I wrote about season one of Master of None after its debut; in its first season,this show had already established itself as one of television’s best, most exciting, new shows. In its second season, Master of None continues to be one of the most thoughtful and insightful shows on TV. Between its larger story about the life of lead character Dev (Aziz Ansari) is an attention to characters on the periphery, to stories that we haven’t seen much of in our popular culture. The intellectual curiosity on display here allows the show to create vivid portraits of characters both big and small.
One highlight episode from this season, “Thanksgiving”, follows Dev’s childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe), a black lesbian woman, over a number of years, depicting her first realizations of who she is and what that means, and showing her coming to terms with her identity, both with her family and herself. There’s a telling moment when her mother, played by legendary actress Angela Bassett, confronts her struggles with her daughter’s sexual identity. It’s not that there’s a problem with Denise being gay – it’s the fact that, in a world where being black and being a woman means that Denise is already facing an uphill battle, her sexual identity just means more adversity ahead. The show is filled with moments like these, profound moments of understanding and compassion for people or situations we don’t always appreciate. More importantly, there are no sacred cows here, and the show is not afraid to let those characters be both the deliverer of, and the butt of, jokes.
In Master of None, Aziz Ansari is doing some of his best ever dramatic work as an actor. He’s being given a wider range of emotions to play than ever before, and though it’s not a seamless performance, he manages to capture our emotion and make us sympathetic to what he’s going through. In particular, there’s one extended scene where, without any dialogue, Ansari manages to convey a world of emotion. It’s a deliberately paced moment that wouldn’t work without Ansari’s newfound dramatic depth.
Aziz Ansari isn’t the only member of the Ansari family putting on a show here; one of the breakout characters of season 1 was Dev’s father Ramesh, played by Aziz Ansari’s father Shoukath Ansari, who proves to have amazing comic timing and an amazing sense of humor. In season 2, he continues his standout performance in his limited appearances, stealing scenes left and right whenever he’s on screen.
Noël Wells shined as Dev’s love interest in season 1 of Master of None, and Alessandra Mastronardi follows in her footsteps in season 2 in the role of Francesca. She’s absolutely lovable as Francesca, charming and vivacious, an utterly winning performance. The chemistry between her and Dev is so natural, such a treat to watch, so thoughtful, it’s striking to think that these are two actors working from a script. Ansari has spoken about the process for writing these two characters, which was inspired by the writing process for Richard Linklater’s Before… series of films, and its pretty telling to see how successful Master of None is at capturing the same kind of dialogue, the same small moments, that Richard Linklater is so good at.
Master of None is an adventurous and playful show, willing to take its cues from classic Italian cinema, to spin off from its main narrative and spend times with side characters, to play surprising, even kitschy, music, and to simply explore ideas in new ways. At the same time, the emotional depth and attachment that creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang are able to create is profound.
In the long gap between season 1 and 2, this was a show that I frequently found myself missing, and often went back to re-watch episodes of. I’m confident that this will remain unchanged as the show goes on a hiatus while the creators recharge their batteries. I enthusiastically await whatever future episodes this creative team decides are appropriate.