If you’re one of those dudes who puts way too much stock in television reviews and recaps (don’t worry, you’re not alone), you’ll notice that Master of None, the new Netflix comedy co-created and starring stand-up comedian Aziz Ansari, is getting rapturous reviews. Like, too good to be true reviews. Outside of a few (likely) unintentionally gatekeeper-y tweets, I haven’t seen a bad word said about it. I’m kind of surprised by this for two reasons.
First of all, what do reviewers ever unanimously agree on? Even Inside Out, a sharp, emotionally resonant Pixar film, merely mustered a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. It didn’t work for five critics, out of 276! Second, and more importantly: while I’m with critical consensus—Master of None is one of the greatest works of the television medium as it presently stands—I’m surprised it works for a critical body that’s probably a good ten years (give or take) older than either myself or the characters therein. That’s what makes Master of None work for me: it’s the first series of the decade that I feel really says something about the audience, and the audience is me.
Master of None finds Ansari, known for his funny and slyly complex stand-up as well as a killer supporting turn as the flashy Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, taking an absurdly simple premise and executing it to a T. Aziz is Dev Shah, a struggling actor in New York City with a clutch of wacky friends and an astute understanding of how his generation lives and loves. This isn’t new. Hell, Lena Dunham and Louis CK have done versions of this at one point or another.
But something about Master of None just connects in a way that Girls or Louie only do some of the time. The pop-culture obsessions (Aziz’s secret weapon in real life—his passion for binge-watching and high-end food have helped make both of those ideas very cool to our generation), the witty repartee with friends (including a hilariously strange Eric Wareheim) and lovers (chiefly ex-Saturday Night Live cast member Noel Wells as Dev’s paramour Rachel)…all of these things ring true to me, a late twentysomething with friends who tweet more than they text and are obsessed with their own internal continuity. It manages to feel as natural as, say, Wareheim obsessing over a Craigslist couch can be.
Yet Master of None, like all great comedy, digs much deeper in a way that feels well thought-out, less a series of sketches and more a roll of blueprints. Ansari tells a few stories that nobody’s really had the chance to on television. A whole episode is devoted to Dev and his friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) understanding their immigrant (Indian and Asian-American, respectively) parents; Aziz brings in his real parents to play Dev’s folks, and they steal every scene they’re in. Another explores Dev’s resistance to Indian-American stereotypes, which is as incisive as it is Aziz-esque (including a funny cameo from a rapper).
And the women! Ansari uses Master of None—particularly some killer turns from Wells and Lena Waithe as Dev’s friend Denise—to illustrate some of the concepts brilliantly laid out in his best-selling book Modern Romance, a funny, well-researched look at how dating has changed over the last century. The urban dating scene, hookup culture, texting back and forth, issues of feminism and a beautiful, bittersweet deep-dive into sharing an apartment are all stones left for Aziz and company to turn with panache. At their best, these moments are as good as “One Man’s Trash,” Girls‘ divisive, dreamlike Season Two episode.
Like I said, I’m really shocked that Master of None, with its generation and location-specific cues, is playing well with people not in that loop. But Ansari doesn’t ignore non-urban, non-millennial groups in Modern Romance, so it’s entirely plausible that, far away from my Queens apartment and my aspiring-actor friends and my oversaturated Twitter feed, people are seeing themselves in Master of None. And they’re all the better for it, honestly; all our lives could benefit from being this funny, sweet and symbolic.
Master of None is now streaming on Netflix.