So, at the start of season two, Master of None (Netflix, from last Friday) has gone all Fellini. And tortellini. At the end of the first season, you’ll remember, after splitting up with Rachel, Dev (Aziz Ansari) spontaneously decided to move from New York to Italy to learn to make pasta. When love goes wrong, there’s always pasta.
Actually, it’s possible you don’t remember, you haven’t seen the first season. You should, you must, you will. Quick recap: Dev, love, food, New York, life, dating, work, race, generations, charming, smart, hilarious, written by Ansari and Alan Yang, Parks and Recreation collaborators, got it? It’s hard, writing about web television, not knowing who’s got to where. I’ll keep the spoilage to a minimum — not that MoN is really a hands-over-ears, don’t-tell-me-don’t-tell-me-la-la-la kind of show. So Dev’s in Modena, making pasta, riding a bicycle around, in black and white. He’s friends with an old lady, and a cute little boy; he says — and enjoys saying — “allora” a lot.
It’s beautiful, it’s perfect, though of course Dev isn’t entirely satisfied or happy.
Then there’s Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), his Italian friend, who looks as if she’s stepped straight out of classic Italian cinema of the 1960s. They’re good together, like the same things, laugh at the same things, Dev clearly has feelings for Francesca. She’s got a boyfriend.
Just as Rachel did in series one, Francesca will provide the story arc, the will-they-won’t-they string on to which themed episodes are threaded.
When, after a couple of episodes in Italy, the action returns to New York, Francesca is not entirely left behind...
Going back to NY allows Dev to return to the serious business of not really knowing what to do with his life. What to do, what to be, who to be, who to be with. He gets a job, hosting Clash of the Cupcakes on TV. He goes on a lot of dates. He disappoints his parents, as well as loving and being loved by them. I love them, too, especially his dad, played by Shoukath Ansari, who makes up for a lack of acting training (he’s a gastroenterologist) by being Aziz’s actual father, and so can’t fail to be utterly believable and genuine.
Dev’s mates from series one are still around. Denise (Lena Waithe), African American, gay; Brian (Kelvin Yu), the son of Taiwanese immigrants; big Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Dev’s “token white friend” who comes out to Italy to see him and — mainly — to eat (it’s a bit The Trip to Italy that one, and then a bit Wedding Crashers).
There are new characters, too, most notably Chef Jeff, a loudmouth celebrity travelling TV gastronaut, who must surely have been inspired by Anthony Bourdain.
If anything, Master of None is more confident and bolder than it was last time out. In a brilliant episode about dating, Dev appears to be having a conversation on a date with multiple women (some more successful than others; the dog one is my favourite even if — spoiler alert! — she turns out to be a teeny bit racist).
He remains constant, they flick through. It’s not just clever, it encapsulates the quick-turnover transience and emptiness of the online/app dating experience.
Another brilliant episode about Thanksgiving, in which Denise — and her mum — come to terms with Denise’s sexuality, does something similar, only with time. Maybe the best episode of all is a beautiful stand-alone piece that pretty much abandons the entire cast, Aziz and everyone else, and tells three random stories about immigrants and minorities in New York.
Then there’s the long romance episode... not saying anything. There is another kind of confidence to Master of None, the confidence to be silly, to be amused by language and words, to find it funny that Samoa is a bit like samosa, lesbian a bit like Lebanese... maybe, a bit.
Or just that very tall (Arnold) next to not very tall (Dev) is funny. It is part of the show’s charm, that it can engage with serious issues, and also be silly. And romantic. And warm. And just so damn likeable. Oh, and the music’s not bad either, also delightful and diverse: Tupac, Kraftwerk, Soft Cell, Musical Youth, Digable Planets, D’Angelo. Picked out for each episode, like a good sommelier’s choices of wines to go with a 10-course tasting menu... Yeah, shut up. Just get involved. And enjoy.
Don’t miss it
Master of None season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.