“Master of None” is the latest stream-delivered series to erode that imaginary boundary between “regular”/network-cable television, pay-TV (HBO, Showtime) and programming produced for web viewing. Like previous shows such as “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Deadbeat,” “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Aziz Ansari’s brilliant Netflix sitcom (and I use this term in the most loving fashion) defies categorization as it entertains, informs and challenges media norms.
The 10 episodes that comprise “Master”’s first season are assembled with the skill of a master surgeon. The dialog is believable and heartfelt while the narrative is a fine blend of humor and pathos wrapped in a clever zeitgeist package. Even the music selected for the 10 segments is done with care and precision, with an eclectic blend of The Zombies, Spandau Ballet,
Dean Martin and Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg’s cover version of “Je T’aime” setting the mood and underscoring the plot lines. And where else can you find some great laughs and an introspective take on Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar” in the same 28-minute video?
The story is much like what you would find in countless other original shows — an aspiring actor, Dev (played by Ansari), pursues his dream of moving beyond Gogurt commercials to being part of a major Hollywood production. Surrounded by a troupe of friends — schlumpy Arnold (Eric Wareheim), loyal and candid Denise (Lena Waithe) and cheery Brian (Kelvin Yu) — Dev attempts to balance career, family ties and romance with music PR genius Rachel (Noël Wells). By the way, if you are looking for 2015’s version of a “meet cute,” Dev and Rachel’s story is about as “right now” as you can get.
“Master of None” takes hold of the television formula that has worked since their early ’80s in which each single episode contains a storyline that resolves in the timespan of one installment, while carrying a major thread through a number of shows. A case in point is episode number two, “Parents,” which is a wonderfully tender tribute to immigrant families and the culture they bring to a new land. In the 28 minutes that pass, we see the entire backstory of Dev and Brian’s families origins while the ongoing story of Dev’s career jumps over a continuous set of hurdles.
Beyond the humor, irony and introspection, “Master of None” does its part to put a sensitive political issue in the spotlight — minorities in the media. In the episode “Indians on TV,” Dev refuses to do a fake Indian accent just to win a part. This forthright notion could have been played strictly for laughs, but Ansari and company use a blend of humor and undeniable truths to make a point.
There’s a lot about “Master of None” that puts the dividing line between shows made for streaming audience and those we find on good old TV and cable. Ansari’s masterpiece has coarse language and sexual references, but deployed in a manner that is appropriate and not for sheer titillation. Netflix’s new hit shows just how far “TV” has come as it charts a new course and definition for situation-based comedies.