Master of None, I’ll have you know, is among the most unique and visionary romantic comedies on TV. The brainchild of Aziz Ansari – who first came to prominence outside of his standup career on Parks and Recreation, – the show seems to be the quintessential millennial tale of looking for love: much of the narrative devices are fuelled by new media – airbnb, sat nav, online dating, chat apps and endless – endless – texting. But lest you are repulsed by the idea of these young people with their newfangled devices, it also takes a great helping of inspiration from several universal threads: race, religion, food, reality TV, and romance (that old chestnut).
The second season begins with Dev (Ansari) having dropped everything to move to provincial Italy, essentially on a whim. The episode, ‘The Thief’, apes beautifully from 1960s Italian cinema; the episode is structured to be a modern day retelling of Bicycle Thieves, and Ansari (who also directs, in glorious widescreen black and white lensing) makes several allusions to, and direct nods to that epoch of European cinema (a very nice tracking shot in the opening set up floats past a stack of DVDs, including L’Avventura and La Dolce Vita). These first handful of episodes in Italy take the TV comedy to new places, literally, and are delightfully cinematic.
Ansari has a keen eye, with fluid camera movements, and sharp, beautifully modulated dialogue. The season’s second episode is shot in more vivid colour, is laugh-out-loud funny, and stunning to watch – Ansari makes the most of the landscapes and environments, and frames his shots impeccably. Once we get to the third ep, ‘Religion’, a sharp narrative U-turn has taken place and we’re back in New York, enjoying a BBQ pork festival to the tune of Poison’s ‘Nothin’ But a Good Time’ in defiance of Dev’s Muslim parents, and the whole thing hits its marks as a stroke of genius.
Another episode, which tilts to both Manhattan and Michael Clayton of all things, shows how Dev and his new Italian friend Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi; beautiful, tremendous screen presence) experiencing some amazing chemistry, but she’s spoken for, and he can’t act on it. In the show’s final moments, Dev’s in the back of an Uber, and is uncomfortably squirming about the dilemma he’s faced with; the chess match between conscience and libido. He sustains the shot for a surprising and suspenseful amount of time.
This is a great show; unique, purposeful, and funny. It’s also a sensational venue to see Ansari (and series co-creator Alan Yang) stretch as a writer, director and actor. I’m not personally very much ‘of the moment’, but this show is, and it’s a delight to see something so very much in synch with the modern world as this one is. I can be a passive observer, and have a fine time in the process.
Currently streaming on Netflix