Master of None: Season two

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The first series of Master of None was certainly enjoyable. Well-written, with an engaging narrative, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s depiction of Dev (Ansari) and his life in New York, was an interesting and progressive concept, focusing on a positive portrayal of a young Muslim in contemporary society. Dealing with a number of prescient issues, including rape culture and the treatment and depiction of race in the media, the series largely felt fresh despite the intermittent reliance on tropes such as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

This month saw the release of the second season. A season which demonstrates Ansari and Yang’s writing potential. The series is far more inventive, and the pair, with the backing of Netflix, have been able to experiment and play around with form and narrative. Thus the season, while containing an overarching narrative focusing on Dev’s relationship with the enigmatic Francesca, is given the freedom to focus on the development of minor characters, or at times entirely abandon its focus on Dev.

In this season Dev, after the breakdown of his relationship with Rachel, visits Italy, living there for several months as an apprentice in a pasta shop. Learning the craft, he also immerses himself in local life, and struggles with the decision to return to New York. Upon his return, he gains employment as the host of a reality TV cookery show entitled Clash of the Cupcakes. Dev’s ease in earning this role, and indeed his entire lack of apparent financial worries, does at times force the viewer to suspend disbelief, especially given the current economic climate.

The depiction of women too, is worthy of interrogation at times. Francesca’s Italian nature feels fetishized at times. Her difficulty in fully understanding English is, on occasion, held up for comedic purposes, or even as a patronising means of endearment. Her intelligence is only depicted through cultural signifiers (she regularly visits museums and art galleries and expresses her enjoyment of them) yet we learn little of her own interests or desires. As Dev battles with his feelings for her, there is very little sense that he is aware of what she wants or needs.

Despite this, there is much to be lauded about the series. Its handling of sexual harassment is timely, and Dev’s interaction with those that have experienced the harassment is positive. There is no question of the validity of the account that he hears, and when it is made public he quickly distances himself from those involved. Arguably he could have confronted the accused, but even this is more realistic and helps to highlight the difficulty for the women involved in that, while listened to, those allied to them may not always act quickly enough to condemn.

All ten episodes, with their varying duration, are worthy of praise, but three episodes in particular, through their form and narrative focus, are to be noted.

First Date

The episode centres around a number of dates that Dev procures through the use of a popular dating app. The narrative intercuts from date to date, allowing for direct comparisons between each dating experience. Some of the dates are laughably bad, and the connection between Dev and the date is non-existent, others show a superficial connection which is frequently rapidly undercut once the date continues outside of the restaurant. Importantly, we are shown each of the women deciding to go on the date with Dev, affording them a life outside of the narrative focus. Each woman is allowed the opportunity to make her voice heard, and they feel both real and recognisable. The experience itself, relying on viewer familiarity with the scenario, is acutely drawn.

New York I Love You

Using the form of the film of the same name, New York I Love You is perhaps the most experimental episode of the series. Beginning with Dev, Denise and Arnold embarking on a trip to the cinema to see the latest Nicholas Cage blockbuster ‘Death Castle’, the narrative focus quickly shifts to the various inhabitants of New York. Thus the viewer is shown the relationship between two hearing impaired people, with the entirety of their narrative featuring subtitles (and allowing the episode to play around with sound and music); the life of an immigrant taxi driver who embarks on a night out with his fellow taxi drivers; and a doorman who is poorly treated by those living in the building. Each narrative arc is held together by the aforementioned blockbuster, with almost every character expressing a desire to see the film.  Each character arc, while only afforded a section of narrative space, is still given the opportunity to grow and thus engage. The life of the taxi driver in particular is subtle, highlighting the cramped living conditions he is forced to ensure, as well as the ill-treatment he receives due to his ethnicity.

Thanksgiving

Dev, not celebrating Thanksgiving with his family, spends each year with Denise and her family. The episode highlights the strength and depth of their friendship, as it follows Denise negotiating her sexuality. Struggling to broach the topic with her family, she attends the family celebration each year hoping to find support from her mother. Revisiting the same day on different years can, when handled poorly, quickly feel tired. Here however, the device allows for character development and engagement resulting in a truly affecting episode.

Thoughts on Clique, episode one

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Since going online only BBC3 has clearly strengthened its brand identity. Before, seen as a channel which produced throw away reality programmes aimed at teenagers, it is fast becoming a platform for new and emerging talent. Perhaps it is because of this online move that the channel seems able to offer new writers the opportunity to hone their skill. Following on from last year’s well-received Thirteen, which focused on a female victim of kidnapping and her subsequent re-emergence into society, Clique looks set to continue the welcome trend of female-centric drama.

Billed as a psychological thriller, it focuses on Holly (Synnove Karsen) and Georgina (Aisling Franciosi, two childhood friends who find that university life and a mysterious internship begins to drive a wedge between them.

Written by Jess Brittain, best known for her work on the later series of Skins, Clique focuses on university life, depicting the various entanglements of university with a darker edge. Having only watched the first episode thus far, it seems apparent that Clique isn’t entirely sure what kind of show it wants to be, but it perhaps all the better for it, allowing Brittain to experiment with form and generic conventions. There are certainly strains of Skins apparent, with the improbably glossy-haired, impeccably turned out university students adding to a sense of hyperreality.

Brittain has created a strange dichotomy in Clique focusing on both the reality and recognisable moments of university life. She references the entanglements of Fresher’s week and the time spent in the library, as well as alluding to this hyperbolic lifestyle that the proposed internship affords. Georgina, making friends with the current batch of interns who have been billed as the brightest and the best, admires the hedonistic lifestyle that it enables, and desires to become an intern herself. Holly, choosing to largely observe, notes that the internship seems to be more than simple photocopying and making cups of tea. To her, it is clear that this internship is potentially questionable and in turn dangerous. It’s not yet clear just what this internship entails, and presumably it is this that will form much of the narrative of the remaining five episodes.

Thus far, Clique has shown itself to be well-paced, with a talented cast. Despite or perhaps because of its tendency towards melodrama, the first episode at least, is engaging and relatively immersive.

 

In praise of Love

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To the undiscerning, Netflix’s Love may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a lazy, clichéd romantic comedy in which the geeky male protagonist improbably forms a relationship with the attractive female protagonist. Starring Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, and Paul Rust as Gus, the series focuses on the pair’s developing relationship, from initial meet-cute, in which Mickey asks Gus to pay for her cigarettes, to their eventual and inevitable hook-up.

Certainly its detractors have pointed out the unlikeliness of the relationship between Gus and Mickey  yet to highlight the disparity between the two involves only taking the characters at face value. One dimensionally, Mickey is far more attractive than Gus. She is largely successful in her career, whereas Gus, desperate to write his own screenplay, struggles with his role as an onset tutor (and often does a terrible job). Yet both characters have their unlikeable and difficult qualities which help to both develop and deepen their characterisation.

Mickey is, in part due to her various addictions (love, sex, alcohol, drugs), often selfish and thoughtless. In forming a relationship with her housemate Bertie, she relies on her for emotional support yet, at least initially, offers little in return. Mickey knows that she is often controlled by her addictions, but in turn, recognises that Gus, despite his perceived affable nature, is just as damaged and selfish as her. It is here, in this characterisation of Gus as the supposed nice guy, which helps to elevate Love beyond the standard rom-com and enables it to be both a thoughtful rendering of a burgeoning relationship and an effective depiction of individual damaged characters.

Gus, despite his apparent niceness and largely positive interactions (he has a plethora of quirky friends) is, in actuality, pseudo-nice. What makes his ‘niceness’ all the more damaging is the fact that he believes it in so earnestly. He truly believes that he is a good guy, who deserves to be recognised for his niceness. He doesn’t understand why his first girlfriend found his thoughtfulness and sincerity so suffocating. For Mickey, his congeniality is, at least initially, refreshing when compared to her past relationships, but she quickly realises that Gus’ presentation of himself belies his true nature.

Much of Gus’ life feels set up and constructed, down to his comical interactions with his students, to his ritual of writing movie theme songs with his friends for songs that don’t have theme songs (Carlito’s Way for example). This concentrated construction stops Gus from confronting his true desires, and when approached by an attractive co-worker, he finds that he is unable to resist the opportunity at playing another role. It is this that makes Gus and Mickey so ideal for one another. They bring out the truth and reality in one another, and only then can they begin to accept who they are. This is not to suggest that Mickey and Gus are reliant on one another in the manner of a co-dependent relationship, but rather, that their relationship with each other affords both the opportunity to try out different roles for themselves without the fear of being judged or treated differently.

In fact, despite Gus and Mickey’s attraction to one another, they spend much of the series apart. Indeed in one episode, Gus and Mickey make plans to see one another, but due to work commitments and social interests, the pair fail to see one another, showing that their characters can and do exist independently from one another. Gus and Mickey don’t need one another, they want one another, and this is an important distinction to make. It is this assertion that helps set Love apart. It features two protagonists who are fully realised, and developed in their own right. Each leads interesting and entertaining lives, and while many of these events mirror each other (with both struggling with issues at work for example) they are separate.

Season two of Love is released on the 10th March 2017.

Dunkirk – trailer

I am a huge fan of Christopher Nolan. The Prestige in particular, is one of my favourite films. For some, his action sequences are poorly shot, and the emotional core of his films can seem hackneyed. Personally, these criticisms have never landed with me. While Nolan’s direction doesn’t always work, his attempts to create intelligent, multifaceted films should always be praised.

His latest effort, Dunkirk, due next summer, looks suitably impressive in scope. Starring Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, the film features muted cinematography coupled with huge scale action sequences. Given that Nolan has written the script, I will be interested to see the nature and direction of the narrative. It looks, from the trailer at least, that the film will largely feature an ensemble cast. Given the continued focus of the event, featuring in countless film narratives, I am looking forward to seeing how Nolan attempts to offer a new take on the event.