Netflix’s hyper-political ‘Master of None’ is very, very accurately titled

The reception of Netflix’s original content has been extremely scattered. People loved Daredevil but had no patience for Iron Fist. Stranger Things captured headlines and awards while Marco Polo was a disaster.

Somehow managing to pull off both – the plaudits and the disaster – was Master of None, a “comedy” from Park and Rec’s Aziz Ansari that debuted in 2015 and returns for season 2 on May 12.

The series follows the professional, personal, and romantic misadventures of Dev, a fictionalized version of Ansari, trying to become an actor in New York City. He’s basically an Indian, millennial Jerry Seinfeld.

The New York Times called it “the year’s best comedy straight out of the gate,” but honestly I don’t know how anyone could describe this as a comedy without putting it in quotation marks.


Ansari is successful as a comedian (whether acting or on stage) because of his high-speed, energetic charm. None of that was on display in the series, which instead apes the slow, lugubrious style of Louis CK’s down-to-earth Louie. Moreover, the series is so overtly political it cannot be consumed as pure entertainment.

Rather than tell jokes, Ansari and his costars are constantly spouting liberal clichés. At one point, he goes out of his way to single out his disgust for Republican Bobby Jindal (the most high-profile Indian American political in American history). His girlfriend belittles him on feminist topics while he just stands there impotently.

They’re not delivering lines; they’re reading talking points. This follows Hollywood’s (superficial) dedication to liberal politics, but it’s worse here than anywhere besides a self-congratulatory award show that nobody watches.

Sadly, this type of show would be a wonderful platform for satirizing militant ctrl-left thinking – the way 30 Rock did through conservative Jack’s sparring with liberal Liz – but giving voice to any dissenting opinion (even just for a joke) is not tolerated in the modern world of online mobs.  

In one scene, Dev is babysitting a child in a fast food restaurant and asks the more traditional-looking of two women to watch the child while he’s in the bathroom. The less traditional of the two immediately takes offense and attacks him for his prejudice. He apologizes limply. And that’s the scene.

Instead of making a joke about thin-skinned snowflakes, Dev instead makes … no jokes.

Again I’m reminded of Seinfeld, specifically the politically incorrect cigar store Indian episode…


… where Jerry says – after being attacked for asking a Chinese person for directions to a Chinese restaurant – “Aren’t we all getting a little too sensitive? I mean, somebody asks me which way is Israel, I don’t fly off the handle.”

A prevailing theme in Master of None is that subcontinental Asians are unrepresented in American entertainment. Given what a huge chunk of the world lives in south Asia, that’s probably true; given how few live in America, the representation is probably pretty, well, representative. Something Ansari never mentions (and indeed might not be aware of) is that Indian actors are extremely well represented in cinema. In India.

Seriously, the actors in Indian cinema are beyond monochromatic. You are not going to find a non-Indian face in a Bollywood movie. Heck, I’ve seen Indian films set in New York – Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and Kal Ho Na Ho – where the entire city is populated with just Indians!  


Could you imagine the cries of outrage if a movie set in Mumbai only featured white actors?

Ansari’s character expresses gratitude to be in America while constantly attacking America for its shortcomings. American institutions may not be as multicultural as is demanded by what Mitt Romney called the “blame America first crowd,” but they are still more multicultural than the overwhelming majority of the world.

What’s most disappointing about Master of None is that Ansari is an extremely gifted comic, having stolen every scene he was in on Parks and Rec (well, unless Nick Offerman ran off with it first). Moreover, he is also a very deliberate thinker; his book Modern Romance: An Investigation is the smartest thing I’ve seen on how dating has changed in the 21st Century.

If he did straight-up comedy, it would be hilarious. If he did a documentary, it would be fascinating. Instead, he’s made a weird hybrid that isn’t particularly comic and – given the aggressive political agenda – cannot be described as entertainment. It’s propaganda. And it doesn’t work.

I hope that Ansari hits his stride with the new season and puts comedy first, using his own style. The world absolutely doesn’t need more comedian-cum-pundits trying to fill the void left by Jon Stewart. We need to be able to laugh together, for a change.

In trying to be so many different things, and failing, Ansari proves that he is genuinely, sadly … a master of none.