Back to IndieWire

With ‘Master of None,’ Aziz Ansari Emerges as an Emmy Triple Threat

With 'Master of None,' Aziz Ansari Emerges as an Emmy Triple Threat

In the episode “Parents,” from the first season of Netflix’s
genial, affecting “Master of None,” a few lifetimes’ worth of hard-earned
wisdom comes into focus, and our protagonist, to his credit, is all ears. Dev
Shah (co-creator Aziz Ansari), a fledgling New York actor—his claim to fame is
a Go-Gurt commercial—may sigh at his father’s technological struggles, but he
and his close friend, Brian (Melvin Yu), soon realize that their advantages are
born of their parents’ sacrifice.

With two supple montages, straddling Indian
bazaars and Taiwanese villages, American hospitals, restaurants, and homes, the
episode casts the immigrant experience as an attempt to bridge the generational
divide as well as the cultural one, and it’s on this terrain that the series is
most eloquent. “Master of None” is set in the present, but its treatment
of adulthood’s particular pressures strives for the effect of the timeless.

It’s not that Ansari and collaborator Alan Yang ignore
modern mores (Uber, text etiquette, binge-watching), it’s that the strange
specificities of New York, circa now, are the setup, not the punch line. The
subject of sexist trolls, for instance, is just one point of reference in
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” which opens with an analog conceit: As Dev
and Arnold (Eric Wareheim) saunter home from the bar to the tune of “Don’t
Worry, Be Happy,” the sequence juxtaposes their blithe stroll through the
park with that of Dev’s female colleague, pre-dialing 911 on her phone as a man
follows her back to her building.

At 30, Dev and his girlfriend, Rachel (Noël
Wells), are closer contemporaries of the characters on “Girls,” but
the series’ comic sensibilities reflect the influence of “Louie.” In
“Master of None,” the mechanisms of social interaction are more or
less incidental, because what people want—professional success, personal
connection—doesn’t change.

To wit, the series’ strongest entries are almost
old-fashioned, bittersweet dispatches from the borderland between fulfillment
and failure. “Nashville,” rambling through Dev and Rachel’s
unorthodox first date, recalls the inelegant flirtations of “Annie
Hall”; “Mornings,” set during a six-month period in which their
relationship slowly unravels, combines structural precision—depicting the
passage of time through the dates on Dev’s alarm clock, the episode confines
the couple to their apartment—with the sexual frankness of Mike Nichols. (The
more topical humor, even the keen satire of Hollywood whitewashing in
“Indians on TV,” may be easier to build an essay around, but it’s
also easier to forget.)

In retrospect, the winsome ache of “Old People,”
written by Ansari and Yang and directed by Lynn Shelton, seems central to the
series’ perspective, articulating the notion that life’s turning points ultimately
know no age. After a crisis at work pulls Rachel away, her grandmother, Carol
(the charming Lynn Cohen), convinces Dev to spring her from the nursing home,
and the dinner they share at an old-school Italian joint is just as romantic,
in the poetic sense, as anything in “Nashville.” Carol’s
reminiscences—hitchhiking to Atlantic City to see Sinatra, stealing a
high-finned convertible—are stories from the fulcrum of innocence and
experience, run through with faint regret: “The possibilities were
endless,” she says, the promise already relegated to the past tense.

“Master of None,” as its title suggests, is a jack
of all trades, slipping from sitcom premises and dating rituals to career concerns,
disappointment, ennui. At a moment in which the reigning Emmy winner,
“Veep,” is a sharp political satire, and several other contenders (“Silicon
Valley,” “Transparent,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)
inhabit deeply specific, well-defined worlds, it stands out as a generalist. In
this, both Ansari and the series seem poised to benefit from the absence of
“Louie”; if the Emmys can be said to have an auteur-comedy lane, “Master
of None,” with “Girls” closing the gap, appears to be in pole
position. (This includes several episodes, “Nashville” among them,
for which the star might also nab writing and/or directing nominations, and
deservedly so.)

It would be a shame, after all, if the TV Academy neglects
to honor a series that presses the bruise of the misspent youth by taking the
time to finds its voice, and though “Master of None” is not quite the
wounded masterwork of Louis C.K.’s fractured FX series, the season finale
suggests it’s now on the verge of full flower. As Rachel decides to pursue her
dream of moving to Tokyo and Dev departs for Italy, the series marshals its
many threads—big moves and bad marriages, multiple generations of choices that
cut both ways—into a resonant, tender whole.

Against a checkerboard of endless possibilities, he reads
the famous “fig tree” passage from Sylvia Plath’s 1963 novel
“The Bell Jar,” as if to offer one last reminder that the troublesome
pang of desire is a feature of the human condition, not the Millennial one.
“From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned
and winked,” Plath writes, her words as potent, as anguished, as ever. “I
wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and,
as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and,
one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

“Master of
None” is now streaming on Netflix.

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Awards and tagged , , ,

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox