I'd been waiting with slight trepidation for the return of Aziz Ansari's triumph, Master of None. It's sadly something quite rare, even miraculous, to see such honest and endearing portrayals of the lives of people of color. Though #AzizAnsari achieved just that the first time around during the sensational debut season of his #Netflix show, I wasn't sure where or how the story would pick up.
If, as I feared, so much of Ansari's life story had already been poured into the first 10 episodes, what more could there be to offer?
The answer is more than anyone could have expected.
The Beauty Of Inclusivity
The first episode — shot entirely in black and white, and peppered with nods both big and small to Italian cinema's golden age — unravels a story whose beginning we're familiar with: Dev has relocated to Italy with the sole intent of learning how to make pasta. We learn — according to the Italian grandmother who serves as both his culinary and linguistic instructor — that he's, at best, mediocre. We also learn that we're witnessing the start of something magical.
Dev, like many other millennials, is at a permanent crossroads in his life, and is seeking true love after the demise of his relationship with Rachel — the ex-girlfriend who fulfills her lifelong dream of moving to Japan and now can't stop signing off emails with "xoxo." The masterful first episode takes us through Dev's motions of trying to recuperate a stolen phone in order to contact with the only woman he has a connection with throughout his stay in Modena. The story's simplicity is perhaps what renders it as satisfying and invigorating as it is.
One of the only, albeit glaring, criticisms of the first season among some viewers was the dearth of minority love interests for Dev. Ansari quells those detractors over the course of the season by representing just about every race of woman from the outset. The amount of meaningful and nuanced depictions of diverse characters enters uncharted territory for television, especially when Ansari fearlessly dives into the religious and cultural differences that are sources for tension between the older and younger generations of color. Aziz brilliantly weaves together a world where being brown and black is not at all important to the development of the story while still a source of radiant storytelling. When it comes to Master of None, there is scant a person who'll be unable to relate.
A Star-Studded Supporting Cast
With A-list appearances by Angela Bassett, John Legend and Bobby Cannavale (to name but a few), there is no shortage of star power to fuel the series. More than a mark of the show's cultural importance, their presence likely brings a layer of validation to Ansari's mind. This is the first show he's ever created, and if there was ever any doubt if he'd made it, there shouldn't be any at all after securing some of the biggest names in the industry to be a part of the television magic.
In an episode consisting of intimate portraits of Thanksgivings over the years, Bassett is brought on as the mother of one of Dev's closest friends, Denise. There's no need for me to inform you that Angela Bassett brought it (she's Angela Bassett), but the role is rich in meaning and depth as she plays a mother afraid for the life ahead of her lesbian daughter, and unsure if she can come to accept it. With a notably longer running time than the previous episodes, Ansari takes the time to allow this weighty storyline to play out. Then there is an uproarious dinner table scene with Love and Hip Hop New York alum, Erica Mena, whose comedic chops were previously unknown to the world. Perhaps what is most crucial about this episode as we're given an intimate look into a household headed by a black woman, and it is magnificent to see.
Gripping Personal Stories
In Season 2, we watch as Dev clumsily steers his way through New York's dating landscape, and it's hard not to love him for it. It's hard not to love Dev for much of the way he makes his way through the entirety of his personal life, be it his brush-ups with his parents' way of life, or with potential significant others. Already a highly personal story, Master of None's second season brings viewers even deeper into Dev's mind, and we're glued instantly.
We see, for instance, the kind of dating pitfalls an Asian man encounters. When Dev matches on a dating app with a black female friend, the two lament over the muted activity they receive in the fast and furious world of left and right swipes. The authenticity with which Ansari speaks here is something viewers — minority or otherwise — can latch on to, as so much of their own stories are being reflected.
Even more impressively, the series takes unexpected turns and delves into the complicated and beautiful lives of random New Yorkers of color — a doorman, a taxi driver, a deaf bodega cashier — for no other reason than it can. Suddenly and whimsically melded into the season, the mundanity of their lives is the beauty here, and Ansari purposely turned to the outside world of strangers for inspiration. He tells The Hollywood Reporter:
"Even though there's somewhat of an amount of diverse people getting shows, even amongst that, it's still a certain group. It's not a taxi driver or a doorman, so that's why we did that episode."
The patchwork of vibrant stories that is Master of None is one that will leave viewers in awe. It is a tour de force of storytelling that happens to be told through the lens of a minority, and that truly makes all the difference.
What was your favorite part of Master of None? Let me know in the comments!
(Source: The Hollywood Reporter)