Master of None season 2 review: Aziz Ansari is making monumental TV. 5 stars
Master of None Season 2
Cast - Aziz Ansari, Alessandra Mastronardi, Eric Wareheim
Rating - 5/5
Describing something as ‘boring’ is perhaps the most boring thing you can say about it. Likewise, when you describe something, anything – it can be a book, a song, a meal, a movie, or in this case, a TV show – as ‘incredible’, which, as far as words go, is quite the opposite of ‘boring’ – it is still, as a description, a rather boring thing to say.
The point being, we often read, or hear about experiences being hyperbolized with one word. It is, momentarily, eye-catching. There’s no denying that. But after a point, you must wonder: Why? We’ve heard that Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made – enough times, in fact, to inspire a ferocious prejudice against it. But do you know why it is the greatest movie ever made?
The second season of Netflix’s Master of None is, as luck would have it, quite incredible. But I can add 10 more adjectives to the list and you’d still not be convinced to watch it. We need to talk about why it is so good. We need to discuss how it improves upon the first season – which was incredible in its own right. But first, we have to talk about the pop culture pinnacle upon which creator Aziz Ansari finds himself.
Together with Donald Glover (who’s killing it over in Atlanta), Lena Dunham (who is technically unemployed right now), and Louis CK (who, at the peak of his success, has gone into self-imposed TV exile), Aziz is one of the most unique voices in television right now, semi-autobiographical, self-deprecating, naked and curious. And like a true artist, he uses it not only as a mouthpiece, to express the ideas that he wants to spread, but also to ask questions, to us, but mostly to himself – about modern romance, religion, immigrants, sexuality, and pasta.
Like an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) Woody Allen, he wanders the streets of New York, romanticizing its gutters, puzzled by its women, dreaming about pork.
But before he returns to the Big Apple, he has the best breakup ever, for two episodes, in Modena, Italy. When we last saw him, Dev Shah (by the way, what’s up with that name? There is no way an Indian Muslim can be called that) had given it all up to follow his dreams, which had taken him, like Julia Roberts, in a journey of self-discovery to Italy.
In season two, we find him (in beautiful, Felliniesque black and white), living La Dolce Vita, as he nimbly rolls pasta dough and presents it to the ‘nonna’ under whom he is serving an apprenticeship. When is he is not at the osteria, he socialises with Francesca, nonna’s daughter, and finds himself falling in love.
But Francesca’s engaged. And Dev, rightly believing it to be a brief summer infatuation, tells himself that it’ll probably fade away when he returns home. But the events of those first two episodes set the tone for what follows. And it’s not – in true Master of None fashion – a stable tone, or the sort of tone we’re used to seeing in TV. It changes from episode to episode, moment to moment, and tells, through smaller vignettes, a larger, almost grandiose story.
And this nonchalant disregard for rules, this refusal to stick to TV traditions and techniques, this single-minded dedication to make every episode unlike the one before – this is what makes this show incredible.
Season 2 owes a great debt – stylistically and thematically – to Italian cinema. There are nods to Fellini, De Sica, and Antonioni – whose film L’Avventura is somewhat of an inspiration for its unstructured storytelling ambition. Beneath the lush visuals – this show can make the inside of an Uber seem as luxurious as the inside of Massimo Bottura’s three-Michelin-star restaurant – there is uncomfortable existentialism. Under the pop soundtrack, there is an orchestra of sadness.
But there isn’t a moment of mediocrity this season. While most shows struggle to produce even one memorable episode, Ansari and his team have made – and this is a very moderate estimation – at least two of the finest episodes of TV you’re likely to see this year. Like a fancy 10-course meal, even the palette cleansers are just as outstanding as the entrees. The first one, in the style of HBO’s High Maintenance and the Humans of New York Instagram account, is a slice of life story that comes out of nowhere. It exists almost independent of the show’s primary story, and features the main cast only briefly. It ends, just as mysteriously as it began; leaving you profoundly convinced that nothing can top it.
But Ansari is in a race with himself. Episode 9 is – and forgive me for not explaining why – incredible TV, fit to be played at art-houses all over the world.
Sometimes, in rare situations, it is best if things are left unexplained. In all fairness, you could be walking into a trap, but sometimes you just have to experience things for yourself.