Master of None – Season 2

After a rather long wait (almost two years), Master of None is back with a second season (I was glad, because I quite enjoyed the first season). It’s not lost on me the importance of having a television comedy with a south Asian lead, and especially one that posits him as a romantic character who dates and has a life of his own. Anytime I find myself a little antsy with how much time is spent on Dev’s romantic entanglements, I have to remind myself that while a man seeking love in New York City is a trope that is quite long in the tooth, the fact that it is specifically focused on a character of Indian background is new and inspirational, especially to a number of people who haven’t seen themselves represented on screen before, and that is no small thing.

I was talking to my roommate last night about this show (she had already binged it all while I was in Florida a couple of weeks ago), and I finally caught up. We both found ourselves being a little harsh with the show until I took a step back. I realized that we were going after certain episodes that in any other show would be fine if not good, and I realized why. Master of None has some incredible, spectacular, perfect episodes – stellar doesn’t even begin to describe them; so when other episodes fail to reach the same heights, they appear lackluster by comparison. Grace and Frankie may be a more consistent show episode to episode, but never does it reach the heights of what Master of None is capable of. So when not every episode hits it out of the ballpark, my reaction and slight disappointment may seem stronger. That said, this second season is overall very strong and very good. Sometimes purely amazing.

The show begins with Dev (Aziz Ansari) in Modena, learning to make pasta. So pretty much where the previous season left off. He works in a store, apprenticing for an elderly woman. Her granddaughter, Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi) is constantly made fun of by Dev for her bad English.
[Side note/Mini Rant: Dev continues to do this throughout the season. Francesca’s English is actually phenomenal. What isn’t? Dev’s Italian. It is abysmal. Every time he says “Va beeeeeneeee” or “Allooooooora” is grating. I needed the subtitles to understand him, and I am a native speaker of Italian who teaches the language to undergrads who butcher it day in and day out. He also uses words incorrectly. But he dares to make fun of someone else. Ok. Rant over. I’m over it. I hope…]
Anyways, after his stint in Italy is finished, Dev returns to the States and begins hosting a reality show on a food network called Clash of the Cupcakes. He still has a lot of nice conversations with his friends, he dates, he has a will they/won’t they sort of relationship with Francesca, he interacts with his parents. It’s the same old Dev, but his story is definitely moving forward.

A lot of critics are talking about the episode titled “Religion” as a standout for the season. While I acknowledge, once again, the importance of an episode on a mainstream show where the main character grapples with his reluctance to embrace his parents’ religion and the fact that said religion is Islam, I also didn’t find the episode to be as much as a revelation as everyone else. Perhaps it’s the fact that Ansari’s parents play Dev’s parents on the show and they are so clearly not actors that takes me out of it completely. Perhaps it’s the superficial approach to the topic. But something didn’t work for me.

What did? Three episodes specifically. The Tinder-esque dating episode was fantastic. Titled simply “First Date”, the half hour chronicles Dev going on multiple first dates set up through a phone app, each woman splices in and out, in a very organic way. It could have gone gimmicky or cringe in so many ways, but the episode is crafted perfectly, and reads as true and real. It is a highlight of the show as a whole!

Another episode, titled “New York, I Love You” (just like the movie that seems to have inspired it), steps away from the regular cast and focuses on three random people who live in New York. It’s an episode that seems to state that while Master of None is about Dev, it could just as easily have been about a latino door man, a deaf black bodega worker, or an African immigrant taxi driver. The added touch that the deaf woman’s segment is completely silent is an added touch of genius.

My favorite episode, though, was “Thanksgiving”. It will be one I will not easily forget, and will watch repeatedly. Angela Bassett plays Denise’s (Lena Waithe) mother. The episode takes place over several Thanksgivings through the years, each one finding Denise getting more in touch with her sexuality and coming out process. Bassett’s character serves as a litmus test, to show the progression of Denise’s relationship to her mother, but also represents the nation and the various identities she embodies, and how these elements grapple with the notion of homosexuality and the heterosexual process in coming to terms with a changing society. The episode is brilliant. It is a mirror to the United States, and an important work of art. It doesn’t hurt that it is also the only episode that had me in stitches – as I laughed out loud, repeatedly, and had a really good time watching it.

The show is worth it on the strength of these three episodes alone, but overall it’s very good and watchable. The casting is still good, not beating the audience over the head with actors like Riccardo Scamarcio or Bobby Cannavale, who turn in understated and fine performances. The central love interest for Dev may affect how people view the season as a whole, but if a step back is taken and one looks deeply at what the series is doing, the praise and attention is suddenly rendered very clear. In its simplicity the show is innovative and is affecting and changing the world. And that is a good thing. I hope Netflix renews the show, because I very much look forward to seeing more of Dev, his friends, and especially Ansari’s voice and perspective, with the actor getting the opportunity to get more attention and a chance to say his peace and showcase himself once again.

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