TV: Master of None (Season 2)

It’s not often I’ll recommend a show with merely adequate acting, but Master of None is an exception. The second season of Aziz Ansari’s increasingly experimental project is wonderfully restless, heartfelt, and funny, and while not all of its strategies pay off, many do, and its unpredictable approach makes it a joy to watch.

The season begins in Italy, where frustrated actor Dev (Ansari) has changed course, learning how to make pasta in a small town. Dev’s experiences in Italy send him back to New York in a different frame of mind, and inform his acting career when he lands a gig hosting a food channel TV show. The trip also introduces him to Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), the beautiful—but engaged—girl of Dev’s dreams, with whom he enters into a romantic non-romance when she visits America.

Master of None doesn’t have much in the way of a high concept. Indeed, it’s rather Seinfeldian in its episodic comedy approach, reveling in observational humor about nothing in particular. But Ansari is clearly passionate about certain subjects—especially dating and food—and season two leans further into these interests. The results are mixed, but gloriously so, resulting in a number of setpiece-episode gems. Season opener “The Thief” is an early standout, a modern-day riff on classic Italian cinema, but the season really gels with a pair of mid-season outings. “New York, I Love You” is perhaps the series’ most delightful episode so far, ricocheting away from Dev and his crew to celebrate New York’s hilarious, beautiful diversity in a series of loosely connected vignettes. Similarly successful in “Thanksgiving,” a flashback history of Dev’s recurring holiday meals with his close friend Denise (Lena Waithe), a lesbian who struggles over the years to come out to her initially unaccepting mother (Angela Bassett, in a spirited guest spot). These high-concept, one-off episodes are somewhat more successful than the “arc” episodes, which focus on Dev’s professional and romantic life. Dev’s TV hosting gig introduces him to jerky celebrity chef Jeff (a perfectly cast Bobby Cannavale), leading to new career successes and challenges. But much of the season’s structural weight hinges on the Dev-Francesca flirtation, which, while peppered with effective, emotionally true moments, is somewhat hamstrung by forced chemistry between the leads.

Minor drawbacks aside, Master of None is a charming, effortless watch, its mix of observational humor and heart growing more infectious with each new experiment. Hopefully it will get another season to take Dev’s career in unexpected new directions.

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