Perhaps it’s sacrilege to say, but the funniest, most outstanding performances on Aziz Ansari’s great Netflix series “Master of None” are by Eric Wareheim and Nina Arianda. (Yes, by two white people on a brown person’s show. Deal.) I’m talking funny factor and acting wattage. Ansari is himself a crack comic actor — a laser-witted, rubber-faced, helium-voiced mensch, remarkably sensitive, graced with an unassuming authenticity. Wareheim and Arianda are better. They’re eccentric, wild, take more comedic chances. They’re sort of bonkers.
While Wareheim appears in most of the 20 episodes in the show’s two seasons, Arianda was a one-shot guest star in a single episode during season one titled “Hot Ticket,” a masterwork of comic ingenuity, including Ansari and a fine cast spritzed by the deadpan Lena Waithe and the wry and dry H. Jon Benjamin (who also, btw, provides the voice of Archer).
One episode! And she’s practically the best thing that’s ever happened on the show. Arianda makes her blowzy mark during roughly six minutes of screen time. She’s like Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross” or Gene Hackman in “Young Frankenstein,” stealing the show with a fizzy vigor that throws the whole affair off its axis.
Let’s be clear. “Master of None” is consistently good and frequently superb. Following the professional vagaries, friendships and turbulent love life of 30-ish Dev (Ansari) in New York, the show throbs with feeling, a millennial “Seinfeld” but with pathos, whose observational insights are both funny and socially and racially attuned. Excellent episodes abound — season two grazes Woody Allen heights of romantic complication — but I find myself returning to “Hot Ticket,” which gets funnier on each viewing.
Wareheim — half of the gloriously deranged “Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” — plays Arnold, Dev’s best friend, a 6-foot-7-inch bearded man-baby. Rather thick in the head, Arnold provides uproarious seasoning to Dev’s occasional blandness. With his adenoidal voice and pursed lips, he often traffics in dry, surreal laughs. (Note in “Hot Ticket” his query to his pals: “What if someone sent you a picture of a turtle climbing out of a briefcase?” Believe me, it’s a gut-buster.) When Dev, Arnold and pals gather to watch the BBC’s “Sherlock,” Arnold has to hush them up. “Dudes, can we please not talk during the show? Respect my Cumberbatch!”
Wareheim’s Arnold is reliably present on “Master of None,” yet always a treat. Arianda, who plays a waitress named Alice in “Hot Ticket,” is a novelty to be savored. Her big scene comes when Dev invites her to a VIP concert. He barely knows her, but that changes fast as she performs loud impersonations of Cartman from “South Park,” demands Dev take obnoxious Vines of her, dares herself to give a stranger a blowjob in public and tops things off by stealing a girl’s jacket, then proposes they do some coke and play laser tag. She a gorgeous nightmare, and all Dev can do is watch horrified before running for his life.
Arianda is so good as Alice, she shakes all of us up. A Tony-nominated Broadway performer (“Venus in Fur”), with roles in films like Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” the actress has a scratchy voice and elastic facial features. She’s pretty and protean, and her Alice might be one of her most off the hook turns. Season three of “Master of None” is a done deal. We can only hope she didn’t scare off Dev too much.