I’ve been home sick with bronchitis for the last week, so by the time Friday rolled around and Master of None popped up on my Netflix suggestions, I was already pretty eager to give it a try. And when I did, I could not stop watching. And watching. All ten episodes. Twice. In two days. Created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang (who wrote for Parks & Recreation), Master of None follows Dev, played by Ansari, who’s making his way as a commercial actor in New York trying to date and figure out life at the same time. That sounds like a pedestrian premise, but it doesn’t matter—Master of None is not a show focused on story, but on the exploration of modern adulthood. And it has a tone that perfectly balances silly moments with meditations on deeper topics. It’s already drawn comparisons to Louie (the de rigueur parallel for any comedy show that deviates from traditional sitcom format—the same was said about Girls). But as you go deeper into season one, it’s clear Ansari and Yang are working out something entirely their own.
Here’s five reasons you should move Master of None to the top of your queue, stat.
Like Louie, Master of None has a looseness to it that allows the show to explore many broader themes and travel into subjects that could easily be bummer territory—the sheer exhaustion brought from raising kids, aging parents and the sacrifices they made for their children, male privilege, the stereotyping of Indian Americans. But while it certainly strays—to its benefit—from traditional sitcom structure, Master of None never travels far from the laughs, reaping them either from the irony inherent in some of those more serious situations or from the just plain silly, like Dev’s Tom-Haverford-reminiscent enthusiasm for brunch foods and pastas.
Episode 2, “Parents,” examines the relative privilege of people raised in the United States against that of their immigrant parents who worked hard to make them such inconsiderate numbskulls. The topic feels as fresh as it feels familiar to anyone with a diverse background. My mom immigrated to the U.S. in 1975, and I grew up in a community with second generation kids of every nationality. I’m white, so my experience doesn’t exactly track that of Dev and his best friend Brian (Kelvin Yu), but I still couldn’t get over how familiar their conversations about relating to their parents are—like how Brian’s father had to slaughter his pet chicken for dinner, and how Dev’s father worked in a zipper factory for two years so he could afford med school, or even how Dev is afraid to tell his traditional parents he’s living with his girlfriend. I’ve witnessed friends struggling through the same things for years, but never seen it represented—or even acknowledged—on television before.
Furthermore, the show’s cast is incredibly diverse without ever pointing it out. It allows its characters to share their unique points of view (like when Dev explains the language barrier he faces in talking to his grandmother on the phone) without ever making those experiences the entirety of that person. His friend Denise (Lea Waithe) might be able to explain why it takes skill to be a black barber or contribute her lens on dating as a lesbian, but she has opinions that reach far beyond her ethnicity and her sexuality, like why Failure to Launch was worth seeing in the theater.
And beyond that, the show is interested in actually exploring the differing perspectives of its characters. It devotes an entire episode to the stereotypes of Indian Americans on television as Dev navigates auditioning for the same four cardboard roles. In “Ladies and Gentlemen,” it addresses male privilege (or rather, the disadvantages of being a woman) in directly juxtaposing Dev and Arnold’s (Eric Wareheim) breezy walk home from a bar against a woman’s walk home set to the Halloween theme as she’s followed by a creepy “nice guy.”
Master of None also often takes on an enchanting rom com vibe as Dev meets and dates women in New York, but it doesn’t just focus on the single life. When Dev’s relationship with Rachel (Noël Wells) takes off, they charm viewers with their banter and quick joking. At one point on their first date, someone calls out their adorableness, “Could you guys bond somewhere else? I’m feeling really alone over here.” But Master of None doesn’t stop with the fun parts of a relationship. It delves into Dev and Rachel’s arguments, managing somehow to make both of them sympathetic in the process. Master of None never falls into the trap of letting Rachel seem shrill when she’s angry at Dev, instead depicting them as a couple of people who genuinely want to see the other person’s side and at times bump into obstacles in doing so.
Dev and his friends are at an ambivalent crossroads in their lives. They’re young enough that going to bars still sounds fun, but are just as ready to give that up for a steady boo, and, well, Netflix. They’re establishing themselves in careers but haven’t been taken over by their jobs or by kids yet. There’s the use of social media and how it affects interactions now—the anxiety behind waiting for a return text, parents who need IT help, and the notion that no matter who you text, someone better is just a few clicks away. Dev’s at an age where possibilities start shifting into closed doors and there’s always the risk of being left behind—like when he bumps into his ex at a toy store and finds out she had a baby with the very next guy she dated. And with that comes a certain anxiety about the future and whether each individual choice is the right one. Is it? You’ll have to watch the show to find out.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared in Splitsider, Bitch, Rookie Mag, and The Hairpin.