'Master of None' Season 2: TV Review
Aziz Ansari's loving and infectious Netflix series takes a meandering but worthwhile journey from New York to Italy and back again in its second season.
There was something special and creative and fresh about the first season of Netflix's Master of None, the show created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang that managed to artfully break Ansari out of the character-actor/sidekick role and, like Louie before it, expand and explore the lovable-loser trope.
The 10 episodes were full of risks and choices that seemed simultaneously bold and naive, which lent the show even more of something it already didn't lack for — charm. So as season 2 kicks off, consider this as much an appreciation as a review, since Master of None earned the right to a kind of extended, longer look that most shows wouldn’t get.
And by that, I mean that Master of None is not constructed in a way that allows three or four episodes to accurately give a clear overview of story intentions or breadth of ambitions. The show is inherently rambling, as it seeks to give insight into the everyday world of Dev (Ansari), a funny and fun-loving New Yorker trying to figure out his life and have several great meals in the process. The meandering nature of Master of None almost demands that you watch the entirety of the season, a reflection of the show's addictiveness as it mimics the unclear path of any life being led. You don't know what Dev is going to do one day because Dev doesn't really know either. And a day later he course-corrects, seeks out a few more meals and drinks and conversations with friends, and starts anew, trying to figure out his life, his path, some answers.
Granted, this is not ideal for TV critics as we plate-spin our way through countless shows that just keep coming (and continuously check in with the ones already on). But without watching the full season of Master of None, how could there be an understanding of Dev's latest journey half-traveled, which begins in Modena, Italy, in an episode directed by Ansari and shot entirely in black and white to mimic the Italian movie classics that will influence the forthcoming season as it darts from Dev's love of pasta (which brought him, on a lark, from New York to Italy at the conclusion of the first season) to another, more fulfilling kind of love?
The answer is that Master of None is a show to binge watch, not just because leaving off somewhere Dev might zig means that you'll possibly miss an important zag in the storyline — but also because devouring a full season is like devouring the best Italian meal Dev could ever find. You can't pass that up.
Besides, several important leaps forward happen in this second season, creatively. Ansari and Yang, as writers, have learned the most important lesson from their free-wheeling, make-your-own-rules debut in season 1, and that's to avoid self-doubt, go with their gut and write stories that don't follow a clear line, because life doesn't either. This means viewers get a lovely episode devoted to New York itself and several vignettes of New Yorkers making a life there; a touching, but not saccharine, and cleverly told backstory episode about Dev and best female friend Denise, played by Lena Waithe; the aforementioned black-and-white premiere, in which Ansari displays a better-than-average and super enthusiastic approach to speaking Italian; the unveiling of the instantly loveable Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi; a surprise hourlong New York episode shot like a mini-movie; and, among many other gems, the full deployment of Dev's best male friend Arnold, which allows all of actor (and director) Eric Wareheim's charm to be appreciated.
This means that season two of Master of None is expanding its comprehension of what it can be, the depth of its many side characters and, most importantly, continuing to be unpredictable and true to itself (a trait that is impossible not to trace back to FX's Louie, which seemed to embolden creative types to make television the way they wanted to, not the way they'd witnessed before).
As it did in season one, Master of None still employs an array of big-name actors who want to come and play in this environment (namely Bobby Cannavale and Angela Bassett this time), but the entirety of the season works because Ansari is a truly special performer.
Last season was his bust-out transformation from the aforementioned sidekick to star and he's shown a willingness to continue to be his own goofy self while also tackling more ambitious dramatic acting. Ansari pulls off both because he's likeable and relatable — two distinct qualities — and that combination can't be underscored enough. This series projects the personal and the vulnerable in Ansari in a way that makes you feel like you're on his text message chain and in his life; his ability to transfer that kind of intimacy through the screen is impressive.
Ansari has shown in Master of None that Dev's got plenty of pointed right angles about things in life — especially racism. But the overarching theme is that Dev really is the loveable underdog — both lost puppy and nice guy getting in his own way as he tries to figure life out, but also comfortable in his own skin, in his non-aggressive maleness, in shared moments with his friends and in his own kind of infectious joie de vivre.
Ultimately, the meandering in Master of None does lead someplace, which in turn will lead to another place and experience, just like life. Watching Dev — and Ansari — get there is a wonderful investment.
Created and written by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang
Cast: Ansari, Eric Wareheim, Lena Waithe, Alessandra Mastronardi, Bobby Cannavale, Angela Bassett
Available now on Netflix