The initial praise lavished on Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” focused mainly on the show’s original takes on race and other states of outsiderness, seen not only from the perspective of its main character, Dev Shah (Ansari) and his Indian ethnicity, but also in the slights and micro-aggressions experienced by those within Dev’s circle: immigrant parents; friends of other races and sexual orientations; a white girlfriend; and even the strangers he meets on the street.
Yet “Master of None,” which returns to Netflix for a thoroughly enjoyable if less impressive second season Friday, is just as noteworthy for being one of the chillest shows around. Less a topical harangue and mainly just a good hang, it promotes the idea that the pursuit of happiness is right up there with life and liberty.
The templates set by Woody Allen (and Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K.) demand neuroses and irritable responses to the human condition from its New York funny-guy bachelors, yet Ansari’s show cannot help but see extroverted sunshine and potential friendship around every corner, even when it stops to chronicle bouts of heartache and rejection.
Which is why Season 2 opens on a note of such studied ebullience that Ansari had to film the first episode in black and white, lending it the dreamy, escapist feel of classic Italian cinema. Like a Fellini short for foodies, we catch up to Dev in a suspended state of bella vita in the small city of Modena, Italy, where he’s serving as an apprentice to a matronly pasta maker.
Recall, if you will, that at the end of Season 1, Dev was reeling from his breakup with Rachel (Noël Wells), and for a brief moment it seemed he might chase after her to Tokyo. He instead followed his own bliss (and appetite) in the opposite direction, picking up the language and winning over the locals with his charm. Life is so good here that even the minor disaster of having his phone stolen plays out in a cutesy, faux-madcap manner. A visit from his friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim) begins to lure Dev back into his old life; he returns to New York and quickly finds work as the host of a dopey cable-TV competition show called “Clash of the Cupcakes.”
Dev remains understandably wary of typecasting, which can come in all forms. When the cupcake show is so successful that he is offered a contract for seven more seasons, his concern has nothing to do with how he’s perceived and everything to do with the junkiness of it, in a career that has yet to deliver a big break or authentic role. Dev’s willingness to say no impresses one of the show’s executive producers, Chef Jeff (Bobby Cannavale), an egotistical, globe-trotting TV gourmand in the Anthony Bourdain mold. Chef Jeff immediately starts treating Dev like a new best buddy — on the air and off — and it feels like a dangerous acquaintance to make.
“Master of None’s” other new thread follows Dev’s unrequited crush on Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), an engaged woman he met in Italy. Francesca accompanies her fiance, a busy granite dealer, on several trips to New York, which gives Dev plenty of time to show her the best New York has to offer. Much is made of the potential love story here, up to and including an overlong penultimate episode that reaches for an emotional climax and unfortunately reveals the limits of Ansari’s acting skills.
An episode about religion is reminiscent of a much-discussed Season 1 episode that explored the betwixt-between issues for hipster Americans who happen to have immigrant parents. Ansari’s own parents, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari, reprise their roles as Dev’s parents, who feel shamed by their son’s unbridled passion for pork, despite their Muslim beliefs.
Better still — and probably this season’s real talker — is an episode titled “Thanksgiving,” which chronicles Dev’s long-standing tradition of spending the holiday at the home of his best friend, Denise (Lena Waithe), something we first see them doing in 1991. Younger actors play Dev and Denise as kids and up through their teen years in the early ’00s, as Denise considers coming out as a lesbian to her mother (Angela Bassett), aunt (Kym Whitley) and grandmother (Venida Evans) and then tentatively begins bringing her latest girlfriends to the family table.
It’s here that “Master of None” shines brightest, compactly presenting an array of emotional cues and natural reactions (along with its impeccable song playlists and pop-culture references), proving once again that a quick-sketch approach can sometimes produce a full portrait.
Master of None (10 episodes) Season 2 begins streaming Friday on Netflix.