We gave it an A
Master of None, television’s most vibrant and visionary lookin’-for-love comedy, takes inspiration wherever it can find it in season 2: race relations, religion, food TV, reality TV, and so many movies. There’s a dash of Under The Tuscan Sun here, a soupcon of Manhattan there. Aziz Ansari, star and co-creator (with Alan Yang), is an ingenious, self-aware pop plunderer. Unlike his character, Dev, who begins the season mending a broken heart by losing himself in Italy and becoming a pasta chef, Ansari and his collaborators know how to make consistently sublime, original dishes from borrowed ingredients. The premiere, “The Thief,” directed by Ansari, ironically recycles Bicycle Thieves, Vittorio De Sica’s gutting classic about a desperate man on a degrading search for a stolen bike that’s become intrinsic to his survival. Here, that object is our modern equivalent — a cell phone. The episode is as layered as lasagna, a delightful entertainment that satirizes the escapism it represents while also serving as an allegory for Otherness and assimilation.
Framed by the opener’s themes, the second season tells a well-designed story of character-driven comedy about the demeaning lengths we’ll travel and sink for livelihood and connection. The show now leads a new wave of artful, ribald cringe-coms — Catastrophe, Love, You’re The Worst — that work blue and bluesy to survey not just modern romance but the ethics of modern living. Informed by Ansari’s Indian-American perspective and suffused with his personality, Master of None elevates by examining intersections of identity and expressing itself with bolder filmmaking.
One episode, a collage of first dates with an array of women, satirizes dating-app meat market courtship and builds to a punchline that forces Dev to confront the hypocrisies of his progressiveness. Aziz, growing by bounds as an actor, has a bravura moment in the fifth episode that encapsulates Dev’s season-long journey (and quotes, I’m certain, the end of the George Clooney legal thriller Michael Clayton). Dev has just spent a lovely evening with a great new friend, Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), who is dating another great new friend, Pino (Riccardo Scamarcio). Yet there’s crazy chemistry between him and Francesca, and they both know it; after they part ways, we get an epic, continuous shot of Dev in the back an Uber, squirming in silence with competing desires and tweaking conscience. Does he go back and make a move? Does he truly dig her or is he peak lonely? Does he dare subvert his friends’ relationship just to find out? Aziz performs Dev’s roller-coaster angst with a flow of grimaces and stares, and the tension — will Dev do the right thing? — is both comical and suspenseful.
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Dev opens himself to new places, new people, and new cultures in season 2, and in doing so, Master of None celebrates diversity in story and with style. The filmmaking is often romantic and panoramic, sending Dev and friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim, also a key season 2 director) on bike rides through the Italian countryside, putting Dev on rooftops, and framing him against the gorgeous Manhattan skyline. At the same time, these images render Dev small, which reflect a season that attends to his loneliness and alienation. His rash international adventure, his prolific serial dating, his what-the-hell? new job — host of a competitive cooking show called Cupcake Wars! — become reckless, unthinking pursuits of happiness that lead to dead ends that constantly force him to confront himself and his issues, values, and limitations. A sequence in episode 2, also set in Italy, functions as a turn-key allegory. Dev and Arnold pack themselves into a small car and go searching for a wedding at an Italian villa. They get lost and find themselves debating whether to make a tight turn into a very narrow street. They take the chance — and get stuck. Such is the season.
Other joys come in the form of a fantastic supporting cast that gets more to do, including Ansari’s real-life folks (Fatima and Shoukath Ansari) as Dev’s mom and dad. The third episode, “Religion,” a companion piece to the season 1 gem “Parents,” sees Dev trying to separate from the Muslim faith of his family without disrespecting them or their beliefs. Bobby Carnavale is dynamite as a reality star celebrity chef and a complex symbol for many deplorable American traits, including a few playing out in the news regarding the way powerful men treat women. (I’m trying not to spoil.) There’s a scene full of queasy subtext in which the garrulous narcissist hosts a dinner party and harasses his pal John Legend (who plays himself) into playing the piano, as if he’s entitled to Legend’s talent. Dev gets swept away with this charismatic boss-man, and a season about many things — the seductive romance of the new; the risk-reward of radical change — brings him to one more crisis of conscience, one more dead end. A bittersweet valentine, a timely fable about cultural character, Master of None is rich entertainment powered by Ansari’s increasing mastery of his art, his artistic hunger, and the wisdom and skill of his collaborators. I can’t wait to see what’s next. A
Master of None season 2 premieres on Netflix Friday, May 12.