In episode 6 of “Master of None” Season 2, Aziz Ansari shifts the focus away from his main character Dev and devotes the entire episode to the underserved, underrepresented people of New York’s working class. The episode is titled “New York, I Love You,” and it’s a lovely collection of vignettes rarely seen on television.
Netflix and a new age of TV have allowed an episode like this to exist and stories like these to be told. But the poignancy is buried when you plow through an entire season in a single binge-watch session.
The second season of “Master of None” has the same charms as its first. It’s a stylish look at modern romance and millennial culture through the lens of Ansari’s eye for music, food and Italian cinema. It can be frustratingly meandering but also fresh in its storytelling and structure.
You should definitely watch it right away, but please don’t binge watch it.
“Master of None” is episodic television. It has an overarching story arc throughout its 10 episodes, but as with other auteur-driven comedies like “Louie” and recently “Atlanta,” it plays like a collection of short films trapped inside 10, half-hour capsules.
Peak TV however has all been about serials. The best TV is engrossing, full of cliffhangers and constantly tantalizing you to turn the figurative page. And Netflix has made its name on shows specifically designed for binge watching. Shows like “House of Cards,” “Jessica Jones” or “The OA” have bucked the need for a traditional pilot and revealed themselves slowly over the course of multiple episodes.
“Master of None” works differently. The show’s standout episodes are carefully curated stories about religion, love and family that can stand on their own, and its weaker ones suffer from tacked on subplots and padding for time.
One of the gems of Season 2 involves Dev trying his luck on a dating app. He makes about a half dozen dates and with each one takes them to the same wine bar. He even uses the same pickup line with every match: “Going to Whole Foods. Can I pick you up anything?” We then see each possible outcome at each stage of the date, from the first meet-up to after-dinner drinks to the car ride home, if the dates even make it that far.
It’s a cleverly structured episode that couldn’t be accomplished with commercials. And Ansari ends it with a long, lonely shot of him sitting in the backseat of a cab, frustrated at this vicious cycle of modern romance.
When I watched that episode, I let the episode’s closing song, Soft Cell’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,” play out till the end of the credits, and I found myself looking back on my own dating struggles (I also wondered how lucky I’d be if I could get half as many matches with beautiful women as Dev does in this episode). I even paged back through Ansari’s book “Modern Romance” to see how the two relate.
But if you let Netflix just play through to the next episode, that moment of contemplation is replaced by not one but three separate appearances by the dance crew the Jabbawockeez. That episode involves Dev attending a dinner party at the home of his boss, Chef Jeff (Bobby Cannavale). But rather than watch a self-contained episode at the party, we first have to endure the minutiae of Dev’s job, hosting a silly cooking show called “Clash of the Cupcakes.”
We have the same excesses in Episode 7, when Ansari tacks on a side plot involving the romantic endeavors of Dev’s friend’s dad.
The best episode of the season is the ninth, “Amarsi Un Po.” Combine it with the events of the season finale, and you have one of the finest romantic comedies in recent memory. It’s a charming, contemporary will-they-won’t-they love story with echoes of Antonioni and Fellini. But wedged in the middle is an out-of-the-blue confrontation as Dev and Chef Jeff promote their new cooking show on a daytime chat program hosted by Raven Symone. But neither episode completely gels with Episode 8, “Thanksgiving,” another standalone standout.
The recent final season of “Girls” had a lot of similarities with “Master of None.” And as in every “Girls” season, each week was met with think pieces and fervent online discussion that enriched Lena Dunham’s ideas and challenged the flaws of the characters and the show itself. “Master of None” hasn’t had the same luxury, because once its been binged, everyone moves on to “Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt.”
The problem with binge watching is that as soon as a new show debuts online, you’re immediately behind. You feel the stress and pressure of not having a conversation with anyone until you’re all caught up. I have about 12 different shows that people have recommended to me within the last year, and I feel the weight of over 100 hours of programming I can never hope to finish. Yet if I recommended 50 feature films, you’d think I’d gone mad.
We really need shows like “Master of None” that you can sit with. It’s not so much that you can’t enjoy “Master of None” in one sitting, but it’s better parceled out over time. Like all the best things you pick up at Whole Foods, these stories are best savored.