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.
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.
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.