Two years ago, comedian Aziz Ansari debuted his Netflix original series, Master of None. The show proved to be a critical darling, charming viewers with its mix of insightfulness, comedy, and genuineness. After its stellar first season, the series took a one year break; only recently did it return to Netflix for a second round.
We pick up shortly after where the finale of the last season left off, with Dev in the midst of a pasta-making apprenticeship in Italy. The first episode of the season is a black-and-white homage to some of the pillars of Italian cinema. In particular, the episode itself takes after the iconic Bicycle Thieves. In terms of plot, this episode is relatively basic, however, its strength comes from its stylistic choices and how well it establishes Dev’s new status quo. In general, this season has a more measured pace than its predecessor, with this more relaxed approach matching the backdrop of rural Italy. The first fifth of the series is spent in Italy, before returning once more to New York, where again Dev attempts to piece together his personal and professional lives.
Once again, Ansari’s approach to the series feels very auteur-esque, as each episode has its own unique feel. As before, the episodes tend to focus on one topic each, whilst still moving forward the central plotlines. This time, Ansari casts the net even wider, opting to cover topics such as religion, Tinder, and sexuality. As the series progresses, there is also a greater diversification of view points. Much of this season focusses on the experiences and struggles of other characters, not just the protagonist Dev.
This comes as little surprise given that Ansari has expressed his exhaustion with the series, indicating there isn’t much more that he has left to say about his own perspective. This almost vignette-like approach helps keep the series fresh, and perhaps offers an avenue for the show to continue in future. Nowhere is this more evident than the season’s sixth episode, New York, I Love You, which opts to show us glimpses into the lives of a diverse collection of New Yorkers. The episode is an excellent example of Ansari’s wholehearted commitment to representation. In a single episode we’re taken through the homes of Manhattan’s elite and the people who work for them, we’re treated to a beautiful silent segment that gives us a peak into the lives of deaf protagonists, and we’re taken for a ride in the cabs of New York’s migrant taxi drivers. All these themes are masterfully expanded and brought back together as the episode ends.
These diversions, one could argue, are more powerful than Dev’s story over the season. His main narrative arc over the season is a typical, albeit well-executed, romance plot-line. It even ends with a slightly cliché, although again quite apt, Graduate-style conclusion. This is contrast to, for example, the powerful Thanksgiving episode, which deals with Dev’s friend Denise, who’s struggling to be accepted as a lesbian by her family.
Ansari’s humour shines as bright as ever, and on the whole actually sees a marked improvement since last season. Some of his more exaggerated mannerisms and jokes are downplayed, which makes Dev’s interactions feel a lot more real. Of course, there are still some cheesy moments at points, but these do not detract from the narrative. The performances throughout the season are excellent, with new introductions capably matching up to old favourites. As usual, however, it is Aziz’s father who provides some of the stand-out segments of the show.
A great strength of the series has always been its soundtrack, and that is a trend that continues here. It deftly blends together everything from Tupac to 60s baroque-pop in a way that accentuates the setting and mood of a scene. In many ways, Master of None feels like a modern-day On the Road. It excellently codifies much of the aimless and wistful wandering people experience through their 20s and 30s, and it offers sober if optimistic looks at many of the issues of our time. It is sure to go down as one of the year’s, if not the decade’s, best shows.