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Master of None Takes Rewarding, Polarizing Risks in Season 2

Season 2 is a jack of all trades... But does it work?

Malcolm Venable

If Master of None's Emmy-winning first season outed Aziz Ansari as a comedic genius masquerading as a millennial man-child, Season 2 brands him and co-creator Alan Yang as bold artists willing to take big swerves to tell stories in risky, mostly rewarding ways. Master of None's 10 episodes are again self-contained units, only this time go further in their experimental nature by switching up styles and perspective. Relative to last season, it's a little more all over the place and magically messy... In a way that may prove polarizing, even for fans of Season 1.

Master of None first struck gold by surprising viewers with how insightful, philosophical and funny lead man Aziz Ansari is -- a departure from the dim-witted, status obsessed character he was previously best known for on Parks and Recreation. In Dev, Ansari crafted a thoroughly modern character who believed in feminism (as long as it didn't require too much work), who sucked at dating and, like many people of his generation, lived in perpetual FOMO because of the crushing amount of options available.

Both Ansari and Dev proved in Season 1 that he (they?) had oceans of complex thoughts about race and identity politics crashing underneath a goofy grin. And don't let this get lost in the shuffle: an Indian-American man who could speak on race and ethnicity is a note not often heard in TV's constant black and white conversation.

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All that's present in Season 2, but those formerly fresh elements are just jumping off points for a season that abandons convention, including its own already unorthodox style. You don't have to have gone to TV school to know that shows by and large abide by certain rules: the main character should always be the focus; formats and lengths should stay consistent; the hero should reach for some big goal, fail at it a few times, learn something and then be changed. Almost none of that's on display over the course of Season 2's 10 episodes.

The very first episode, "The Thief," is a stylized black-and-white homage to Italian cinema: a defining sharp turn that could send newcomers packing and test the patience of those who thought they understood this series. Some stories treat Dev as footnote in his own show. Lengths vary. There are jokes, and there are plots; but taken as a whole, the season asks us to just hop on Dev's scooter and be Zen rather than follow a map.

​Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim, Master of None

Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim, Master of None


It's a ride that mostly works. Some sequences are too long. Dev's job drama shoehorns in a sexual harassment thread that reheats the 'woke male response to sexism' thread from last season. And his shameless pining gets repetitive. Sure, existential malaise is what's made Master of None so lovely and resonant, but even those of us who've willingly participated in one-sided, doomed relationships and can sympathize with Dev will wish he'd just get on with it -- make a move, make an ultimatum, delete her number, something.

Every jump doesn't stick the landing, but the leaps are commendable. More importantly, Season 2 rises to greet the intelligence and tastes of the audience: an ADD generation bred on toggling between channels, platforms, profiles and styles. Ansari could've very well delivered 10 more episodes like the last; many a great show has ridden the "kidults bumbling around New York" thing to award show stages and up Cali's coast in the luxury cars their money bought them.

Ansari has done something far more ambitious: essentially tell the same story, but in a new way that plays with form and structure and presentation. It shows a refusal to sit still, focus and conform -- something that may irk viewers... But isn't that also the perfect description of Dev?

Master of None Season 2 begins streaming May 12 on Netflix.