In the first episode of Master of None‘s exceptional second season, Aziz Ansari‘s Dev spontaneously sets up a date with Sarah (Clare-Hope Ashitey), an erstwhile financier from the UK, when it’s discovered that she had the wrong date for her reservation at an upscale restaurant in Italy, where Dev is studying pasta-making. It’s a scenario that taps into the long history of romanticism in Italian cinema and though they share maybe three or four scenes, there’s an immediate swell of charm and attraction between the two of them. Ansari, who also directed and co-wrote the episode, gives us just a taste of their meet-cute before she leaves with the promise that they’ll meet up when she’s back in town with her girlfriends. Just then, his cellphone is stolen. As Ansari sees it, romance is still thriving but to ignore the very real aide that technology serves in courtship is wildly foolish.
That, in a nutshell, is the tension at the heart of Master of None: the pull between self-righteous, self-serving tradition and the unpredictable, self-serving now. When Arnold (Eric Wareheim) joins his “little buddy” in Italy for a wedding, he too is stuck between the instant gratification of texting with a myriad of flirtatious women and the memory of an 11-year relationship with the woman he is about to see get married. Ansari wrote much of the series with co-creator Alan Young and they both make a point of showing the joys and inevitable pitfalls of dating in the Tinder age, cast against the classical wandering for the proverbial “one.” What makes Ansari and Young’s vision of this struggle so much more stirring and often uproarious is its love for the adventurism of singledom, a fascination for the characters you meet when dating and the situations that you find yourself in. Where so many romantic comedies treat dating as a long stretch of hell leading toward the salvation of a monogamous relationship, Ansari and Young see vitality, curiosity, and a borderline radical sense of humanism.
This is most clearly seen in the third episode, “Religion,” in which Dev returns to New York and considers opening up to his devoutly Muslim parents (played by Shoukath and Fatima Ansari once again) about his love for pork and indifference toward their religion. With good reason, Dev does not see much to like about the religion that he was brought up in and rightly sees rampant hypocrisy in those who defend any religion without confronting the innumerable horrors brought upon by worship. Ansari and Young’s writing subverts this thinking in a small but crucial way, however, by seeing religion as a personal totem, meant more as a gesture of intimate understanding than a demand of obedience. Neither of the creators seem particularly interested in directly confronting the ugly side of this – at least not in the first five episodes – but their treatment of religion and religious people, like dating, emphasizes unique human connection over judgement or condescension. In this alone, they undermine the corrosive nature of by-the-book worshippers and suggest that belief in whatever god you may follow is tied directly to a belief in people.
All of this gives Master of None a strong yet flexible thematic backboard, to which Ansari and Young toss up a litany of existential questions and observational fascinations, but little of this would matter if the show wasn’t funny. There are elements of Seinfeld and Louie here, as well as producer Michael Schur‘s previous work with Ansari on Parks & Recreation, but the overall sense of humor goes well beyond those confines. There’s an overwhelming feeling of absurdity and imagination in Ansari and Young’s New York, even when self-regard and naïveté ruin the buzz, such as when a date asks him to help her pick out her next date. Such events are quickly dispelled by a few puffs on a vaporizer and the sight of an aging Asian man enjoying an oversized lollipop. Even if Master of None‘s second season isn’t as immediately thrilling as the series’ inaugural season at first, there is a personal element to everything that happens to Dev and his social circle, a clear knowledge that other people can indeed be hell but they also often offer levity, comfort, and understanding that is neither amplified nor diminished with the introduction of a good data plan.
Master of None Season 2 will be available for streaming in full starting May 12th on Netflix.