There is an "empty authenticity" in Ansari's new special, filmed last month at New York City's Comedy Cellar, says Kathryn VanArendonk. "All of it is performance masquerading as unfiltered, under-rehearsed straight talk, and the camera swings around to capture its effect on the audience," says VanArendonk. "Shots from behind and off to the side of Ansari show the crowd seated right in front of him, their faces illuminated by his lights. There are a surprising number of crowd-reaction shots, which already feel unnecessary given how often Ansari frames himself with visible audience faces in the background. They’re even more unnecessary in the way Ansari uses them: as contemplative faces that show up in the pauses while he transitions through the serious moments. See? He’s real, and he’s got important stuff to say. If at any point Ansari’s material reached for the same goals as the look of the special, Nightclub Comedian might be a different experience. For this special shot as a close, intimate, immediate, raw half-hour of comedy, though, Ansari never skirts anywhere close to vulnerability or risk...Without much in the way of interesting ideas, all that’s left for Nightclub Comedian is the look, and, in moments, it is beautiful. The colors are vibrant, Ansari’s outfit is a pitch-perfect blend of casual but obviously exclusive, and the Comedy Cellar never looked so inviting. The premise has appeal — that half-hour run time, the suggestion that this is one solid set caught on-camera, the sense that Ansari has actually managed to convey the live-comedy feeling that’s so hard to capture onscreen. Except if you look closely, all the faces around him change. The crowd is different from one shot to the next. It’s not one authentic performance; it’s many of them stitched together. If it were a special built on strong material, or if its central idea were more about Ansari’s performance and less about his disdain for the appearance of performing, that kind of continuity error would be an unfortunate but insignificant fact. But the look of this special — its claim of being real — is all that it’s about. When that part of it crumbles, what’s left?"