And yet some of the season’s best moments have nothing to do with this arc. Like other made-for-streaming series like Dear White People , the fourth season of Arrested Development, Easy, and High Maintenance (which began as a web series before moving to HBO), the storytelling on Master of None is more circular than linear. Some episodes leave the main plot aside entirely, inviting the viewer along for an adventure; the first episode, shot on location in Italy in black and white, is a sprightly homage to classic Italian cinema, and features a standout performance from the hilarious young Nicolo Ambrosio (I’d watch a buddy-comedy spinoff starring Dev and Ambrosio’s Mario).
Master of None is just the friendliest show, with a genuine interest in people’s lives and an intuitive understanding of how to use its delivery system to immerse viewers in consistently delightful, truly empathetic television. A standout episode, “New York, I Love You,” follows a motley assortment of random New Yorkers — a doorman at a fancy high-rise; a deaf woman who works at a bodega; a trio of cab drivers who share a tiny apartment — as they go about their days, each segment a perfect little one-act play. Another episode, “Thanksgiving,” maybe the season’s best, takes us back to the early 1990s, when Denise and Dev first became friends. Through a series of Thanksgiving dinners stretching to the present day, the episode fills in the backstory of their friendship as well as Denise’s struggle to come out to her family. (The episode is skillfully directed by Melina Matsoukas, the influential music-video director who also helmed several episodes of Insecure .)
These little narrative detours add an element of whimsy and surprise, but they also come from a place of respect and curiosity for how people actually live; the show doesn’t try to force a linear narrative on the irregular rhythms of real life. The structure points to the playfulness at the heart of the show, a feeling that anything can happen if you open yourself to life’s possibilities.
Master of None Season 2 is streaming on Netflix on Friday, May 12.