Review

'Master of None' a mature take on immaturity

Robert Lloyd
Contact ReporterLos Angeles Times Television Critic

Aziz Ansari, who played Tom Haverford on seven seasons of "Parks and Recreation," has a show of his own now, "Master of None," whose 10 episodes have just become available from Netflix.

Created by Ansari and "Parks and Rec" writer Alan Yang, it is somewhat based on — or shares certain interests with — Ansari's recent humorous book of serious sociology, "Modern Romance," about finding love in an age of apps, and is smart, sweet and funny in ways both familiar and fresh.

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Ansari plays Dev, a New York-based actor — not quite successful yet not really ambitious enough to be called struggling — floating free at the dawn of his 30s. Commercial work has paid his bills, and as we meet him here, he is auditioning for a small part in "The Sickening," a "black virus" movie — which is to say, a movie about a runaway virus with an ethnic cast. (Colin Salmon of "Arrow" and "Limitless" plays a cockeyed version of himself, after the fashion of Ricky Gervais' "Extras.")

Like a less extreme version of Tom Haverford, Dev is a little selfish, a little lazy, a little more insecure than he would like you to know. Also like Tom, he's excited about small things in a childlike way, puppy-hopeful, good-hearted, distracted yet teachable.

As is the case with many comics turned actor, there is something of Ansari's stage persona in his screen personae, from which combination a sense of the person behind them might be triangulated. But it would be a mistake to say that he's merely playing himself here, or recycling his last part (or his stand-up), with minor adjustments.

He is doing some delicate work between the one-liners, especially in his scenes with Noël Wells, whose Rachel, introduced in the series' opening scenes — involving a broken condom, side-by-side Googling, and a late-night Uber trip to the pharmacy — will provide the season's main romantic interest. The two have a great, believable chemistry that makes their dissonances all the more alarming.

The point of view is determinedly young, or young-ish. As in "Modern Romance," Ansari's subject is what his book identifies as "emerging adulthood" and what older generations might less charitably call "arrested development," the extended period of self-searching and mate-shopping that now occupies the years in which earlier generations would have started and even raised families. It's a kind of mature take on immaturity, from people who know it from the inside.

And so, while "Master of None" concerns itself with the rites of hanging out and hooking up, it also pays respect to the decisiveness of earlier generations. Like "Hamlet," Dev has trouble making up his mind.

In episodes titled "Old People" and "Parents," humans of advanced years are not brought in to be mocked, or merely to be mocked, but offered as interesting, impressive, even magical in their way. Ansari's own mother and father, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari, have been enlisted to play Dev's parents, and that they are clearly amateurs somehow works in their characters' favor.

While it's not exactly issue-oriented, the show does have real-world things on its mind: the relationship between first-generation Americans and their immigrant parents; the stereotyping of nonwhite actors; the extra burden of male obnoxiousness that women daily bear; the joy and tyranny of children.

This thematic water is ably carried by a shifting ensemble cast that includes Eric Wareheim (of "Tim and Eric" fame and also the director of several of this series' episodes), Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu, Ravi Patel (of the "Meet the Patels" Patels), Jon Benjamin (as a voice of wisdom, for once) and Todd Barry. Claire Danes guest stars too.

The show is presented in a wider-than-usual widescreen format that gives it a feel we still call "cinematic" and which betokens a certain seriousness. James Ponsoldt, director of "The End of the Tour" and "The Spectacular Now," made the pilot.

That the episodes are longer than average — an advantage of not being made for the traditional time-bound TV grid — also gives them a subtly felt added weight. There are sitcom and rom-com tropes, to be sure, but more often than not the series plays with your expectations in order to subvert them.

Follow me on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd

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