks, Harris Wittels, passed away earlier this year during development on Master of None. For fans of his work, of which there are many who don’t even know it, it’s both incredibly warming and a little sad to see his name attached to each installment, including a “Story by” credit for the third episode.