As HitFix’s Alan Speinwall puts it, Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” whose 10 episodes premiere on Netflix Friday, is “instantly not only one of Netflix’s best series, but one of the best shows on TV.” He’s not alone: the New York Times calls it “the year’s best comedy straight out of the gate,” and if others are less effusive, it’s not by much. They might be the best reviews ever for the first season of a Netflix show.
Although Ansari’s characters have tended towards the self-absorbed, “Master of None,” which he co-created with “Parks and Recreation” writer Alan Yang, is anything but. In the second episode, “Parents,” Ansari’s character, Dev, a successful New York actor, ignores his elderly father’s request for help using his iPad, and when Dev blows him off, we cut away to his father’s dirt-poor childhood in India and a quick synopsis of the racism he faced when he first came to America. Dev has little appreciation for or even awareness of his parents’ struggles — “You realize fun is a new thing, right?” his father, played by Ansari’s real-life father, Shoukath Ansari, asks him — but over the course of the episode, he and his friend Brian (Kelvin Yu), likewise the child of first-generation immigrants, make a concerted effort to understand what their parents went through, only to realize, finally, that parents can take their children for granted, too. While the sharp observations about hipster culture put “Master” in line with “Girls” and its self-aware style aligns with “Louie,” it’s more broadly humanist than either, while still not sacrificing such purely comic scenes as one where Dev does a Skype audition for a disaster movie in a crowded coffee shop because his apartment’s Wifi is out.
Sundance veterans Lynn Shelton and James Ponsoldt direct some episodes, as does Ansari himself, and “Master of None” has the offhand warmth of an American indie film, mixed with the sharp wit and commentary of the best sitcom writing. Its 10 episodes will go by in a flash, and critics are hungry for more.
Maureen Ryan, Variety
The building blocks of “Master of None” are not unusual: In the Netflix comedy, “Parks and Recreation” actor and standup comic Aziz Ansari plays Dev, a single guy in New York City whose intermittent acting gigs leave him a lot of time to hang out with his friends in cool bars and coffee shops. But the similarities to the show that featured the Central Perk gang — not to mention the dozens of sitcoms that aped “Friends” over the years —are passing at best. Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang have ambitious plans for that sturdy premise, and they use it to smartly investigate matters of love and romance in the age of apps, as Ansari did in the recent book he co-authored, “Modern Romance.” Even more impressive than the relationship stories are “Master’s” adroit examinations of matters of gender and race, which are used as fodder for a bracing blend of nimble comedy and knowing cultural commentary. It’s as if an earnest op-ed piece came to vivid life in an effort to make the viewer laugh out loud — and succeeded in the attempt.
Tirdad Derakhshani, Philadelphia Inquirer
I’m not sure America is ready for “Master of None.” Ansari’s semiautobiographical half-hour comedy chronicles the private life and career of a struggling New York actor. It’s innovative, shockingly clever, sophisticated, sexy, and beautifully executed. In other words, it’s the opposite of virtually every sitcom in prime time. The show has the feel of an observational comedy. As in “Seinfeld,” much of the material is generated when Ansari and his circle of friends meet up to describe their experiences. Unlike the 1990s megahit, which had a rigid structure that was repeated in every episode, the Netflix show has a more open form that allows its writers to mix up different kinds of storytelling.
James Poniewozik, New York Times
“Master of None,” the year’s best comedy straight out of the gate, is a lot of things. It’s an adorable but mature rom-com. It’s an idea-packed bulletin on technology and social mores. It’s a showbiz satire. It’s a casually multicultural, multiracial comedy that’s also acutely conscious of how identity still matters. But above all it is about the tyranny of choice: how being blessed with every option that youth, technology and privilege offer can be paralyzing. A thousand tacos, a thousand dates, all available at a finger’s swipe, all of them presenting 999 avenues to close, 999 opportunities to choose wrongly.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
This is essentially Ansari and Yang’s version of “Louie” — where many of the best episodes also involve Louis C.K. simply showing curiosity about a part of life he doesn’t already know — but because it’s filtered through their sensibilities (and relative youth), it’s more optimistic about both the world and what might lie ahead for its hero. Dev’s not much of an actor — as he explains to one of his father’s friends, he fell into it when a casting director spotted him in the park one day — and he’s not even sure if he and Rachel are meant to be together forever. But Ansari has a sunnier personality — in the adultery episode (which takes place before he and Rachel are a couple), he has his familiar delighted smile plastered across his face, and announces, “This is so cool! This is awesome! I like all of this!” as Danes throws herself at him — that leavens some of that angst without cheapening it. Dev’s no saint — in one episode based on a story by the late Harris Wittels, he defends the idea of tossing aside a concert date for someone more desirable by insisting, “We can be shitty to people now, and it’s accepted! It’s one of the great things about being alive today!” — but he also understands himself and recognizes that he needs to know and do more, even as it’s much easier to go back to playing with his phone.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter
“Master of None” improves in each of the early episodes precisely because Ansari and Yang show growth as series creators and writers — taking the “character” people love, the slightly nerdy guy who gets overly excited when good things happen, who plays suave and confident but is riddled with fears, who’s down for anything but often feels letdown when he experiences it — and puts him in an environment with like-minded people trying to discover who they are.
David Sims, The Atlantic
So many Netflix shows, like “Orange Is the New Black” or “BoJack Horseman,” are novelistic, building to grand emotional finales throughout the course of a season, but “Master of None” feels more appropriate to the streaming form. It’s an anthology show where any of its episodes could be immediately put on and enjoyed, but watching it quickly and in order (as many Netflix viewers are wont to do) reveals larger threads and recurring themes that deepen the whole experience. It may be exhausting to hear it, but “Master of None” belongs in the teeming pile of great TV worth the time, and hopefully marks the beginning of a new and excitingly improved chapter in Ansari’s career.
Margaret Lyons, Vulture
Despite the show’s overall strengths, there are a few hiccups. Occasionally it feels a little underacted, and when guest stars like Claire Danes show up and shine, those missed opportunities seem even more glaring. A few moments feel a little too pat, and occasionally scenes have slightly clunky setup dialogue at the top — more forgivable in sketch comedy, when establishing a premise is urgent, less forgivable in this longer form. And every once in a while the show drifts a little far from its overall grounding in reality. But if “Master of None” isn’t perfect, it’s awfully damn close. Along with recent shows like “Catastrophe,” “Transparent,” and “Broad City,” “Master” feels like the point of contemporary half-hour narrative television. They’re shows with something to say, with characters and stories that are otherwise either ignored completely or maligned and misunderstood. There’s an emotional vividness to the shows, a kind of electricity that requires the audience’s empathy to complete the circuit. Each show has its unique voice and drive, an idea that’s “theirs.” This is what TV can be! How exciting. As Dev himself squeals while hooking up with a fancy-schmancy food critic, “This is so cool. I like all of this.”
Jeff Jensen, Entertainment Weekly
Another entry in the burgeoning genre of indie TV comedy that spans from”Portlandia” to “Broad City,” “Master of None” recalls the personal auteur nerve and New York City grit of Louis C.K.’s “Louie” and the ribald relationship comedy of”You’re the Worst” and the surprising wisdom both can generate—yet it possesses a refreshingly sweeter spirit than either of them. Seventies Woody Allen is evoked, in the style and placement of the credits, in the wide-screen observational aesthetic. It’s a vibrant work that also fills the screen with greater diversity in representation, in richly drawn, casually worn fashion.
“Master of None” isn’t great because it deals with race. It’s great because of how it deals with race. It’s not the overt point of the show, nor is it heavy-handed. It’s a part of Dev’s life, both as the son of an immigrant and as an actor of color trying to get work. Race isn’t the only theme in the show, and in many ways this is where the perspective of Ansari’s stand-up and his recent book, “Modern Romance”, come into play. Dev’s squad includes Taiwanese-American Brian, black lesbian Denice (Lena Waithe), and white, perpetually single Arnold (Eric Wareheim), whose conversations revolve predominantly around the many ups and downs of Dev’s love life. His dalliances with a music publicist (former “Saturday Night Live” player Noël Wells) is one of the threads connecting “Master of None’s”10 episodes, and their relationship is an incisive look at dating in an era when asking several women out on a date at once involves just one text — as depicted in the third episode, “Hot Ticket.” “I’m a person, not a bubble in a phone,” Dev laments when he’s not getting the response he wanted, but that’s exactly how he’s treating everyone else.
Sonia Saraiya, Salon
“Master of None” is about navigating choice, as both the hard-earned privilege it is and the unexpected burden it becomes. In one scene, Dev is unable to go out for tacos without spending 45 minutes determining which one is the best in New York City. In another, he’s trying to maximize the utility of concert tickets by asking several women out to the concert and agonizing over which to prioritize. With Ansari’s characteristic optimism, “Master of None””reveals the world to be perplexing but ultimately good; the choices are at times paralyzing, but they’re enchanting, too. Without getting either sentimental or tragic, the show plumbs Asian-American identity, filial obligation, the anxiety of settling down, and the looming specter of a dead-end career in a not-too-gritty portrayal of New York City. It speaks to figuring things out as a process worth doing; even for fools such as us, the titular masters of none.
Inkoo Kang, Village Voice
Ansari has been vocal about the difficulty minority actors face in finding substantial characters to portray. How lucky for us that he and co-creator Alan Yang, a former writer on “Parks and Recreation,” invented not just a new vehicle for the actor, but an original perspective to guide it as well. On the one hand, “Master of None” strides down a well-trod path: A thirtyish man-child searches for love, a purpose in life, and a compelling reason to embrace adulthood. Versatility isn’t Ansari’s forte, so Dev frequently comes across as a more grounded Tom Haverford: a charming weenie and an app-addicted magpie who doesn’t mind delaying lunch 45 minutes to research the best taco truck in New York.
Sadie Gennis, TV Guide
Rather than becoming another project bemoaning the millennial generation’s short attention span and self-obsession, “Master of None” mines the universality of life. In the excellent second episode, “Parents,” Dev and his friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) both blow off their fathers in order to make it to the movies in time to catch the trailers and movie trivia. This inspires each of their fathers to flash back to their youth — in India and Taiwan, respectively — and their immigration to the U.S., during which they worked tirelessly and faced massive prejudice in order to give their sons a better life. But while Dev’s father Ramesh reprimands his son for taking for granted the opportunities his own sacrifices have afforded him — “You realize fun is a new thing right? Fun is a luxury only your generation really has,” he says — Ramesh also brushes off a thoughtful gesture from Dev in favor of playing games on his iPad.
Willa Paskin, Slate
Ansari is best known for playing douchebags: the hyperactive, dirty-talking brah Randy—or rather Raaaaaaaandy—and “Parks and Recreation”’s Tom “treat yo’ self” Haverford. But “Master of None” is not about douchebaggery but decency: Dev’s always reaching for it. His search is the stuff of a comedy that also doubles, triples, quadruples, and so on as a romantic comedy, naturalistic indie, sci-fi satire, paean to urban foodie culture, guide to texting best practices, commentary on race and gender, dramatization of the immigrant experience, exploration of the first-generation experience, and investigation of the living-and-loving-in-Brooklyn-and-Brooklyn-adjacent-boroughs experience.
Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe
“Master of None” arrives as a bit of a surprise, in that, based on his ever-hustling and frivolous Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation,” Ansari didn’t seem capable of evoking depth and complication. But as Dev, he is sympathetic and interesting, by turns sweet, self-aware, ambitious, principled, cynical, lonely, and childlike. One of the better episodes is “Parents,” in which Dev and his Asian friend Brian (Kelvin Yu) realize that, having grown up in the States, they don’t quite understand their parents. The episode gives us quickie back stories on both fathers — Brian’s father is from Taiwan — and a dinner scene of them all eating together at a Chinese restaurant. It’s the classic tale of parents who suffer so their children can become spoiled Americans, and it’s as charming a half-hour as I’ve seen all year, as hard-won understanding prevails.
Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com
Great comedy comes from a blend of the familiar and the unexpected. We love shows like “Seinfeld” and “Louie” because we can relate to the basic issues that form the show’s foundations, but they make us laugh because we don’t see the punchlines coming. This dynamic presents itself over and over again in “Master of None.” It’s Ansari’s slightly exaggerated reality, such as the episode with his parents, featuring exaggerated flashbacks, or an amazing bit with actor Colin Salmon, who tries to get Dev to help him write a screenplay called “Car Person.” Or a conversation between Dev and his friend about the perspective of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” (Why is there no Mekhi Phifer?) The characters of “Master of None” and their situations are real enough for us to like the people involved but exaggerated enough to be witty and funny.
Brian Moylan, Guardian
The episodes don’t set out to examine how awful and conceited people are but instead explore the misunderstandings that happen on the way to human connection. If you were to pick one adjective to describe the show, it would be humane. Yes, the show says, sometimes people kind of behave like jerks, but deep down they are generally pretty worthy. Like Seinfeld and its famous “no hugging, no lessons” policy, the episodes don’t have a didactic moral, but the characters are all searching for something meaningful in this sometimes crummy life. If that makes the show sound treacly or full, it isn’t. There is plenty of absurd humor like Dev’s Skype audition for a role, which he has to do in a coffee shop because the Wi-Fi in his house sucks, or his fitness-minded friend who continues to do burpees while waiting for Dev to finish a conversation with someone else.
Ryan McGee, Boob Tube Dude
This show is filled with smart, yet cripplingly self-aware characters that see their life choices dwindle like their Netflix queue after a bingewatch. The spectre of “what’s expected” hangs over them all, which either spins them towards YOLO or “oh no” with whiplash-inducing turns. Rather than commit to one thing, they try and indulge in everything. They want to be heard, yet talk so much that they drown each other out in the ensuing cacophony. It’s hysterical, heartbreaking, and altogether wonderful. It’s familiar and yet like nothing you’ve seen, and I can’t recommend it enough.