Two years after the critically-acclaimed first season of his show Master of None, Aziz Ansari has returned to Netflix with a more thematically and artistically mature endeavor in season two.
The season starts off with a curveball in “The Thief.” Completely filmed in black-and-white and full Italian dialogue, the episode is a piece of Italian cinema worship, paying homage to Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thief. It’s the authenticity that can be found in both the acting and the writing that makes Master of None such an intensely relatable experience.
Dating in a world of dating apps takes the spotlight on the brilliant “First Date,” which eschews the traditional linear plot structure in favor of seamlessly blending short vignettes of first dates into an examination of modern romance. It’s a stylistic risk that pays major dividends, resulting in the best portrayal of today’s dating landscape thus far. Ansari is a master of neorealism, and it shines in how he characterizes each of Dev’s dates—he ditches the overwrought and clichéd caricatures of its contemporaries in favor of much more believable and relatable depictions.
Of course, Master of None was never a show solely about dating. In this season, Ansari explores Dev’s questioning of the merits of Islam, his family’s religion, without painting his more religious family members as overzealous caricatures, the result being a funny and intellectual meditation on religion. The series handles the storyline with respectful humor, however, while maintaining the refreshing idealism that sets it apart from the darker comedies that have recently percolated Netflix and TV.
Emboldened by the widespread critical acclaim achieved by the first season, Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang have taken more opportunities this season to be artistically risky and emotionally raw. While following Maya, a deaf bodega cashier, the show slips into eight full minutes of silence to simulate deafness, using subtitles to translate Maya’s sign language. The artistic risk pays off not only in the few tasteful jokes about sign language translation, but also in the way it forces viewers to empathize.
Emotionally, the episode “Thanksgiving,” written by Ansari and Lena Waithe for Waithe’s character, Denise, is the heaviest yet. Once again, the episode balances heavier scenes, like Denise’s coming out to her single mother (who is portrayed by Angela Bassett) and discussions of race relations in America.
In the current political and cultural climate, it’s easy to be cynical, especially in socially aware comedy. While being realistic, Master of None is unabashedly romantic and, simply, great.