Plenty of comedians use marriage and children as sources for their material, but usually it’s because they themselves are married and/or have children. For someone who’s single and childless, Aziz Ansari has a lot to say about the subject, and while some of his relationship material is familiar, a lot of the perspective he offers in his new Netflix special Buried Alive is unique while also being immediately relatable. Articles about the choice to have or not have children, and to get married or remain single, have proliferated online and in print over the last few years, and Ansari seizes on that conversation to inject his own point of view as someone who isn’t married or having children, but is surrounded by people who are.
The best material in the special comes up front, as Ansari bemoans the barrage of Facebook posts and other correspondence about his peers’ marriages and babies. His dismissal of bland baby videos (“I walk all the time; I’m not impressed.”) and other useless updates is a hilarious and brutally honest expression of the frustrations of single people, as well as a cutting analysis of the way that social media can celebrate conformity through gleeful promotion of traditional familial milestones. Ansari allows himself plenty of digressions while talking about the inherent absurdity of marriage and family, getting into the dichotomy between the working-class subjects of 16 and Pregnant and their rich, spoiled counterparts on My Super Sweet 16 (“Can someone impregnate this girl and ruin her life?”), and mining plenty of laughs from a married couple in the audience telling the story of their proposal.
After a while, it feels like Ansari belabors the same points, and his extended riffs on the unlikelihood of meeting your soulmate get to be a little repetitive. At the same time, he’s convincingly introspective about the subject, even with his lengthy tangents about ghosts or how much black people love magic tricks. It’s clear that Ansari has thought a lot about what it means to get married, to start a family, to knowingly take on all the trappings of a traditional life. He breaks it down so extensively that one of his strongest bits involves imagining how the idea of marriage would sound to someone who’s never heard of it. At his best, Ansari offers a kind of deconstructionist perspective on a subject most people take for granted.
He’s not always so forward-thinking, though; a bit about men sending women unsolicited pictures of their penises starts out as sympathetic before turning creepy, as Ansari recounts his attempt to test the response of a female friend to an unwanted explicit picture. Instead of expressing solidarity with women who are being harassed, Ansari puts himself in the place of the harasser.
His other missteps are more innocuous; in the last part of the show, he comes perilously close to Kathy Griffin-style name-dropping with lengthy, not particularly funny stories of meeting President Obama and working with Seal. After more than an hour of thoughtful, entertaining commentary on some of life’s most important decisions, the inconsequential celebrity fluff is a little disappointing. Ansari clearly has the talent to make worthwhile comedic insights, and for the most part in Buried Alive he puts that talent to good use.