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Josh Reviews Master of None Season Two

The wonderful and dearly-missed Parks and Rec made me a big fan of Aziz Ansari, and so I eagerly followed him to Master of None, a show he created (along with Alan Yang) and ran (ditto) and also starred in.  I thought the first season was marvelous, funny and heartfelt.  It felt adventurous; the work of a small group of young, talented artists eager to stretch what a TV show could be.  Season two is even better and bolder, brimming with confidence, as if Mr. Aziz and his team were saying to us, “OK, now sit back and see what we can really do.”

Just as the first season had, as its narrative backbone, the relationship between Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Rachel (Noël Wells), season two follows the slow course of the friendship and maybe-romantic relationship between Dev and Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), a beautiful young Italian woman who Dev meets in Modena.  As was the case in season one, the strong writing and terrific performances quickly hooked me into this story-line.  As an audience-member you quickly grow to care for both Dev and Francesca (as we had previously with Rachel), and root for their happiness.

While that story-line gives the season a structure, and a momentum from episode-to-episode, I love that Mr. Ansari and Mr. Yang have continued to resist the newly-popular, and somewhat problematic, format of having all the episodes of a streaming season run one into the next like one long movie chopped into little bits.  To my delight, this season strikes a perfect balance between telling a complete story from start to finish while also allowing each individual episode to be distinct on its own.

The story-telling and stylistic inventiveness that I enjoyed in season one has been taken to an even higher level here in season two.  Each individual episode of the season demonstrates a near-boundless freedom to explore different directions stylistically and in terms of content, topic, and structure.  It’s marvelous to behold.  Here are just a few examples: The first episode, “The Thief,” finds Dev in Italy learning to make pasta, and the entire episode is filmed in black and white in homage to the Italian films we learn Dev enjoys, particularly Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves.  What an adventurous, clever way to begin this new season!  In “First Date,” we follow Dev through a series of first dates with women he has met on a dating app, some more successful than others, which are all edited together, allowing us to bounce back and forth from date to date as if they were all happening on the same night.  It’s a master class in writing and editing and performance, and the result is … [continued]

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The Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015 — Part Two!

Last week I listed by Top Twenty Movies of 2015.  (Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteen.  Click here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.  Click here for part four of my list, numbers five through one.)

Yesterday I began listing my Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015.  (Click here for part one of my list, numbers fifteen through eleven.)

And now, onward!

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10. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: “Edward Snowden” (season two, episode eight, aired on 4/15/15) — While I wish that John Oliver had stuck around The Daily Show a little longer so that he could have taken over that show following the departure of Jon Stewart, I must admit that I’ve been very impressed with the way Mr. Oliver has created a distinct new vehicle for himself with Last Week Tonight.  The show has a very similar tone to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show while also creating a show with a distinct style and format all it’s own.  (I’d never have predicted the success Mr. Oliver would find with devoting his show to longer, more in-depth looks at particular topics each week.)  But the moment when Mr. Oliver truly staked a claim to Jon Stewart’s legacy was with this extraordinary, extra-length interview with Edward Snowden.  Mr. Oliver’s lengthy interview was truly something special: a very funny, very angry, and very human exploration of what Mr. Snowden had done, why he did it, and what the consequences have been for him.  Whether you agree with Edward Snowden or condemn him, every American should watch this interview.

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9. Jessica Jones: “AKA Ladies Night” (season one, episode one, released on 11/20/15) — Netflix’s second Marvel mini-series was just as great if not better than last fall’s Daredevil.  Jessica Jones (created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos in the phenomenal comic-book series Alias) is a woman who has been deeply scarred by a trauma in her past.  When we meet her, she is struggling mightily to create some semblance of a life for herself, working as a private eye.  But her past quickly catches up with her as she learns that the mind-controlling Killgrave who’d destroyed her life is not nearly as dead as she had believed.  Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is a wonderful character, a hugely flawed but nonetheless noble woman struggling to make the best of an impossible situation.  The show surrounds her with a rich coterie of complex, interesting female supporting characters such as Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) and the tough attorney Jerri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss).  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Master of None: Season One!

I discovered Aziz Ansari on Parks and Rec, and was immediately a big fan.  (Moment of somber reflection for Parks and Rec, a wonderful show that I miss terribly!)  Parks and Rec led me to his stand-up, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  And so I was excited and intrigued when I learned that Mr. Ansari would be creating a new show for Netflix.  Master of None captures Mr. Ansari’s comedic voice in a very specific, very enjoyable way.  Mr. Ansari created the show with Alan Yang and stars as Dev Shah, a 30 year-old struggling actor living in New York City.

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I’m hugely impressed by the growth Mr. Ansari has displayed, moving from a supporting character on a network TV show to co-creator of his own unique cable show.  Master of None feels like as specific, unique an expression of Mr. Ansari’s comedy and personality as Louie is of Louis C.K., and I’m not sure what higher complement I can give to Mr. Ansari and his show.

Master of None is phenomenal, a wonderful creation that feels like a very personal work for Mr. Ansari.  The show is clearly based on many of his experiences and topics to which he has given a lot of thought, from romance and dating in this modern era to the American experience of immigrants and their assimilated children.  The show has a very specific, unique rhythm, and I love how Mr. Ansari and his team have balanced the comedy (the show is very funny) with an interesting, well-fleshed-out dramatic story for Dev.  I love also how Mr. Ansari and his team have created a show that has a distinct arc, a story with a definite beginning, middle, and end that stretches over the ten episodes, while also allowing each individual episode to live and breathe as a distinct episode all on its own.  I’m a huge fan of serialization, and it’s been interesting to see how many cable shows over the past few years have leaned more heavily into serialization, with stories carrying over from episode-to-episode.  I love that in many respects, but it’s also started to lead to individual episodes losing any sort of distinct identity.  Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix recently wrote a great piece about this phenomenon.  I just finished Netflix’s Jessica Jones, and I’ll be writing more about that show here soon.  The show was phenomenal, but it was an extreme example of this sort of serialization.  I can’t imagine ever just randomly watching a middle episode from Jessica Jones.  If I want to experience the story again, I’ll watch the whole season start-to-finish.  By contrast, I was extremely impressed to see how Mr. Ansari and his team took a … [continued]