Master of None Season 2 Review: Bolder, Fresher, Aziz Ansari Proves Himself a Master

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Audience engagement is crucial for critical darling Master of None. This is a show where the showrunners have something to say, and the streaming service they’re on is willing to let them say it exactly how they want to say it when they want to say it. There are better shows on TV than Master of None, few and far between as they may be, but no current series tops its involving, personal experience between artist and individual viewer.

But television as a medium and as a business model has historically depended on mass appeal, leading to network shows that feel safe and cooked up by detached corporate executives. That makes what Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang have accomplished in season two even more of a feat, following the footsteps of Louis CK’s level of creative control with Louie over at FX.

Bolder and more adventurous than season one, Master of None boasts an instant confidence with the season two premiere, set entirely in Italy and filmed in black and white. In some ways, the sophomore season is more linear than its predecessor, yet on a sheer structural basis, experimental deviations take up almost half the season, with even some of the more plot heavy episodes blurring the lines of how story’s are traditionally told. We pick up with Dev (Ansari) still in Italy after his breakup with Rachel. In a subversive surprise, season two adds Italian culture as one of the many it takes a deep dive into, with Dev’s extended stay overseas giving birth to much of the season’s plot and general movement. This season marries food and sweeping romance, turning the streets of Manhattan into an Italian countryside lush with personal and interpersonal infatuations.

Still, the show hasn’t forgotten its portrait of Asian-American life that gave it a rich, fresh perspective. After the exceptional opening two episodes in Italy, Master of None brings us back to New York for two knock outs right in a row: “Religion” and “First Date.” The former brings back Dev’s family for a poignant discussion on how changing and dissipating religious views impact multi-generation families. The latter perfectly embodies, and criticizes, modern dating culture in the big, diverse cities and the use of apps. These first four episodes of the season collectively resemble everything great about Ansari and Yang’s overall vision and execution. The show is not only willing to try new things, but deeply committed to doing so, all while keeping its finger firmly on the now to remain a skewering, inventive send-up of modern society.

That said, with Dev at the center, the show doesn’t lose any of its narrative significance in season two, remaining a series tied to its character’s ethnic roots and infectious heart. There’s not a moment of Dev’s search for love in season two that isn’t reflective of the entire life he’s lived to that very second, with the episode scripts fulling realizing this larger than life figurehead (Dev hosts a cupcake wars game show now) without making him inaccessible.

The second half of the season is a little more plot heavy, which is where the show occasionally stumbles between its deeply affecting experimental entries. But once the season is complete, with a finale that perfectly wraps up Dev’s arc for the season, those stumbles somehow feel necessary for the payoff to come.

And what a payoff! Season two’s final note is appropriately solemn, leaving Dev and his world in a place of realistic uncertainty. Ansari said in the press recently that he’s not sure he has the material for season three, but from a critical and an audience standpoint, his finding inspiration feels essential. For season two, the creators ramped up the show’s inventiveness and wondrous experimentation. Their success rate makes Master of None unmissable. Whether it be now or sometime in the future, for its subversive take on modern love or unparalleled level of thoughtful Asian representation, Ansari and Yang’s singular vision must continue. The television-sphere, and its inability to keep up, demands it. Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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