Being in your twenties sucks—an obvious statement, made by just about everyone. It’s an easy thing to say when you have some distance from the days of bottom-of-the-barrel jobs, messy roommates, drunk 4 a.m. pizza and the awful mess that is dating. But what this statement belies is that your thirties will be any easier or less messy.
It’s a scary age, the phase just after young adulthood—a milestone that seems like merely hitting it will magically make you grow up, that you’ll suddenly hit those pivotal benchmarks in life, the ones that are increasingly shifting (or even becoming obsolete) but that still punch you in the face whenever you check Facebook: big promotions, engagements, marriages, babies. There’s not a ton on television right now that really gets this nebulous phase, where maybe one Saturday morning you’re up at 9 a.m. doing your laundry, running errands and taking care of your life, and the next you’re dying hung over in bed, drunk brunching or deeply regretting whomever you texted at 2 a.m. Some Saturdays, you’re doing a little bit of both. (You’re the Worst might get the closest, but only tangentially—it’s really its own animal.) It’s a weirdly thin and at times blurred line between the adulthood you’re on your way towards and the leftover habits of your twenties.
But with Master of None, Aziz Ansari has brought a painfully, perfectly realized version of this late twenties/early thirties limbo to life. The show, which is created, written by (alongside Alan Yang) and starring Ansari, follows Dev, a 30-year-old actor in New York City who has had mild success in his career and has a solid group of friends, but is pretty adrift about what he really wants in life.
Instead of following a more traditional TV structure, the 10 episodes (which all hit Netflix at midnight PST tonight) are each focused around one theme—parents, gender issues, racism—and explore those themes while weaving the larger strands of Dev’s arc throughout. It’s a show, similar in part to Louie, where maybe nothing particularly remarkable happens—just the general mundanities of life. But Dev’s story feels so lived in, so familiar that it’s easy to immediately place yourself in the story. When he and friends, Denise (Lena Waithe) and Arnold (Eric Wareheim) are getting drinks, their conversations feel so organic, so similar to the ones you’d have with your friends. So when they talk about Dev’s Plan B mishap in the pilot episode, the conversation smoothly transitions into whether or not they’d actually want to have kids, where Dev’s indecision about what he wants comes deeply into play—quite possibly the strongest theme running throughout the show.
He’s seemingly satisfied with his career—he’s had multiple roles in commercials and just booked a decent role in an action flick (his stunning apartment might be the most unrealistic, classic NYC sitcom-y aspect of the show). But there’s something off. He clearly doesn’t completely enjoy what he’s doing, nor the hustle of it (having to do an audition in a coffee shop is particularly embarrassing). His restlessness and indecisiveness extends to making plans, picking out a taco place and to significantly more serious choices, like dating. (Something that Ansari has been looking at in depth for years now with his standup specials and, more recently, his book Modern Romance—that thorough research really comes through in the show).
The way that Dev’s dating life is depicted in Master of None is the most realistic and unsettling part of the show. When he scores two tickets to a Father John Misty concert, he scrolls through his phone looking for a lady to invite, parsing through the Sarahs and the Katies that he’s met at different bars over the last few weeks. He frets over sending texts with his friends to these women, either ones who will never answer or he’ll never respond to.
He goes on the kinds of messy dates and has the kind of one-night stands that, while played up for comedic effect, really hit home. They’re just like the real-life fodder you’ve brought to brunches with your friends. Dev goes through the motions of dating—when to bail on a sus woman, drunken makeouts with strangers, questionable relationship statuses. Despite the horror stories though, Dev’s appetite for companionship is there, but much like how he feels about pasta or tacos, there’s an unshakeable feeling that a better option could be just around the corner. The modern, attention-deficient approach to relationships is an undercurrent in Master of None.
And to see oneself in that, and in Dev, is pretty heart-wrenching.
As the episodes go on, we see Dev begin to navigate a new relationship that begins with all the swoony hallmarks of falling for someone—drunk-dancing to “Return of the Mack,” never-ending conversations, weekend getaways—and develops perfectly into something serious (especially in the standout episode “Mornings”). Still, we know that Dev’s indecision is dormant in the back of his head, just ready and waiting to be triggered, and trick him into overthinking it all.
At an age where decisions seem to be stacking up all around you, indecision is par for the course in Master of None, even though unlimited options lay at your fingertips. So, what do you choose?
As it turns out, Ansari doesn’t have any of the answers—which is a refreshing gut punch.