MASTER OF NONE RE­TURNS

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - HANK STUEVER

The ini­tial praise lav­ished on Aziz An­sari’s “Master of None” fo­cused mainly on the show’s orig­i­nal takes on race and other states of out­sider­ness, seen not only from the per­spec­tive of its main character, Dev Shah (An­sari) and his In­dian eth­nic­ity, but also in the slights and mi­croa­gres­sions ex­pe­ri­enced by those within Dev’s cir­cle: im­mi­grant par­ents; friends of other races and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions; a white girl­friend; and even the strangers he meets on the street.

Yet “Master of None,” which re­turns to Net­flix for a thor­oughly en­joy­able if less im­pres­sive sec­ond sea­son on Friday, is just as note­wor­thy for be­ing one of the chill­i­est shows around. Less a top­i­cal ha­rangue and mainly just a good hang, it pro­motes the idea that the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness is right up there with life and lib­erty.

The tem­plates set by Woody Allen (and Jerry Se­in­feld and Louis C.K.) de­mand neu­roses and ir­ri­ta­ble re­sponses to the hu­man con­di­tion from its New York funny guy bach­e­lors, yet An­sari’s show can­not help but see ex­tro­verted sun­shine and po­ten­tial friend­ship around ev­ery cor­ner, even when it stops to chron­i­cle bouts of heartache and re­jec­tion.

Which is why sea­son 2 opens on a note of such stud­ied ebul­lience that An­sari had to film the first episode in black and white, lend­ing it the dreamy, es­capist feel of clas­sic Ital­ian cin­ema. Like a Fellini short for foodies, we catch up to Dev in a sus­pended state of Bella vita in the small city of Mo­dena, Italy, where he’s serv­ing as an ap­pren­tice to a ma­tronly pasta maker.

Re­call, if you will, that at the end of sea­son 1, Dev was reel­ing from his breakup with Rachel (Noël Wells), and for a brief mo­ment it seemed he might chase af­ter her to Tokyo. He in­stead fol­lowed his own bliss (and ap­petite) in the op­po­site di­rec­tion, pick­ing up the lan­guage and win­ning over the lo­cals with his charm. Life is so good here that even the mi­nor disas­ter of hav­ing his phone stolen plays out in a cutesy, faux-mad­cap man­ner. A visit from his friend Arnold (Eric Ware­heim) be­gins to lure Dev back into his old life; he re­turns to New York and quickly finds work as the host of a dopey cable-TV com­pe­ti­tion show called “Clash of the Cup­cakes.”

Dev re­mains un­der­stand­ably wary of type­cast­ing, which can come in all forms. When the cup­cake show is so suc­cess­ful that he is of­fered a con­tract for seven more sea­sons, his con­cern has noth­ing to do with how he’s per­ceived and every­thing to do with the junk­i­ness of it, in a ca­reer that has yet to de­liver a big break or au­then­tic role. Dev’s will­ing­ness to say no im­presses one of the show’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers, Chef Jeff (Bobby Can­navale), an ego­tis­ti­cal, globe-trot­ting TV gour­mand in the An­thony Bour­dain mould. Chef Jeff im­me­di­ately starts treat­ing Dev like a new best buddy — on the air and off — and it feels like a dan­ger­ous ac­quain­tance to make.

“Master of None’s” other new thread fol­lows Dev’s un­re­quited crush on Francesca (Alessan­dra Mas­tronardi), an en­gaged woman he met in Italy.

Francesca ac­com­pa­nies her fi­ancé, a busy gran­ite dealer, on sev­eral trips to New York, which gives Dev plenty of time to show her the best New York has to of­fer.

Much is made of the po­ten­tial love story here, up to and in­clud­ing an over­long penul­ti­mate episode that reaches for an emo­tional cli­max and un­for­tu­nately re­veals the lim­its of An­sari’s act­ing skills.

An episode about re­li­gion is rem­i­nis­cent of a much-dis­cussed sea­son 1 episode that ex­plored the be­twixt-be­tween is­sues for hip­ster Amer­i­cans who hap­pen to have im­mi­grant par­ents. An­sari’s own par­ents, Shoukath and Fa­tima An­sari, reprise their roles as Dev’s par­ents, who feel shamed by their son’s un­bri­dled pas­sion for pork, de­spite their Mus­lim be­liefs.

Bet­ter still — and prob­a­bly this sea­son’s real talker — is an episode ti­tled “Thanks­giv­ing,” which chron­i­cles Dev’s long-stand­ing tra­di­tion of spend­ing the hol­i­day at the home of his best friend, Denise (Lena Waithe), some­thing we first see them do­ing in 1991. Younger ac­tors play Dev and Denise as kids and up through up through their teen years in the early ’00s, as Denise con­sid­ers com­ing out as a les­bian to her mother (An­gela Bas­sett), aunt (Kym Whit­ley) and grand­mother (Venida Evans) and then ten­ta­tively be­gins bring­ing her lat­est girl­friends to the fam­ily ta­ble.

It’s here that “Master of None” shines bright­est, com­pactly pre­sent­ing an ar­ray of emo­tional cues and nat­u­ral re­ac­tions (along with its im­pec­ca­ble song playlists and pop-cul­ture ref­er­ences), prov­ing once again that a quick-sketch ap­proach can some­times pro­duce a full por­trait.

“Master of None” (10 episodes) sea­son 2 be­gins stream­ing Friday on Net­flix. Wash­ing­ton Post

NET­FLIX

Alessan­dra Mas­tronardi is Dev’s (Aziz An­sari) un­re­quited crush, Francesca, in “Master of None.”

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