You knew a Netflix show created by Aziz Ansari was going to be good.
After all, Ansari was one of the best players in the MVP ensemble cast of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” playing the not-quite-as-smooth-as-he-thinks-he-is Tom Haverford. So Ansari knows his way around great television. Add in a stellar standup comedy career and a new book (“Modern Romance”) that’s surprisingly thoughtful about love, and Ansari’s new “Master of None” seemed like it couldn’t miss.
But “Master of None,” which premiered its first 10-episode season last Friday, is even better than anticipated. Deeply funny, smart and at times poignant, “Master” instantly asserts its position as the best half-hour comedy on Netflix (sorry, Kimmy Schmidt).
Ansari stars in and co-writes every episode with “Parks and Rec” writer Alan Yang, allowing the series to very clearly reflect his personal brand of comedy. He plays Dev, a struggling actor in New York who is a first-generation Indian-American immigrant, dealing with his parents (played by Ansari’s actual parents), his career, and a possible new love interest (the excellent Noel Wells).
The obvious ancestor to this sort of semi-autobiographical comedy is Louis C.K.’s “Louie,” and, like “Louie,” each episode of “Master” feels like a 30-minute movie rather than a TV show. It helps that Ansari has hired some top indie film directors, including James Ponsoldt (“The End of the Tour”) and Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”), to direct some episodes, giving the show a rich feature-film texture.
It also has an absolutely killer soundtrack of hip-hop, indie rock and Bollywood pop. Seek out the soundtrack on Spotify.
The format allows each episode to zoom in on a different aspect of Dev’s life, rather than trying to juggle them all in 30 minutes. In the first episode, for example, Dev contrasts his own carefree single life against those of his friends, newly married and having kids. The episode is hilarious no matter which side of the parent/kid-free divide you stand, as Dev finds that his friend’s misbehaving tykes aren’t so hilarious, such as pointing out stranger’s ethnicities (“Black woman. Asian man.”) when he has to babysit them.
The second episode focuses on Dev’s family, as he tries to appreciate the sacrifices his parents made to come to America and give him the life he has. (“My dad used to bathe in a river, and now he drives a car that talks to him.”) Instead of falling back on traditional sitcom conventions, the episode is wise about the immigrant experience, and how immigrant parents and their American-born children can and can’t understand each other’s experiences. It helps that Ansari’s parents are also so funny, especially his dad, who complains about the “ding ding” on his iPad.
“Master of None” is that rare personal project that is broadly accessible. Like Ansari’s stand-up, it draws from his own life to make funny and memorable points about love, race and culture. The title “Master of None” is a reference to the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none,” perhaps a self-deprecating reference to Ansari wearing so many hats for this show. Don’t sell yourself short, Aziz.
Also on streaming: It’s a great month for comedy on Netflix, as fans of the cult ‘90s HBO series “Mr. Show” will get a sequel of sorts in “With Bob and David,” premiering this Friday. Bob Odenkirk and David Cross have reunited their “Mr. Show” cast for four new episodes of surreal sketch comedy.
Amazon Prime subscribers will get the chance to vote on a batch of new pilots this month, with the best-reviewed ones getting the chance to be turned into series. Top prospects this month include the twisty spy drama “Patriot” and the Tig Notaro-created “One Mississippi.”