“Thanks for the lovely evening. I’m jealous of the lucky pillow that gets to hold your beautiful face tonight.”
There’s something chaotic, unpredictable, and beautifully honest about going on a first date with somebody. It’s exciting. It’s infuriating. It’s simultaneously the best and the worst. Going on a first date is one of the most human things you can do. This is all also exactly how it feels to watch Aziz Ansari’s and Alan Yang’s Master of None. They’ve perfectly distilled a beautiful, authentic love story down to 10 episodes of smart television.
Season one ended with things being a little up in the air. Rachel had relocated to Tokyo and Dev packed up and left for Italy to try to become a pasta maker, with his future as an actor looking questionable. Master of None doesn’t cheat its audience from that conclusion, following up on those decisions and leading to a season that feels like it has matured, much like Dev himself. It immediately reminds us that it doesn’t fuck around by kicking things off by delivering the equivalent of Antonioni film.
Master of None still excels at effortlessly depicting relationships, culture, and authentic little pockets of the world. The series has a way of shading in the details of tertiary characters and passing figures that makes them feel as real and complicated as any of the show’s main cast. It’s a wonderful thing. Dev also happens to surround himself with individuals that are exploring the options in life he isn’t. The viewer is doing the exact same thing by proxy, too.
Perhaps the most engaging thing about this season is this beautiful transcontinental romance that’s bubbling over the course of the year. There is endless charm coming off of Ansari and his ability to just meet people and get to know them. This also leads to one of the most romantic courtships that I’ve watched transpire on television in years. Allesendra Mastronardi as Francesca is such a revelation here. She’s exceedingly engaging and delightful, and there’s clear chemistry between her and Ansari. Through them, we explore the simple joys of being somewhere new and appreciating everything about it, no matter how silly. There’s also the inverse of that, where you feel the excruciating pain of wanting something and not being able to have it.
I remember the magic I felt when watching Before Sunset for the first time, and I feel that same charm throughout Master of None, with its incredible slices of life framed by gorgeous shots that show off the scenery. It’s clear that Ansari is as in love with these places as Dev is. On that note, while Master of None is a show that’s very much about where it’s set—New York City—the transition to Italy after the events of last season pushes the series in all the best ways, and it shows off Italy just as beautifully as it does New York. Dev’s time away from home is also the perfect way to make it feel new and refreshing once he returns, too
This isn’t just a show that has something to say about modern romance. It’s still incredibly funny when you strip all of the social commentary out of it. The show carefully balances humor that’s ultra-dry and grounded with other gags that borderline on the surreal. It also never passes up on an opportunity to remind its audience that it has one of the best soundtracks and selections of music on television.
Even after a season of hitting so many pivotal moments in both relationships and life, Master of None season 2 manages to find a simple topic to devote to each episode. The season operates like a fancy meal at an expensive restaurant. Each episode is an appetizer of sorts that gets you progressively ready for the meal to come. It finds the right time to become serious and heavy, with the sweetness of dessert still waiting at the end of the season. It’s so efficiently paced that you’ll find yourself binging much faster than you anticipated. It’s just so easy and addictive to consume as you watch people being people. Dev’s wins are the audience’s wins and it’s great to see this nice guy slowly inch forward in life and love. That being said, the show still knows how to really put the rug out from under viewers and shift from care-free to tragic at a moment’s notice, just like life and love have a tendency to do.
The season tackles topics like religion, sexual orientation, friendship, food, and more, in unique, varied ways that attempt to portray the entire spectrum of life. Master of None is still one of the absolute best at representing minorities and highlighting topics that typically don’t get much screen time. It also has some of the best commentary on the state of television and pop culture in a way that operates so subtly you sometimes can’t even tell that it’s making a joke.
Dev’s relationship with Arnold (Eric Wareheim) is still unbelievably genuine and sweet, and there are episodes devoted just to these guys hanging out, catching up, and eating copious amounts of food. The stakes might be exceptionally low at times, but watching these guys do their thing and indulge one another is much more fun than it should be. It’s a testament to the real-life friendship between Ansari and Wareheim. While a lot of Master of None is centered on romantic relationships, friendships and non-romantic bonds are just as crucial to the show’s DNA.
This season delivers tonal sequels to episodes like “Parents” and “Mornings,” which were the stylistic standouts from season one, while managing to still say more and do more dazzling structural departures. In a lot of ways this season feels like it establishes Master of None as Ansari’s Louie. Every episode feels like a short film and the longer the show goes on the clearer it becomes that there’s no set model or pattern for it.
There’s a remarkable episode about dating apps that is a particular standout. A lot of people lost their minds over BoJack Horseman’s silent episode from its latest season, but hopefully this episode receives just as much critical acclaim. Not only does the whiplash-inducing episode do something stylistically brilliant, it also manages to say something deeply poignant about first dates and the early stages of courting someone. It perfectly encapsulates how dating can be both completely random and also utterly routine and mechanical. It especially taps into the exhaustion of the whole ordeal. It accomplishes so much without waving its awesomeness in your face. A season’s worth of romantic activity for Dev is condensed into a meager 25 minutes. It’s one of the few things that I would consider to be a perfect episode of television.
Another installment is an extremely powerful love letter to New York City. It’s full of interconnected vignettes that help convey the many sides of the city and how that can correlate to many different kinds of romance. Master of None knows how to convey the quirky, spontaneous feeling of New York City, with that working especially well for the stories that this show is interested in telling. Another brilliant episode, “Thanksgiving” crams 20 years of culture and growing up between Dev and Denise (Lena Waithe) into just over half an hour.
While the first season largely played as a Greatest Hits of Ansari’s take on modern romance and dating, Master of None Season 2 evolves the already slick, real storytelling that the show did wonders with last year. This is a season that will catch you off guard, not only in terms of how funny and moving it can be, but what you also might learn about yourself in the process. Even if it was only attempting to do half as much and was only half as good at it all, it would still be a towering success.
Now let’s all go see some Death Castle!