By embracing the episodic format and creator Aziz Ansari’s puckish spirit, the ambitious Master of None is even better in its second season.
I’ll admit, I didn’t want to write about Master of None, the wonderfully insightful brainchild of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang which just released its second season on Netflix. Every aspect of this show, from its Indian-American lead to its Parks and Rec ties and its somber reflections on modern-day life, is designed to appeal to me. But what made Season One so uniquely refreshing is how well it told stories that are new to popular culture yet familiar to the underrepresented (i.e. not cis, white men). Not only did it give voice to the voiceless, but it said something meaningful in both its story and execution.
Yet here I am writing about the second season, a fully-realized vision of the first that reaches new heights on the back of its ambition. Ansari and Yang don’t just take risks in the stories they tell, but how they tell these stories — channeling classic Italian cinema in the black-and-white premiere “The Thief;” the audacious “New York, I Love You,” which spends all of a minute with familiar characters, instead choosing to tell the story of those often considered “set dressing”. The filmcraft takes a step up this season, and combined with the essential insights of the writing team, it results in one of the finest sitcom seasons in recent memory.
The narrative picks up with Dev (Ansari) in Modena, Italy, where he has spent the last few months making pasta and new friends (namely Francesca, charmingly played by Alessandra Mastronardi). The camerawork is already more agile in its opening minutes than at any moment in the first season, giving us fluid shots of Dev biking down cobblestone streets and gorgeous wide shots of the Italian town. Yet for its increased grandeur, the show feels as grounded as ever, rooted in the electric personality of Dev that he uses to obscure his oft-felt loneliness.
Much like last season, Dev’s search for romantic companionship is the foundation of the season’s arc. From serendipitous lunches to an entire episode dedicated to Tinder-style dating (titled “First Date”), Dev meditates on universal themes of coupling while also engaging the modern dating landscape with all its swipe lefts and cheesy messages. But while the show is constantly shedding light on these idiosyncrasies, the real joy is watching Dev internalize and deal with them, leading to hilarious results like Dev helping his current Tinder date swipe left or right on other men. The editing here is fantastic, as the camera seamlessly cuts between Dev’s many dates while still telling a cohesive story (which speaks to the interchangeable and repetitive nature of the online dating scene).
Dev’s romantic struggles aren’t the only point of interest of this show, however. Back are familiar faces such as best friends Arnold (Eric Wareheim, who again gets both acting and directing credits this season) and Denise (Lena Waithe). The latter prominently features in the season’s eighth episode “Thanksgiving,” which shows Dev joining Denise’s family for Thanksgiving from youth through college to now. It’s a powerful episode that not only depicts Denise growing into her sexuality, but also the unique experience of a black woman coming out to her family, a story that gets very little airtime elsewhere. Yet for all the catharsis and insight this episode provides, it may be the funniest one of all (thanks to Dev learning some compromising details about one of Denise’s girlfriends).
The season’s third episode, “Religion,” brings back Dev’s parents Ramesh and Nisha (played once again by Aziz’s real-life parents Shoukath and Fatima Ansari) and acts as the spiritual successor to last season’s “Parents.” In typical Master of None fashion, the show reflects on dying piety among younger generations and how it causes rifts within religious families, especially immigrant ones. And while practices like not eating pork are met with appropriate scorn, the show never condescends to the older, more devout generation, finding common ground where it can. And instead of a sweeping spiritual take, the show is content with deftly showing what practicing that spirituality means in terms of relationships with loved ones.
Another highlight is the aforementioned “New York, I Love You” episode, which boldly steps away from our main cast and instead tells us three short stories about a doorman, a deaf cashier, and a Rwandan cabbie (in a way, it channels the classic Simpsons episode “22 Short Films about Springfield”). Often relegated to the background in other shows, these characters have real pathos injected into them by Ansari and Yang, showing us their daily struggles which includes being ignored or condescended by “more important” (read: wealthy, white) people, whether it be tenants or customers. But this is all well balanced with humor, showing the inherent good nature and warmth of these characters, again leading to unbridled hilarity (and the most vulgar ASL conversation ever depicted on television).
In truth, I could spill a thousand words on each episode, but part of the joy of Master of None Season 2 is watching it unfold. I have barely touched on the season’s major romantic arc, or the vibrant performance of Bobby Cannavale as Dev’s partner in the world of Food Television. And while it focuses primarily on telling stories relatively untold in the Hollywood landscape, the show is still full of unexpected turns and fun surprises for all audiences (I was basically looking in a mirror when Dev was explaining who Bucky Barnes was to one of his dates). Master of None finds a way to both be timeless in the subjects it broaches, yet very much specific to our times and modern sensibilities. It doesn’t redefine the sitcom formula, but it takes risks in storytelling and presentation that elevate it into the upper echelon of TV.