It’s time for some real talk.
Although we’re living in another glorious golden age of television, different perspectives are hard to find.
Despite countless calls for more diversity in front and behind the camera, Hollywood still struggles with the simplest of tasks, like comprehending that Asian men can be romantic leads, and that even in a fictional, ancient world, no way in hell would badass Chinese armies need Matt Damon to save them.
Enter Aziz Ansari, who made a big impression on fans and critics last year with the debut season of his Netflix series Master of None.
Season two may have started a little slow for me (I loved the first so much I feared the follow-up would never compare), but I soon found out Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang had so much more in store for fans.
Taking us through a journey of loneliness, professional plateauing, family dramas, and eventually, finding love in unexpected places, season two builds on the solid foundation of the first, providing surprising and insightful moments.
The season begins with Ansari’s Dev Shah learning pasta making in Modena, Italy, well settled in the city with a great group of friends and decent grasp on Italian. Eventually he winds up back in New York with old pal Arnold (Eric Wareheim), and a new job hosting a cupcake baking show (think Cupcake Wars), but after his split from Rachel (Noël Wells), he’s very much lonely and feeling a pull towards something greater than his career aspirations.
While the new season does a terrific job of tackling hot topics like religion, and the hellish, repetitive world of Tinder, there were two episodes in particular that really won me over. “New York, I Love You” could be an Emmy winner in my opinion, focussing not only on Dev and his friends, but a number of other New Yorkers trying to get by.
In the episode we meet a doorman named Eddie, who has some nightmare residents to deal with, a deaf woman called Maya, who is desperate for her finace to spend more time…downtown (preach!), and finally, cab driver Samuel, as he and his room mates embark on a memorable night out. The stories are so simple, yet create a richer viewing experience, and all for the small price of putting the spotlight on lives we spend very little time thinking about.
The second ep that made me sit up, shut up and watch with intent was “Thanksgiving,” which highlights the comedic and dramatic talents of Lena Waithe, who plays Dev’s best friend Denise. The episode takes place over a number of Thanksgivings from the early 90s to today, and looks at Denise’s coming to terms with her sexuality and, eventually, coming out to her family. The commanding presence that is Angela Bassett makes a special appearance as Denise’s mum Catherine, while Kym Whitley and Venida Evans are equally funny as aunty Joyce and grandma Ernestine.
It’s sad to say, but I haven’t really seen coming out stories quite like this one. Denise’s journey in each Thanksgiving segment is warming and funny, even as her family reveal their reluctance to accept her sexuality. Everything does come right-ish towards the end, in a way that feels natural for the story. Bassett is absolutely wonderful as Catherine, and shares a beautiful chemistry with Waithe that makes their characters’ relationship enduring to watch. It makes me wonder though…why we don’t have a show just about Denise, or someone just like her?
Master of None season two is that rare gem that offers enjoyable entertainment and some raw truths. One minute you’re laughing, the next you’re contemplating your relationships and career, and considering points of view far outside your own experience. It’s the kind of art I love, and the kind I hope to see more of.