How Master Of None went from an Instagram series to one of the best shows today

Aziz Ansari returns to his Netflix series better than ever.

by Jonty Cruz, art by Mags Ocampo

 

In the first season of Master of None, we were introduced to Aziz Ansari’s Dev Shah, an aspiring actor who in most cases had a privileged life but looked for something more, be it in his career, his love life, his relationship with his parents, or his next meal. In some ways it felt like an Instagram feed come to life in the form of 30-minute episodes: filled with food porn, picturesque backgrounds, and the very best OOTDS. But as the shpw progressed, Master of None became something more. It began to talk about the hardships of immigrants transitioning into the US and how stereotypes affect different aspects of society. Towards the end of the season, Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang even dove head first on what it means to grow up and the sacrifices that come with it. In the span of its first 10 episodes, the show turned from hipster dramedy to contemporary parable.

 

With the second season, Ansari and Yang show that their initial success was no fluke. Both knew the anticipation was growing, and thankfully, they answered that with a bigger scope and a much grander story. The sophomore season goes all out in its premiere, “The Thief,” where we find Dev in the middle of spending a couple of months in Italy and fulfilling his dream of making pasta. Dev has grown so much from last we saw him. He seems right at home in this foreign country and is making the most of his newfound purpose. He’s built himself a surrogate family and it’s not long until he finds himself a new romantic interest. He’s managed to have a quiet escape but things ramp up as he heads back home.  Almost immediately upon arriving back in the States, the opportunities come fast and hard. Dev’s now a host of a TV cupcake competition with the promise of his very own travel show and it seems he’s finally coming into his own. The first half of this latest season allowed us to settle back into Dev’s life as we find him where he’s most comfortable: surrounded by friends and in trendy, hard-to-get-into restaurants. But when a friend re-enters his life, that’s when Master of None turns it up another notch. And without spoiling too much, choosing to end the season on a very emotional cliffhanger just reiterates that arguably Netflix’s best comedy is nothing to laugh at.

 

Master of None has combined almost every kind of show we’ve loved these last 15 years. From food shows to travel shows to alternative sitcoms, the Netflix series feels like an updated version of a Woody Allen movie. It discusses issues like sexuality, immigration, and race under the POV of a rom-com. Like Lena Dunham’s Girls and Louis C.K.’s Louie, Master of None uses the traditional “autobiography show” to jump to unexpected places. In some cases, it portrays our ideal lives and questions whether that kind of lifestyle is sustainable or not. It isn’t as preachy as Girls or as open-ended as Louie. And while similar in many ways, its differences have set it apart to be a show all its own. So much so that Master of None has fully established itself among the very best alternative sitcoms. It’s up there with Transparent and You’re the Worst as programs that don’t shy away from embracing the serious along with the levity.

 

In the second episode of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series, Arnold (Eric Wareheim), the best friend of Ansari’s Dev, is headed to the wedding of his ex-girlfriend. Arnold, the show’s infectiously jolly giant, plans to spoil the wedding and ask his ex to get back together with him. This doesn’t happen and Arnold is left heartbroken and trapped at an Italian wedding. Dev consoles his friend and takes him out from the reception to journey around Italy to try out some food, take photos, and explore the countryside. At the end of the episode, Arnold realises his mistakes and continues on travelling around with Dev.

 

Much later in the season, the show shifts to one of its regular guest actors, Dev’s best friend Denise played by Lena Waithe. Denise is an African-American lesbian who, for most of Master of None’s history, has grounded Dev and provided sage advice. The episode shifts from one Thanksgiving to another spanning roughly two decades. It tackles Denise’s sexuality and how she’s dealt with it all these years, not only within herself but with her family as well—most notable of all with her mother played by the incomparable Angela Bassett. This was a standout episode of the season as it set aside Dev’s story for a more intimate portrait of modern American life that felt both refreshing and deeply emotional.

 
That’s basically Master of None in a nutshell. On the surface it feels like a show too focused on the aesthetics but turns out to have more substance than most of its contemporaries. It’s escapism in the social media age where beyond the Instagram-worthy sets, decadent food, and feed goals, lies a reflection of the kinds of relationships we have today and how our problems can be solved over some damn good pasta.