Tuesday, November 10, 2015

REVIEW: 'Master of None' - Dev Takes a Couple of Kids to the Park and the Frozen Yogurt Store in 'Plan B'

Netflix's Master of None - Episode 1.01 "Plan B"

A condom mishap and a kid's birthday party prompt Dev to consider the reality of having children.

Parks and Recreation was a fantastic show. Aziz Ansari was great as Tom Haverford, a role that was very deliberately over-the-top in order to find ridiculous humor. But now, Ansari's follow up project wants to take a more subtle and realistic approach to comedy. It skews much closer to his stand-up act. But Master of None - which Ansari co-created with Alan Young - also follows in the footsteps of Louie. It doesn't take things to as dark of proportions as that show typical does. Despite the complicated emotions in this first episode, Master of None keeps things upbeat and optimistic even though Dev has just experienced a day very different from his normal.

The journey of this episode starts phenomenally in the cold open that explores the modern hook-up culture. Dev picked up a beautiful girl at a bar, Rachel (played by former Saturday Night Live performer Noël Wells), and the two have gotten intimate back at his apartment. But when the condom breaks, the two of them are worried about how much protection they actually need to avoid getting pregnant. They decide to just google it - which is such an eye-opening experience for both of them. It sends them running to the pharmacy to get the Plan B pill. It's an awkward experience for them but it's very common for the guy standing behind the corner. This may have been an awkward way to end the night for the two of them. And yet, they still make plans to talk again in the future.

But this scare also sends Dev off on journey to figure out what it's like to actually have a kid. It's a familiar sitcom story where Dev learns about parenthood by looking after a friend's two kids for a couple of hours. And yet, Master of None has a refreshing take on the subject matter. Dev goes from thinking it's horrible to have kids who'll mess up your life to the experience being completely life-changing and rewarding to it being a horrifying experience yet again because children are little monsters. "Plan B" explores all the complicated sides of this complex issue. It's a life choice that defines this moment in every person's life. Dev is at the age where his friends are having kids. A girl he dated has gotten married and given birth to a child. Dev is still in a condom and birth control mindset because he's not really committed to anyone seriously. But children seem to be around him which then opens up the question of whether this is something that he actually wants.

Dev isn't an immature man child like so many of the characters that are typically in this type of story. When Dev runs into kids, he seems to be very good interacting with them. He is totally capable of being the fun uncle type who plays with children for a few minutes and can have fun with it. He may not be ready to have his own children yet but he is more than capable to look after a couple for a few hours. He fully believes he can handle it because his friend says it's one of the best experiences of his life during his son's first birthday party. He doesn't learn how much a baby has ruined his friend's life until after the party. Laughing at 4AM is one thing but divorce and the inability to enjoy one's own life is something completely different. That is part of the reality of this experience.

That's a lesson that Dev learns throughout the day as he has to look after two children. He understands these kids and even laughs when one of them throws a piece of birthday cake across the backyard. He has fun alongside the kids when it comes to hanging out at the park. But when it comes to more serious decisions with parenthood, it becomes more complicated and awkward. It's a phenomenally staged sequence that really does fell natural. I wonder how much of it was scripted and how much was Ansari and the two kids being placed in certain situations and just doing improv? It skews very close to reality. Dev has the fun idea to go to the park and get ice cream. But he's also forced to go to the frozen yogurt place the kids want to go to and get the flavor that they want him to get. And then, he is forced to deal with the awkwardness of taking the young girl to the bathroom. He doesn't want to offend anyone by doing this. But he has to do it nevertheless. It ends up not being a big deal at all. She goes with no trouble at all with him just standing in the corner making a noise to cover up the sound of what she is doing. It's a fun and simple sequence that shows just how difficult parenthood can actually be.

When it comes to bringing the kids back home, Dev is exhausted. The young boy's pranks have brought about several inconveniences - such as needing to buy 30 packages of waffles and go back to the party house in order to return a wallet. That's when Dev learns that this life isn't perfect even for the guy who said it was earlier in the day. Being a parent is difficult. Dev is tired of looking after these kids after just a few hours. And yet, their mother points out that he did a great job because they didn't go missing and they aren't bleeding. That is the barometer for success. The only reward is a choice between a pristine sandwich and beer or the disgusting sandwich the children have made for their mom and Dev. The mom has to choose the disgusting option because she needs to support her children no matter what. Dev still has a choice and opts for the more delicious option. Right now in life, he can still make that choice without it permanently affecting his relationship with these kids.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Plan B" was written by Aziz Ansari & Alan Young and directed by James Ponsoldt.
  • The brief fantasy sequences Dev imagines in this episode probably indict how far the show is willing to push the comedy this season. That's a very good thing too. It was very amusing to first see Dev have two well-behaved kids with Arnold being seen as nothing more than a homeless person and then letting Dev realize he'll have two rambunctious kids while Arnold could land a bunch of beautiful women now that he's the one friend still living that party lifestyle.
  • Even though Dev and Arnold are shopping for a gift for a young child, they still find amusement from the toy they ultimately select. That doesn't make them immature but it does showcase their fun spirits.
  • I can already tell that Dev and Rachel are going to have quite the relationship this season.
  • Dev: "The highlight of my year was when I crashed Zachary Quinto's Halloween party."
  • Dev: "Hey, don't yell out people's ethnicities."

As noted from previous series released all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.