NETFLIX
NETFLIX

★★★★★

From its opening title sequence to its closing shot, Netflix comedy “Master of None” delivers a strong, nuanced and poignant second season that not only builds upon but exceeds what made the first so successful. Despite an occasional misstep or two, creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang deliver a compelling and contemporary television experience that allows “Master of None” to transcend its one-hit wonder status and earn its spot as one of the summer’s best shows.

The first season of “Master of None” garnered critical acclaim for its quirky sense of humor and contemporary subject matter. Traditional themes and plot points — love, loss, relationships, family, parenthood and professional challenges — are given new life by co-creator and star Ansari, who plays Dev, the show’s protagonist. Much like Ansari and Yang’s first collaboration, NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” “Master of None” has succeeded largely due to its melding of real-life issues with comical challenges and situations.

Although this season touches on many of the same themes as its first, almost perfectly, Yang, Ansari and frequent guest star and collaborator Eric Wareheim place greater focus on developing the emotionally accessible, yet near-implausible, situations the show’s characters find themselves in. Wondrous fine dining tours in the Italian country side turn into laments on love lost; a flirtation with a dating app — or Tinder knock-off — results in an uncomfortable bedroom conversation about race; and the arrival of a beloved friend from abroad leads to a private concert from John Legend, helicopter tours around Manhattan and near-heartbreaking romantic tension.

The subject matter and situations are approached expertly by the showrunner’s creative and mature direction. There is experimentation with black and white cinematography, along with other nods to classic Italian cinema, a near-silent 10-minute dialogue communicated in sign language and a masterful use of colors to emphasize an emotional stand-off in the final dance in season finale “Buona Notte.”

Ansari and Yang’s creation finds its greatest moments in nuanced anecdotes and tightly constructed vignettes. In “Religion,” Dev’s relationship with his parents — played by Ansari’s real-life mother and father — finds new life when they discuss the place Islam has in their respective identities. Many Muslim-Americans will surely find some likeness in the characters’ dialogue and views on what role religion plays in their lives.

With “New York, I Love You,” the camera moves away from Ansari and the familiar cast to groups of New Yorkers often overlooked by cinema and television. The episode provides a glimpse into the lives of deaf bodega clerks dealing with romantic struggles, steadfast doormen who are largely unnoticed and immigrant cab drivers just trying to find happiness in the American dream. Altogether, the episode’s vignettes mark perhaps the strongest direction and writing of the entire season.

“Thanksgiving” follows Dev and his best friend, Denise, played by supporting actress Lena Waithe, over an arc of many decades, as each year’s Thanksgiving dinner marks Denise progressively coming to terms with her sexuality and its effect on her family. The episode’s stand-alone construction, tight storyline and emotional depth are instantly engaging, leaving viewers with much to be desired from today’s television landscape. When “Master of None” takes its time lingering on themes of diversity and its various forms, along with the universality of challenges associated with it, it hits its stride with grace and near-perfection.

Even so, that is not to say that the show is immune to faults. Dev’s main romantic interest this season, Francesca, played by Alessandra Mastronardi, suffers from a lack of refined and developed writing, while the major point of friction within the characters’ relationship involves Francesca’s fiance, who hardly gets any screen time at all. Still, the chemistry between Dev and Francesca is palpable, natural and altogether breathtaking in the season’s final two episodes, especially in the hour-long penultimate episode, “Amarsi Po,” in which the characters finally come to terms with their feelings for each other.

The second season of “Master of None” has been characterized by critics using an assortment of adjectives: mature, balanced, refined, realistic and heartbreaking; the list goes on. Yet what Ansari, Yang and company have managed to do is not only deliver a successful second installment, but also present fantastical experiences grounded in realism: Even the show’s wildest, tensest, funniest and most dramatic situations possess elements that many people could find genuinely relatable.

This is not a show with neat and tidy endings or happy resolutions: People do get hurt, trust is broken and bonds become frayed. Yet as the biggest television blockbusters thrust us into worlds of good and evil, high drama and hyperbolic life or death situations, “Master of None” presents the viewer with a relatable, beautiful and imperfect reality — and that is what makes it so good.

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