Not everything that Netflix touches turns to gold. Its original content brought a whole new dimension to the way the world views the industry and legitimised online streaming as a serious medium. As well as its awards season darlings Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards the folks at Netflix are consistently striving to bring upon established brands to their exclusive content lineup. That now includes the array of Marvel shows, the spinoff of Full House, the continuation of Gilmore Girls, the rest of Adam Sandler’s career and a stack of stand-up shows.
There have been misfires. Hemlock Grove, the 2015 reboot of Ritchie Rich and the Mitt Romney biopic all went kaput. Never heard of any of them? That’s because Netflix put them to sleep very quietly with little to no fuss or fanfare.
So here we are at Masters of None, created by and starring Aziz Ansari. He was the first person hired for Parks and Recreation, hosted the 2010 MTV Movie Awards, had a recurring role in Scrubs and oddly appeared in the Jay Z and Kanye West music video Otis. Netflix believes in Ansari. He’s already done a stand up show with them and it must have gotten a fair few clicks for the pair to commit to scripted comedy.
But is Masters of None any good? Well yes. The pilot is Netflix at its best – quick, smart, modern, a little brash and instantly able to hook its audience. Ansari shines as the everyman. He’s relatable in a lot of ways but could never make it as a lead on a syndicated television comedy.
Which is a shame, because Masters of None is ripe for syndication. The episodes are self-contained, the appeal is broad and the characters are still cookie-cutter enough for everyone to follow. This is not a magnum opus. It’s hearty and defined and permeated with thought and care for the characters and the show but it is not the explosion that a viewer might accidentally expect.
The protagonist Dev is a twenty-something navigating life in New York City with his friends. Looking at you Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Sex at the City, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and one million other shows. Masters of None skews this. Its plots are extremely relatable and really truthful, usually with a bite, leaving Dev and the audience with the ‘Aw fuck’ feeling.
Which, depending on the twenty-something you talk to today, is a really legitimate feeling.
There’s the condom breaking (which is universally understood as the worst of times), the wanting to have kids/not wanting to have kids/hating spending time with kids threeway, the guilt of not visiting your parents, the not-fun experience of looking for jobs, the godawful date, when a person doesn’t reply and anything else the world can throw at you.
That sounds like a bad time, but Ansari charms his way out of every situation. Because everybody has experienced most of these things. And they’re not exclusive feelings – they all intersect and compound everything else. So it’s easier to empathise with Dev than it is with Ted Mosby or Ross Gellar.
And it is great to see diversity on television/streaming. It’s clear as day when a show does not cast based on race. Masters of None is one of those shows.
Speaking of which, the forth episode tackles this head on. It’s a commentary on the entertainment business and makes a lot of valid points about racism. It also is the point the show becomes its own. The pilot was deliberately in-your-face. The second episode extrapolates a lot of points but lacks any tension or speed. The third episode is smarter and more enjoyable but lacks substance. The forth episode every piston is firing and all the elements line up for a really cool, comedic half hour.
The only mark against the series is that it is extremely Dev-centric. Ensembles are a big part of television now and to return to a single character each week is an odd feeling. It gives us a chance to understand every facet of Dev, but with knowing little to nothing about his friends. As the series matures it may remedy this but right now the only synopsis on offer is a stereotype.
Which is strange considering the show’s outspokenness against stereotypes.
On the whole Masters of None is new engaging content. It’s binge-worthy, interesting, concise and intelligent. Ansari delivers formidable work and Netflix would be smart to add this to their 2016 slate.
ONE FINAL THOUGHT: I’d finished this review and was adding the photos and keywords and whatnot, facebooking a friend in another window, and I realised a very vital point I barely touched on. Masters of None is better than 99% of what is currently on your television. It’s better than MasterChef. It’s better than that stupid barbecue spinoff of My Kitchen Rules. It’s better than the fearmongering news bulletins, the repeats of hammy 90s shows, the lifestyle shows and the infomercial-saturated chit-chat nonsense. It looks unassuming but it has something to say.
And its chagrin has charm. There are two sides to everything. Any good DC fan will tell you that Superman is the day and Batman is the night. Perhaps in the realm of Netflix comedies set in New York City Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the day and Masters of None is the night.
Which is a really geeky metaphor.