This critique is dedicated to my good friend Zack, who asked for it. And as always, spoilers ahead.
You’d think love was all about the chase. That’s what I get from books, television, and movies anyway. Someone’s relationship is always just starting, or ending, or nearly ending before being renewed. And I understand why. Storytelling is the delicate art of maintaining tension. Where is there more tension than in the transitions of love?
But being in a long term relationship, I do sometimes want to see that represented. And without the relationship being undone in the eleventh hour.
Which is why Aziz Ansari’s Master of None disappoints me. The show took an episode or two to settle into itself, and I sometimes got the impression that Ansari, as “Dev”, was talking to himself instead of having a dialogue with the other characters. But these are minor flaws that do not detract from the show at its best.
And at its best, it’s quite good. Ansari plays to his strengths — physical comedy, and his nuanced second generation American viewpoint. Dev seeks work as a comedian, and ends up taking a part in a bad horror movie, providing Ansari the chance to die hilariously. Dev asks his immigrant parents (played by Ansari’s actual parents) about their childhoods, and their stories are at once harrowing, poignant, and still funny.
Even the romance arc of Master of None is strong. The love interest, Rachel (played by Noël Wells), has good chemistry with Ansari, and is very funny in her own right. Their relationship becomes a vector for more comedy, with Dev and Rachel embarking on small adventures. An uncomfortable taxi ride to buy Plan B. An early date in Nashville, because there was a deal on tickets there. Conversations about feminism, and relationships.
It’s a lot like Louie, or Maron, with insightful or even critical moments interspersed between the laughs. And sometimes it’s all mixed up.
One episode focuses on the grandfather of Dev’s friend, Arnold (Ed Wareheim). Dev and Arnold decide to visit Arnold’s grandpa, as it would be a nice, responsible thing to do. Dev and Arnold are first bored by the old man, but once he starts telling war stories they are enthralled. Then they meet grandpa’s companion — a robotic plush seal named Paro, who manages to be both adorable and deeply unsettling.
As Paro is a warm, fuzzy absurdity, most of Master of None has a warm, fuzzy quality that is less common in Louie, and absent from Maron. Of the three main characters, Dev is the youngest, the freshest, and the least jaded. Dev’s flaw is naïveté rather than wizened bitterness and depression. In many ways, it is a welcome change.
Which brings us back to where Master of None lets us down. Despite Dev and Rachel’s penchant for adventure, they pass up on the great adventure — growing together over time. Their relationship gets a little stale, but rather than work through that they suddenly break up.
It’s a sad ending, in no way funny, and that casts a negative light on all the preceding episodes. I can’t rewatch the show to enjoy the good times between Rachel and Dev, because I know it’s all just going to fall apart over nothing but uncharacteristic insecurity at the end.
I like Ansari’s comedy, and I wish him well with season two of Master of None in 2017. But I urge him to remember his strengths, and play to them. And while poignancy and deft handling of nuanced material is within Ansari’s comedic capabilities, a serious breakup from a serious relationship without any comedic twist really isn’t.