james debate
james debate

Thursday 15 June 2017

Created by Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang
Network Netflix
Starring Aziz Ansari
Genre Comedy-drama
Running Time Varies

master of none season 2 two netflix aziz ansari amazing

It is not often that I feel moved to write about TV shows here. A beginning of year preview, an end of year round-up, but actual reviews? The Ephemeric probably only has about a handful of them. Part of the reason for this is that a TV show is an ongoing thing, and reviewing something that hasn't ended and is still subject to change is inherently riddled with problems. For this same reason, it's even more unusual for me to review a second season of a TV show; in fact I'm pretty sure I have never done so. Well today I am going to make an exception, because the second season of Master of None really needs to be discussed.

This is, of course, the second season of the Netflix Original, written by and starring Aziz Ansari. I have to preface any review of this show by saying that I have never been a particularly big fan of Ansari. Never found his stand-up all that funny, always found his characters one-note and annoying. The only thing I have ever really appreciated him in was Parks and Recreation, and even there he was mostly playing the standard Ansari character: a shrill and metrosexual parody of the 2010s male. Master of None has changed my view.

The show's first season was a perfectly solid season of TV. Ansari and his co-writer Alan Yang set out to work Ansari's observational wit into a narrative format, and the result was hard not to like. The episodes were a little inconsistent to be fair, and far too often felt like a forced and ill-fitting vehicle for the material. Nevertheless they managed to portray what life is like in the 2010s for young adults, probably better than any other show had done before. Each episode initiated a conversation on contemporary topics like social media, modern dating, and of course the show's recurring theme of foodie culture. It is a commentary on the modern phenomenon of optimisation culture, the fixation we have on going to the top restaurants on Yelp, the hottest vacation spots on TripAdvisor, the trendiest outfits on Pinterest, etc and then sharing our adventures with those around us. It was far from perfect, but very much a show of its time. As much as I enjoyed season 1, the second season easily surpasses its predecessor in just about every way, and so much so that honestly I am a little bit blown away.

The first thing that comes to mind upon watching the second season is that this writing team has become considerably more proficient at crafting a story. This was already in evidence towards the end of season 1, but this year they absolutely nail it right from the first moment. Gone are the days when episodes would seem to exist solely to provide a platform for the jokes, the episodes here are all entirely meaningful, relevant, and successfully complemented by Ansari's sense of humour.

What's more remarkable is just how adventurous they have become with the format of the show. The first episode is filmed entirely in black and white, in Italian with subtitles. Another episode barely even features Ansari, but instead is split between three independent settings with random people in the city of New York. Another episode takes a break from the main narrative to explore 10 years worth of Thanksgivings between Ansari's character and his best friend. Throughout the season, the writers show great audacity to play with the structure and tone of episodes in ways that would never be done on regular television. While a more traditional plotline certainly runs through the season, each episode ultimately feels like its own thing, and are all the more memorable for it. Simply put, this is the boldest television I've seen in a very long time; a continual series of moments and ideas that will stick with you long after the episode ends.

Ansari himself has even matured as an actor. A more toned down Ansari is more relatable and likeable, without losing any of his signature quirks and charisma. Surprisingly, they even manage to reinvent Ansari as a credible romantic lead, with a romantic subplot that in all honesty is one of the most engaging I can remember in a TV series. A great deal of credit for this needs to go to Ansari's co-star Alessandra Mastronardi, who is an absolutely captivating presence whenever she is on-screen, a beguiling star turn from an actress I suspect we will be seeing a lot more of from this point hence.

But an extremely underrated component of what makes this show so good is its high quality of production. There is some remarkable filmmaking on show in these episodes, gorgeous visuals and cinematography, and highly inventive direction. One episode features a series of moments from Ansari's adventures on Tinder, spliced together into a single evening. Another stunning moment features a four minute long-take of Ansari's Uber ride home following a particularly emotional revelation, to devastating effect. The soundtrack and general use of music is among the best I've ever seen in a TV show, while the casting has been brilliant, right down to the smallest role (my girlfriend informs me that the Italian actors used are fairly prominent stars in Europe - an indication of just how meticulous they have been). Even the somewhat awkward presence of Ansari's real parents instead of actual actors can't put a blemish on the show; so finely balanced is the tone of the writing that these moments come across as charming rather than cringe-worthy.

This is prestige television at its finest. Master of None is a dramatic improvement on its first season, establishing itself as probably the best comedy on TV in many years, and arguably the best show of any genre on TV at the moment. Ansari is establishing himself as one of the finest writers in the industry today, and a man of impeccable sensibilities. This is a crowning achievement, and a star-making turn for those involved.

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