One distinct upshot of Peak TV’s abundance of programming and the countless sums of money distributed by networks and streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon is that, sooner or later, some of that funding is going to end up in the hands of creators like Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. The point being: without the rush from so many outlets to deliver a constant influx of new eye-catching content, there might not have been the opportunity for something as deeply personal as Master of None to ever exist. And considering it has been around a year and a half since the series first premiered on Netflix, we can thank Peak TV for the show’s relaxed release schedule that, as evidenced by the second season’s impressive string of episodes, both Ansari and Yang clearly benefitted from, creatively speaking.
That unrushed quality carries over to the season 2 premiere, as Master of None picks up just a few months after the season 1 finale, in which Dev (Ansari) broke up with his girlfriend Rachel (Noël Wells) and made a spontaneous trip to Italy, in part because of his love/obsession with pasta and the art of making it. As such, the first episode is as much about follow-through as it is new beginnings, which speaks to the apparent creative impetus behind the show’s second season and the diversification of way its narrative unfolds. Though Master of None is still very much about Dev’s pursuit of love and satisfaction – be personal, professional, or even culinary – Ansari and Yang seem in pursuit of creative exploration, emboldened by a freedom to play around with styles and storytelling techniques that demonstrate who they’ve become as writers, directors, and, in the case of Ansari, performers.
As evidence of this creative exploration, the premiere, presented in black-and-white and inspired by 1960s Italian films, conveys its admiration for those movies without becoming a pastiche of them. It serves as the audience’s reintroduction into Dev’s life as well as an example of the idyll in which he’s been living for the past few months, learning to make pasta, speak Italian, and hanging out with residents of Modena, especially Alessandra Mastronardi, who is luminous as Francesa Fabani, a woman who looks like she belongs in an Antonioni picture. But as much as ‘The Thief’ begins a series of new threads, it just as easily diverges from them. Dev’s pasta-making apprenticeship isn’t so much a new beginning as it is an excuse to bask in the splendor of Italy, and for the series protagonist to take in a picturesque road trip with his towering best friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim), eat some nice cheeses, rent some scooters, and almost blow up an ex-girlfriend’s wedding because of her strikingly specific taste in men.
Season 2 spends longer in Italy than you would expect. That curveball effectively sets the stage for the remaining episodes, as each installment doesn’t endeavor so much to follow a single storyline (though they still manage to for the most part) but rather the creative impulses of the two guys steering the ship. The season is a fascinating mishmash of styles and formulas; each episode is stylistically different from the next, and yet they all feel of a piece. Early on, after Dev’s pasta-based sojourn abroad ends, Ansari and Yang present the audience with a charming take on dating in the app-centric era we’re now in. The episode is the equivalent of swiping left or right on Tinder, as it moves through a series of Dev’s dates in rapid, repetitious succession, almost as though they’re all taking place at the same time. The result is borderline surreal; a demonstration of the perils of modern dating where the ease with which technology facilitates a meet-up also serves to hasten its end, turning potential romance into another victim of the shortened attention spans of always-on smartphone users.
But Master of None charmingly one-ups itself by demonstrating a similar desire to play the field in terms of its approach to nearly every episode. No sooner does it discover a new way to tackle a story than it is knee deep in another technique or digressing into something wholly different, sometimes leaving Dev on the sidelines entirely, as it does with a fascinating later episode involving several never-before-seen characters. The interchangeability continues throughout the season, even as it introduces Bobby Cannavale as a celebrity chef who’s like an amalgam of Bobby Flay and Anthony Bourdain, giving Ansari and Yang a chance to create and play around in Dev’s persistent sense of professional dissatisfaction, even as Ansari’s fictional self spends a day with his father (played by his real-life dad Shoukath, whose penchant for adding the word “man” to the end of most sentences is as charming as ever).
And that’s perhaps the biggest selling point of Master of None: even as it demonstrates a greater sense of confidence and ambition with season 2, it remains a downright charming, watchable, low-key series. There has always been a subdued quality to the show that helped maintain its appeal throughout various narrative digressions and the often pleasurably slow progression of Dev’s personal life. Ansari and Yang took their time with the second season and it shows. This time around those digressions hit a sweet spot in terms of defining the series’ scope and its consideration of the seemingly simple but invariably complex lives its characters lead. In the end, Master of None takes a significant step forward with an impressive and emotionally satisfying season of television.
Master of None season 1 is available now on Netflix. Season 2 is available in its entirety on Friday, May 12, 2017.
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