But every comedy needs to flex its fundamentals before moving to strike new ground, and Master of None exudes confidence from the get-go. The premiere, in which Dev weighs the pros and cons of parenthood after a pregnancy scare, is a simple enough premise to build an episode around, one that finds equal parts joy and horror in life’s greatest commitment (“Why do they call it Plan B? Is Plan A having the kid? That’s terrible planning.“). As shot by James Ponsoldt -part of a directing quartet that includes Ansari, Lynn Shelton, and co-star Eric Wareheim- and backed by the show’s delightfully eclectic soundtrack (keep Shazam on standby), the premiere establishes Dev’s pocket of New York as one worth walking and talking through.
Shortly thereafter, an effectively made sitcom is quickly transformed into an oft-inspired one. The appearance of flashbacks and Dev’s parents (played by Ansari’s own mother and father) make Master of None’s second episode one of the most surprising and thoughtful half hours of the year. As both a tribute to first generation immigrant families, and a reminder to be thankful for whatever parents you do have, it’s a pip. The crucial carryover from Ansari’s act to his show isn’t his sense of humour, but his ability to use humour as a means of magnifying what’s universal about his own experiences, whether as a minority in the entertainment industry, a tech-savvy gourmand, or a hopeless romantic.
This allows for a marvellous variety of stories to be told through the first season of Master of None, featuring episodes that put Ansari and Yang’s spin on sitcom staples (a sexual dilemma for Dev doubles as an unofficial Homeland/The Americans crossover), explore Dev’s deeper insecurities, or highlight parts of the culture that haven’t progressed as much as we’d like to believe. The show can slacken when digging for insight instead of just a laugh, but is sharply observant and consistently hilarious in its examination of gender, sex, race, technology, and the many overlaps therein.
True to title, it’s hard to pick which of Master of None’s different moves and moods can be considered its best. Episode three starts with a hysterical scene from a fake zombie movie, and ends on a sweet moment of thwarted romance between Dev and maybe-girlfriend Rachel (Noël Wells). In a cast packed with great supporting turns (including Colin Salmon, Danielle Brooks, and H. Jon Benjamin), Wells narrowly comes out as the MVP, taking to the task of matching Ansari zinger-for-zinger with aplomb. The sixth, ninth, and tenth episodes form their own mini-movie about a relationship as it develops across different phases, locations, and formal techniques, the common thread being how consistently, swoonably charming the whole thing is.
By the conclusion of its immensely satisfying first season, Master of None is left in a curious position. The writing, cast, and characters are all so enjoyable that Netflix ordering another season would seem a no-brainer. Yet the show ends up being such a pure translation of its star’s voice that Dev’s story might not be able to continue until Ansari’s does. We’ll just have to wait and see how much new material he can get out of having made one of the year’s best original comedies.
Master of None is the total package, a hilarious modern comedy with looks, smarts, and personality to match.