Netflix debuted season two of Master of None at midnight Pacific last night. I thought it was a wonderful season — deeper, more ambitious, and in many ways just plain better than the first. At only six and a half hours or so, some of you have likely already watched the whole thing. (And for the many of you who haven’t, feel free to bookmark this page and revisit it as you watch.) Once again, I’m going to do what I did after season one and offer mini-reviews of all 10 episodes — with spoilers for the whole season (but essentially safe to read after you watch each one) — coming up just as soon as people in China think I’m Beyonce…
Episode 1: “The Thief”
This is, as the stack of DVDs on Dev’s end table makes clear, Ansari and Yang’s homage to the classic Italian films of the mid-20th century, with Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves a particularly strong influence, given the title and Dev constantly getting around Modena on two wheels. (The gang at Slate put together a more thorough look at the Italian cinema influences on the whole season.) It looks great beyond the black-and-white photography — I particularly liked the crane shot of the distance between Dev and the phone thief only growing and growing — and the episode as a whole neatly kicked off the season’s themes about Dev’s loneliness and lack of direction. Even when he hits it off well with a woman like Sara, it just never works out for him, though I’m not sure why he didn’t just call his cell provider to see if they had his texts or other info stored in the cloud. (He explained he turned off find my phone because of the data charges, but texts get saved no matter what — or, at least, that’s what TV crime procedurals have taught me.)
The episode also casually introduces the sparkling Alessandra Mastronardi as Dev’s friend Francesca. Because we’re dropped into his Modena life without much intro, it’s hard to tell at first if she’s Mario’s mom (she’s not) or if she’s married to Pino (he’s just her boyfriend), but it’s clear from the start that she and Dev get along very well, even if his focus is on his birthday, Sara, and avoiding Rachel’s emails.
Episode 2: “Le Nozze”
Still in Italy (budget-wise, it makes more sense to shoot multiple episodes — or a double-length episode — in a foreign country than just one), but now back in color, and with the focus shifting from Dev’s loneliness to Arnold’s. Clearly, Ansari and Yang liked what they saw out of the Dev/Arnie dynamic last season, because there’s a whole lot more of the little guy and the big guy hanging out, singing songs, doing dances, and getting into trouble this year, highlighted here by Arnold getting trapped in the sunroof after his rental car first gets trapped in the narrow street. It’s all fun stuff, even if Ciara Renee (RIP, Hawkgirl from Legends of Tomorrow) is way too young to play an old flame whom Arnold dated for 11 years starting in college.
While a lot of the focus is on Arnold, we also get to see more of Dev struggling with how much he wants to be in touch with Rachel, which is understandable given both their relatively amicable breakup and their realization that they’re probably not each other’s The One. And the return to New York at the end sets up Dev’s new job hosting Clash of the Cupcakes, which my kids are trying to will into existence as a real show right now.
Episode 3: “Religion”
“Religion” is probably the episode most reminiscent of the dominant form of season one, as Dev/Aziz explores an issue he hasn’t thought or spoken much about in a long time, if ever. It opens with one of the funniest music cues of the whole season, as Tupac’s “Only God Can Judge Me” plays while young Dev continues eating bacon despite his mother’s admonishment, and is part of the season’s overall food porn focus. (Poison’s “Nothing But a Good Time” over Dev introducing his cousin to the joys of pork barbecue is also a treat.) Low stakes, but sweet, and I remain entirely a sucker to the enthusiastic charms of Shoukath Ansari as Dev’s father, particularly here when he’s demonstrating modeling poses.
Episode 4: “First Date”
That this one is as coherent and fun as it is is a real testament to the editing, which seamlessly flowed one date into the next, seemingly always at the right moment to make a jump, whether we were getting an extended stint of his date with Priya (played by Tiya Sircar, aka Real Eleanor from The Good Place) or briefer snippets of the ones that were going less well, like the unexpected date with his actress friend or the one with Aparna Nancherla as the food blogger who’s already in a serious relationship. It nicely captures the awkwardness of app dating from both perspectives, including the sequence where Dev finds out about the bad messages women tend to get, as opposed to his stock line about Whole Foods. An episode that’s simultaneously very simple and inventive, and one of my favorites.
Also, if “First Date” had done nothing but remind me of the existence of “Scatman,” dayenu.
Episode 5: “The Dinner Party”
This has one of the season’s two most intentionally excruciating scenes (the other’s the first talk show segment in the finale), as Dev’s date with Priya gets progressively stiffer (my notes on one of the scenes just said, “Save me from this”), but it’s there to set up the pivot into the season’s major arc, as Dev comes to realize that he likes the visiting Francesca as more than just a friend.
Helping him make that realization is the season’s other major new character, Bobby Cannavale as the Anthony Bourdain-esque Chef Jeff, who here seems to vacillate wildly between potential jerk and a guy who’s loud and crude but ultimately well-meaning, and who can see what’s going on between Dev and Francesca even before Dev can.
“The Dinner Party” has some of the season’s showier visual moments from director Eric Wareheim (who also has some choice comic bits as Arnold quarterbacks Dev through the date with Priya), from the Goodfellas-style tracking shot as Chef Jeff takes Dev into the restaurant to the long sequence of everyone just enjoying John Legend’s performance, to the Michael Clayton-esque unbroken takes in the back of the Uber after Dev has dropped Francesca off and has to come to grips with how he feels about a woman who seems completely unavailable. Though there’s an interruption in the middle when he reads her text, that’s still a couple of long shots of Aziz Ansari’s face as Dev thinks and feels — badly, mostly — about all of this, and it’s a testament to Ansari’s previously-untapped skills as a dramatic actor that it works.
Episode 6: “New York, I Love You”
“New York, I Love You,” I love you. What an incredibly charming triptych of Big Apple short stories: first Eddie the doorman deftly navigating the ups and downs of working in a fancy apartment building, then the deaf couple having a sign language argument while shopping, and then the immigrant roommates enjoying a night on the town that ends up much better than it starts. In each case, it’s the creative team (Yang directed, and he and Ansari wrote the script off the story by Cord Jefferson) pulling out the kinds of characters who get ignored in both city life and fictional stories about city life, and making them quickly feel alive and complicated and fun in a way that suggests Master of None could just keep following, say, the cabbie and his friends for a while without it getting dull. (In that way, it is the inverse of “The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase.”) When Dev, Arnold, and Denise appear in the movie theater at the end with the other characters, it’s not the show suggesting they’re more important, but that they’re all the same, even if some already know about the twist ending to Death Castle.
This one’s filled with sly comic touches, from the casual revelation that one of Eddie’s coworkers is the mango eater to the way the deaf woman’s first scene plays out without subtitles because she’s talking to a hearing person who doesn’t understand her sign language (nor she his clumsy attempts), to the way that “Vengabus” — in a neck-and-neck battle with “Scatman” for the season’s most unexpectedly kitschy song choice — becomes the thing that bonds the guys to the women they run into outside the burger place where Junior works.
Episode 7: “Door #3”
Though this one features both Dev’s dad and Brian’s, it’s not really a sequel to last season’s “Parents,” and is one of the thinner outings of this year. It’s still quite funny, particularly seeing Brian’s father’s deadpan response to his two girlfriends tempting him with food and a dog, respectively, with the physical comedy of Kenny (Cedric the Entertainer) inevitably stabbing himself during his botched magic trick, and also with Chef Jeff continuing to seem menacing before revealing that he really likes Dev and his BFFs: Best Food Friends pitch, and it’s certainly useful to have an almost entirely lighthearted episode in the midst of a more serious and wistful season overall. But it definitely feels like a palate cleanser in between “New York, I Love You” and “Thanksgiving.”
And speaking of which…
Episode 8: “Thanksgiving”
Boy, is this one great: a portrait of a friendship that never really changes and a mother-daughter relationship that has to go through quite the evolution over 20-plus years. It doesn’t toggle back and forth through different events like “First Date,” but otherwise they’re very similar in the way that the same environment becomes very different depending on the time and the combination of people. Angela Bassett, Kym Whitley, and Venida Evans were all terrific as, respectively, Denise’s mom Catherine, Aunt Joyce, and grandma Ernestine, and the fashions and different R&B and hip-hop tracks marked the passage of time so deftly, the date markers weren’t entirely necessary. I liked how the family kept having variations of the same conversation over the years (O.J. vs Sandra Bland), and the very subtle progression of Catherine’s feelings about Denise being gay, from concern about it making her life more difficult than it already would be as a black woman, to very grudging acceptance, to disliking Nikki just because Nikki’s annoying — and Dev hilariously making the situation worse, because he won’t stop asking Nikki questions about her Instagram account(*) — to realizing (thanks in part to Nikki) that she actually likes Michelle. One of the season’s sweetest episodes, but also with some of its funniest bits, like a stoned Dev freaking out at Catherine’s face mask, Aunt Joyce drinking directly from the bottle, or the murderous look on Catherine’s face while Dev is going on the Instagram run.
(*) There actually is a NipplesAndToes23 Instagram account. At the time I’m writing this (a few hours before the season drops on Netflix), it has 10 followers. I’ll be curious to see how high that number goes in the coming weeks.
Episode 9: “Amarsi Un Po”
When I saw the 57-minute running time, I thought, “Okay, this is one of the few current shows I trust to earn a double-length episode, but still… 57 minutes? Is everybody sure about this?”
Fortunately, “Amarsi Un Po” more than earned it, thanks to the sparkling chemistry between Ansari and Mastronardi, and thanks to the ways the episode very carefully laid out both why Dev and Francesca fit so well together and why it would be so difficult for them to go from an imitation couple to the real thing. Their friendship, and Dev’s desire to make it something more, was a slow burn across the early part of the season, and here it comes to a full boil as the two of them spend a lot of time together while Pino is off doing tile business, growing closer and closer until they’re doing a sultry twist side-by-side in Dev’s kitchen while a gorgeous New York blizzard traps them inside.
It’s also a nice touch that the episode — the Master of None equivalent of a bittersweetly romantic movie like the ones that Dev enjoys watching with Francesca — opens with a very different opening credits sequence, foreshadowing the helicopter ride where Dev will later confess his true feelings to Francesca, who feels similarly but can’t necessarily do anything about it.
Episode 10: “Buona Notte”
Noel Wells finally makes her first appearance of the season, as Dev runs into Rachel at the worst possible moment, when he’s feeling low about the demise of BFFs — after Jeff turns out to be every bit the creep we initially feared he might be, if not in this exact way as a serial sexual harasser — and especially about where things seem to stand with Francesca. In many other moments of this year, an unexpected reunion on the street would have been a happy thing, and might have even led to a rekindling of the friendship (but probably not more). In this moment, Rachel is just a reminder to Dev of how lonely he feels, and how much further and further away the end of that loneliness seems.
Wells’ cameo also works to set up the way the season’s final moment works as a mirror of the previous finale. Back then, it seemed like Dev was going to jump on a plane to follow Rachel to Japan in some kind of cliched romcom move, when instead he was flying to Italy to follow his own professional dreams. Here, everything seems set up for Francesca to go back to Modena with Pino — not even because she prefers the guy who takes her for granted to the guy who lavishes her with attention, and who’s quick-witted like she is, but because it just seems too much for her to leave behind her family and world for the sake of someone she clicks with but is no sure thing — only for the final scene to reveal her lying in bed next to Dev, deep in thought about this huge decision she has made.
If we take Ansari at his word that he doesn’t want to do another season until he’s had some significantly different life experiences, then that means that any hypothetical third season would pick up either deep into Dev and Francesca’s relationship — perhaps married and/or with kids? — or return with it not having worked out. Based on the chemistry between the two actors, and characters, I’d be happy to watch more of them getting to know each other, but I feel like this season did enough of a job of showing them in the early blushes of love, even if neither came out and admitted that’s what it was until fairly late in the process. And like I said last week, a show this rich and varied is worth waiting for, even indefinitely.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org