Contributor Sean Duffy examines Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s critically acclaimed new Netflix show Master of None in a new cinematic essay.
Master of None is one of the most exciting and critically-acclaimed new television shows to come out in 2015. A Netflix original, the show stars Aziz Ansari as 32 year old Dev, an aspiring actor living in New York City. Like so many shows that are paving the way of the “new golden age of television”, Master of None takes a cinematic style than is rarely seen in television, especially sitcoms. The show is shot single camera, utilizing the streets of New York more often than studio sets. most uniquely, the show presented in an anamorphic aspect ratio of 2.35.1 or Cinemascope.
The show especially likens back to the style of the 70’s comedies of Woody Ally, Hall Ashby, and more. The show’s style and cinematic roots boil down to four major elements that are found in every episode.
Unlike many cotemporary comedies which tend to be fast-paced, Master of None is comfortable lingering in scenes, giving conversations and gags room to breathe, build, and expand. This no-rush style gives the series a relaxed tone, inviting the viewer to really settle into the show rather than keeping them on their toes.
Let’s compare this to an episode of Tina Fey’s new Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In the episode “Kimmy Gets A Job”, there’s about 30 scenes in 20 minutes, with roughly one scene per 45 seconds on average.
Master of None’s “Hot date” , running at almost thirty minutes, clocks in at just 21 scenes total, with an average scene lasting about a minute and a half.
If we compare two scenes of both shows, we can also see the difference in average shot length. This scene of Kimmy Schmidt, running fairly long at a one minute, forty-five seconds has 30 different cuts, that’s a cut about every 3 and half seconds. This scene of master of none, which I cut to about 1:45, has only 20 cuts, at about 5 and a quarter seconds per cut on average.
Master of None does things with camera that are so interesting and stylized that they would be verbose even if they were done in a film. On TV they’re even more so.
Master of None has no guilt showcasing the beautiful scenery of its locations. From colorful apartments, moody bars and restaurants, to the urban glow of New York, the show puts a focus on creating evocative and moving mis-en-scene that’s rarely seen in sitcoms. The series is shot in low-key, contrast heavy lighting, with deep saturated colors, shallow focus, and a tendency towards shots that highlight not just the characters but the spaces they inhabit.
Shots range from long and slow, to quick and moving; simple and structured to dynamic and full of complex, artful compositions. You can see a similar approach in films like Annie Hall, The Graduate, The Heartbreak Kid, Harold and Maude, and constantly in Master of None.
What makes Master of None most endearing though is the personal storytelling and heart each episode exhibits. The show’s characters, plots, and themes are complex, specific, and always told with every detail ringing true.
This kind of heart is rare in modern TV comedies in the post-Seinfeld era that tend to be more cynical and distant from their subjects. But on film, it’s usually the opposite approach.
Not only is Master of None one of the best new shows of the year, it may even be one of the nest new shows of the decade. In line with the likes of FX’s Louie and HBO’s Girls, creators
Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang have tackled televised comedy in a whole new way, stripping the genre of its studio sitcom roots and returning to a classic cinematic form, all while continuing to innovate technique and tell stories that are relevant, full of depth, and often, stories that have never been told before.
Here’s hoping for a season two.
Rent some of the films featured in the essay, such as Annie Hall, The Graduate, Harold and Maude, and Shampoo, at Facets Vidéothèque.
Author: Sean Duffy is a writer, filmmaker, and performer. Last year, New City Magazine named him one of the “Top Five Emerging Chicago Poets of 2014”. He has one of those website things. This autumn he is the Marketing Assistant Intern at Facets.