Comedian Aziz Ansari is obsessed with the maddening amount of choice he and his fellow millennials revel in—or suffer from—every day, whether it’s the surplus of babes that fill our dating apps or the infinite number of taco reviews we read before deciding where to eat. It’s a fixation he parlayed into a truly prolific 2015, including a stand-up special, Aziz Ansari: Live at Madison Square Garden; a non-fiction bestseller, Modern Romance (co-written with sociologist Eric Klinenberg); and a much-lauded Netflix series co-created with Alan Yang, Master of None, which he writes for, stars in and often directs. “Whenever you have more options, your instinct is, ‘Oh, that makes things better—you can find the best thing,’” Ansari says. “But in reality, they’ve done study after study that shows people find it harder to make a decision, and when they do, they’re less satisfied.”
We’ll solve your own what-to-watch-next conundrum for you: Master of None is Ansari’s greatest achievement of the lot—and the best new show of the year. The dramedy follows Dev (Ansari), a 30-something actor, as he tries to land roles in an industry that sidelines Indian-Americans and to locate his dream woman within an abundance of prospects. It is very funny, yes, but also fraught with real tension. Few shows have so brilliantly portrayed Generation Y life: struggling with a lack of dating rules, unable to connect to boomer or immigrant parents, ping-ponging between hustle and apathy.
The show is also stacked with one of the most diverse casts on TV: Indian-American Dev’s BFFs include a queer black woman, hilariously played by Lena Waithe, and a hot Asian dude, played by Kelvin Yu. “Diversity in your writer’s room is super important, because you write these episodes from conversations that happen there,” he says. “And if you just have all white dudes, you’re going to have a very specific type of viewpoint. You can’t have the ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ episode if you just have an all-dude writer’s room.” (“Ladies and Gentlemen” shows how something as simple as going out for a night and walking home post-bar can be starkly different for the sexes.)
Master of None’s characters talk and act the way our generation really talks and really acts, indulging in silly bits, acts of selfishness, meandering conversation and general dirtbaggery. To create a show more cinema than sitcom, Ansari looked to the subtlety and bittersweetness of Hal Ashby and Woody Allen’s ’70s work; Mike Nichols’ classic, The Graduate; Elaine May’s black-hearted The Heartbreak Kid; and the pacing and naturalism of Richard Linklater’s Before series. “We wanted it to feel a little bit slower and more conversational, not so joke, joke, joke, joke, joke. Sometimes you watch these shows and it’s like, ‘Well, why don’t all these characters just become comedy writers?!’” Ansari says. So he followed Linklater’s lead, encouraging his actors to improvise during rehearsal so he could enrich the scripts with their real-life experiences.
Whether it’s the purposeful poke at today’s gender politics in “Ladies and Gentlemen” or the way “Indians on TV” candidly addresses the racism endured by men of colour in Hollywood, Ansari is determined to delve into it all. This time, the choice was easy, he says: “When there’s something everyone’s going through but no one’s talking about, that’s the right area to write about.”