By Mike A. Bryan, staff writer
If you have been living under a rock for the past decade, you may be unfamiliar with Aziz Ansari. But chances are, you loved all the times his character on “Parks and Recreation” stole the show, you have seen at least one of his many stand-up specials, and you heard the buzz about the first season of his Netflix original series “Master of None.” Lucky for us, the second season has just dropped on Netflix, and it is everything that fans of the first season could hope for. If you have already watched the first season, then the second season should be a no-brainer for your queue. If not, there are numerous reasons to give this show a chance – diverse and relatable characters, timely themes, laugh-out-loud comedic moments, and beautifully shot sequences in Italy and New York City.
Ciao, folks, for we are going to Italy, where we are quickly introduced to Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), who exemplifies the charming, exotic, cute, foreign girl archetype. This type of character is often a bit one-dimensional, being over-romanticized like so many of Audrey Hepburn’s cinematic characters. Francesca’s version, however, works so well that viewers will be falling in love with her upon her first appearance. She serves as the romantic interest throughout the season, while “Big Bud” Arnold (Eric Wareheim) provides much of the comic relief. Many of the same characters from Season 1 pop back up, including Denise (Lena Waithe), Brian (Kelvin Yu), Dev’s parents (Shouktath Ansari and Fatima Ansari), Ravi Patel (Ravi Patel), and ex-girlfriend Rachel (Noël Wells).
Wareheim directs a number of the episodes, as do Ansari and his co-writer, Alan Yang. Most episodes are written by Ansari and/or Yang, ensuring that the themes and character development continue in a sensible, logical flow. Ansari and Yang’s humor does not always hit you over the head; more often, jokes build subtly and end up relating to each other in clever ways. That is not to say there are no LOL moments, especially in episode 8 with Denise’s family at their Thanksgiving celebrations. Unlike most popular sitcoms, the cast is made up of multiple ethnicities, which adds a modern and authentic feel to Dev’s (Ansari) character’s life. All but the first episode are shot in color; the black and white of the first show serves as an explicit homage to the classic Italian film “The Bicycle Thief.” Another refreshing aspect of the show is the variety of episode lengths. Instead of making each episode the same length, Ansari lets the story unfold as it will; meaning some episodes are relatively short, and one is almost two hours.
Without a doubt, the story is focused on Dev, and his struggles with our modern society. Many of the same themes from last season reappear: fascination with food and cooking, adventures in dating and love, his parents, being a non-practicing Muslim, his love of New York City, and living in the modern world. In addition, episode eight, titled Thanksgiving, gives the backstory of Dev and Denise’s life-long friendship, and reveals how she came out to her family. While there is much seriousness to be found within these themes, Ansari and Yang always manage to bring out the humor as well, in unexpected and clever ways.
Of course, the soundtrack is supremely well-curated, with a plethora of classic Italian cinema music, such as that of Ennio Morricone. One of the most touching musical moments in the series comes at the end of episode five, serenading viewers with “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” by Soft Cell as Dev drives away from what appears to be his last encounter with Francesca. This emotionally powerful sequence could only be possible in an online show; no broadcast TV show would devote almost three minutes to a non-dialogue static shot of a character in a car. In addition to the brilliantly selected music, Dev, and Arnold randomly break into song (sample lyrics: “Eating in Italy is my favorite thing!”), creating some of the most endearing and adorable moments in several episodes.
“Master of None” holds up a humorous mirror on our modern lifestyle, especially that of city-dwellers. Ansari and Yang’s work exists in the space between hipster millennials and the end of Generation X, making the themes of the show relatable for viewers aged 18 to 40. It is masterfully written, directed, shot and acted. Do yourself a favor and add it to your queue. You will not be disappointed.