Master of None – Season 2

Master of None – Season 2

The Second Season of Aziz Ansari’s Early-Middle Age Lovechild is As Warm and Humanistic As Ever


One or two word signifiers don’t work for TV anymore. Usually. Yeah, Game of Thrones is a “medieval fantasy”, Fargo is a “crime saga” and The Young Pope is a “mindfuck”, but those are still fairly shallow descriptions of much deeper shows. And while labels can be reductive, they tend to help. Being told what something will be like as succinctly as possible keeps us in the lanes we know we enjoy, preventing us from wasting time on shit that’s not gonna properly engage us.

Master of None certainly represents this trend. It’s too broad and sprawling of a show to be classified in one word. Gun to my head though, that word word would be “people”. Fucking helpful, right? Seriously, though, in the wide expanse of TV now available to us – spanning dramas, sitcoms, thrillers, true-life crime stories, sci-fi shows, dramedies, animated programs and period pieces – you’d be hardpressed to find a show more dedicated to human beings than this one. Master of None wants to tell everyone’s story, an ambition so noble that it can be forgiven for the few times its reach exceeds its grasp.

For those unfamiliar with the it, Master of None‘s first season – which premiered on Netflix in late-2015 – follows Dev Shah (co-creator, as well as frequent writer and director, Aziz Ansari), an aspiring actor based in New York, best known for appearing in a Go-Gurt commercial. From there, we watch as a well-formed hangout show unfurls, where Dev finds ample opportunity to spend time with his friends and family while exploring the themes of city-living, modern dating and intergenerational connections.

As anyone who has ever seen Ansari’s stand-up will tell you, he tends to mine the absurdity of millennial existence for laughs and pathos, focussing most specifically on the weird tilt romance has taken in today’s app-laden landscape. Indeed, perhaps his greatest achievement with Master of None‘s first season was cribbing so much of his stand-up material – which on its own was pretty good – and crafting successful stories and characters around it.

He’s also great at looking like a smug arsehole and actually being an adorable dude. (Netflix)

In Season 2, however, Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang are operating without any source material. Well, at least without any of their own. As you can see from the header image of this piece, the first episode of the season, “The Thief”, finds Dev in Italy, smack-bang in the middle of a black and white neorealism film, circa 1940. Though the plot of this episode draws largely on Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, you don’t have to be a crazed film buff to appreciate the rarified quality of the photography and meandering story that unfolds.

True to the theme of present-day romance, “The Thief” has Dev meet a gorgeous British girl named Sara (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and, with no technological prelude or intrusions, engage with her on a higher level than almost anyone he’s ever met in New York. Yeah, it’s a comment on how the flashing pocket fuck-books that are our phones often pair us up algorithmically instead of organically, and it also gives us a small glimpse into the life of another person in similar circumstances to Dev. But, really, it’s just a solid meet-cute, followed by a hint of tragic irony when, after getting Sara’s number, Dev’s phone is stolen and he has to spend the rest of the episode tracking it down. As far as season openers go, they don’t get much more self-contained and yet singularly satisfying as this.

It’s no surprise that, from this point onwards, the episodes that lean hardest on universality and empathy are the season’s best. “Religion”, while maybe not as great as Season 1’s “Parents”, is a similar example of how Dev’s lifestyle tends to overshadow the experiences and expectations of his mum and dad (played adorably by Aziz’s real-life parents, Fatima and Shoukath). Though he is a non-practicing Muslim and chooses to embarrass his parents by ordering pork in front of them at a restaurant, his dad manages to convince him to try see it from his mum’s perspective and to imagine how much it hurts her to see Dev forsake his culture. It comes down to Dev’s pride and independence versus his mother’s feelings, and the fact that the latter wins out isn’t saccharine so much as a rejection of the idea of forming an identity that isolates you from others.

Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari onset with his parents, Shoukath and Fatima. (Barbara Nitke/Netflix)

Elsewhere, the season’s least typical and most astounding episode “New York, I Love You” sets out to give every inhabitant of the great city their fair shake, and it actually fucking does it! In the vein of great experimental detours that Netflix shows seem particularly adept at – like BoJack Horseman‘s “Fish Out of Water” from last year – “New York, I Love You” spends 30 minutes telling us the story of Eddie, a put-upon doorman, Maya, a sexually frustrated deaf girl, and Samuel, a Rwandan taxi driver who just wants to find a cool club so him and his friends can party. We have never seen any of these characters before and I doubt will we ever see them again, but their lived-in agonies, natural charismas and intermittent triumphs paint New York as a vibrant, shifting mural of a city. We only get a close-up on a few corners of it but, by the end, we have a pretty good idea of the bigger picture.

Then there’s “First Date”, which – in the style of the first season’s best episode, “Mornings” – presents a montage of Tinder-esque dates that Dev goes on over the course of several weeks. Some are hilariously unsuccessful, others realistically mediocre and he even has a winning chemistry with a couple of them. It’s a great framework to hang an episode of this show on, seeing as Master of None is so interested in discussing issues of race, family, careers and romance and – in this context – gets to show us a bunch of (mostly) interesting people having those conversations for the first time.

That said, there are some less than great instalments in this season. “Le Nozze” really just seems like it was an excuse for Eric Wareheim to come to Italy and eat food with his “little bud”, which then had to have a story crafted around it. “The Dinner Party”, likewise, struggles to find much of a reason to exist beyond the fact that John Legend was willing to cameo (and, full disclosure, not a fan). Then again, that episode does kick-off the arc that leads Season 2 to it’s final few episodes, which does lend it some significance.

See, whereas this guy looks like a chipmunk and is actually a pompous douchebag. (Netflix)

So yeah, with the exception of the brilliant coming-out story “Thanksgiving”, the back third of Master of None‘s second season leans into its romcom sensibilities, as Dev’s pining for the Italian dreamgirl Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) becomes more central. It’s not a bad development, by any means, but just a little disappointing and maybe underserved considering the brilliant, unexpected material that precedes it. But, fuck, even when this show is operating in fairly predictable territory, it can’t help but be charming, eminently watchable and beautifully shot; seriously, those sun-dappled scenes in the outdoor museum in “Amarsi Un Po” are unbelievably gorgeous. In fact, those moments might be the perfect distillation of this show’s sweetly grinning sentiments: as Dev and Francesca survey the wondrous valley below, strewn with massive man-made sculptures on a perfect autumn day, Dev turns to Francesca and asks, “Now, what’s the wifi password?”

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