'Master of None' Season 2 Review: Netflix’s hit comedy embraces Italy, becomes food porn

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A warning for anyone planning to binge Master of None's second season come May 12: Don't do it on an empty stomach.

Netflix's Emmy-winning comedy from Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang hit all the right notes in its first season, offering a poignant yet hilarious take on subjects as varied as modern dating, immigration, casual racism and finding the best taco in New York City. However, instead of a meandering quest for tacos, Master of None season two embraces savory Italian food and lush, open countrysides. It is, at first, a love letter to all things Italy, with special mention to some blatantly unapologetic food porn — I mean this as a compliment. 

But once you're done mopping up the excess drool from your laptop, you'll see that Master of None's second season — of which I've seen all 10 episodes — has all the ingredients that made the first such a resounding success. The experimental and nonlinear storytelling is back, embracing small-town Italy and the hustle and bustle of New York with the type of artistic direction rarely seen in TV comedies. It does, however, share the first season's pitfalls. The series succumbs to season one's glaring weakness, which can be distracting in sum: poor acting.  

Master of None romanticizes Italy, because duh 

Master of None's second season picks up shortly where season one left off: Dev, played by Ansari as basically a caricature of himself, has moved to Italy for a pasta apprenticeship, because who doesn't love pasta and Italy? Ansari actually spent some time in Italy training as a pasta maker before the show started its second season, which can be interpreted either as a creator embracing his material or as an excellent excuse to vacation in Italy. It was a probably a bit of both. 

Still, it shows — in a good way. Master of None romanticizes Italy in a manner that's instantly relatable to anyone who's been to the country, while those who've wanted to visit will only yearn for a plane ticket even more. The setting of Modena is filled with gorgeous architecture and tiny cafes with likely delicious espresso, while Dev — and, by extension, probably Ansari — revels in the cuisine. The first episode is even filmed in black-and-white, an homage to Italy's neorealist directors that made the country's Golden Age of Cinema

Unfortunately, Dev's life in Italy does have its shortcomings. He laments the few dating options in Modena: There aren't a lot of people his age, and the ones who are tend to be tied down in committed relationships. It's one of the primary reasons Dev eventually returns to New York. But hey, thanks for the Italian food porn, Master of None — I'm still drooling. 

Mamma Mia, Italy looks lovely in black and white!  Netflix

The show's best moments are often its most unconventional 

While Master of None's first season is excellent as a whole, the consensus standouts would probably be "Parents," the episode featuring Dev and Brian appreciating their parents' hardships in America as first-generation immigrants; and "Mornings," which explores the ups and downs of Dev's relationship with Rachel through their interactions in his apartment. Apart from excellent writing — for which Master of None won an Emmy — what made the episodes so effective was their experimental nature. Simply put, it didn't feel like anything we've seen in a small screen comedy before. 

Season two is just as ambitious in its storytelling, with the aforementioned black-and-white premiere in Italy and another episode revolving around several Thanksgiving dinners for one family spread across 30 years. The best of the bunch, however, is the second season's sixth episode, which may be the best work from a TV comedy this year. Netflix has asked the press not to divulge the storyline or any plot points for episode six ahead of the show's release, but its brilliance isn't worth spoiling anyway. 

It really is unique stuff; there's a couple episodes where Dev, the show's de facto lead, is barely seen. Aside from the similarly opaque and compelling storytelling of FX's Atlanta, no other comedy on television takes as many risks as Master of None

Acting is still Master of None's biggest issue 

Where Master of None pales in comparison to nearly every other comedy is the stiff, continually disappointing acting from most of the cast. Ansari and his parents — who are truly adorable and aren't actors by trade — are probably the worst of the cast. You can practically see them reading their lines off cue cards instead of, you know, acting out the scene.    

But even then, it's somewhat endearing. That nearly everyone is consistently mechanical onscreen, coupled with awkward pauses that no two real-life people would ever endure in excess, is somehow part of the show's charm. If you embrace Master of None's bad acting early on, which I did back in season one, it doesn't become a distraction until Ansari or another member of the cast is paired with a qualified guest star.  

Which is to say: If Master of None's overall acting didn't bother you before, it won't bother you now. Enjoy another binge-worthy season of one of TV's standout comedies — but seriously, make sure you eat something first.

Source: Netflix US & Canada/YouTube

The second season of Master of None arrives May 12 on Netflix. 

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