Despite what its title implies, Netflix’s Master of None is, in fact, masterful TV: its intricately crafted slice-of-life narratives shine a meaningful light on themes at once intimate and universal, without sacrificing its fresh, life-affirming sense of humor.
Fans of the series’ first season would be pleased to know that it doesn’t lose its stride in the follow-up — in fact, co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang double up on Master of None’s offbeat charm, random bursts of absurdity (“The Thief,” shot entirely in black & white, most memorably exemplifies this), and sobering moments of observational humor.
If you thought Ansari and Yang covered a lot in the previous season, Master of None’s sophomore run will leave you positively spinning: it transitions from giving its lead his Eat, Pray, Love moment (“The Thief,” “Le Nozze”) to exploring the highs and lows of dating in the age of technology (“First Date”) to presenting a poignant portrait of a lesbian woman’s coming out (“Thanksgiving”), all in the space of 10 episodes.
In “New York, I Love You,” the series pens a love letter to the marginalized, working-class PoC of NYC by departing from its central cast to instead focus on the intersecting lives of the people that surround them. It’s a highly immersive half-hour of television, during which Master of None does its best to communicate that we’re all in this together without cheapening the sentiment with corny platitudes.
Instead of discussing ‘race-based typecasting in Hollywood,’ it discusses ‘race-based typecasting in Hollywood from the POV of a struggling actor and first-generation Indian immigrant,’ for example (“Indians on TV”). It goes micro. It does its characters justice, developing them organically instead of having them exist solely as plot devices.
While Ansari and Yang have proven time and again that discussions on immigrant and PoC experience are right in their wheelhouse, they’ve also demonstrated a commendable ability to engage in women’s issues, while being neither dismissive nor defensive. In last season’s “Ladies and Gentlemen,” Dev (Ansari) confronts the reality of his male privilege, after hearing about a female colleague being stalked on her way home. In the second season, they take it a few steps further, initiating conversations on workplace sexual harassment, and female independence in the context of traditional family structures (“Amarsi Un Po”). In “Thanksgiving,” we see Denise (Lena Waithe) grapple not only with her sexuality, but with what it means on top of being a black woman in America.
It’s a lot, I know — but the series never feels like it bites off more than it can chew.
Two things it never underestimates: the narrative power of specificity, and the comedic value intrinsic to Ansari’s Tom Haverford Face. But more on the former: its themed episodes are exceptional because they rarely skew too general. Instead of discussing ‘race-based typecasting in Hollywood,’ it discusses ‘race-based typecasting in Hollywood from the POV of a struggling actor and first-generation Indian immigrant,’ for example (“Indians on TV”). It goes micro. It does its characters justice, developing them organically instead of having them exist solely as plot devices.
Master of None bypasses transparent attempts to cast a wide net in terms of viewership, and instead trusts that the stories it tells will be compelling enough in premise and execution that audiences will be able to access them emotionally across the board.
After all, one would be remiss not to mention how powerful a statement specificity can be on its own. From the good, the bad, and the ugly, Master of None’s refusal to shy away from the nuances of minority and oppressed group narratives reminds its audience that we are still scratching the surface when it comes to deciding what stories are worth telling and reflecting in media, warts and all.
There’s nothing else quite like it on TV.