This post contains some spoilers for Master of None Season 2.
It’s not an insult to Aziz Ansari to say that the best episodes of his show Master of None, which he co-created and stars in, are often the ones where he fades into the background. Still, it may be a weird conclusion to arrive at when you consider how crucial Ansari’s vision and comedic style—infectiously goofy, pop-culture savvy, and cleverly observational—are to the spirit of the series. When Netflix’s Master of None debuted in 2015, it garnered immediate praise from critics and viewers who admired its humor and keen social commentary. The show also stood out amid a renewed mainstream conversation about Hollywood diversity: Aziz and his co-creator Alan Yang (also a Parks and Recreation alumnus) made a show with people of color both in front of and behind the camera, and that had no qualms about doing entire storylines that probe race or gender.
In a nutshell, Master of None is about Dev Shah (Ansari), a 30-something Indian American actor living in New York and navigating love, work, family, and friends. But the show gets the most mileage out of this simple premise by pairing it with a vignette-y approach to its episodes. Less beholden to a well-plotted, serialized arc about Dev, Master of None has let its attention wander to other characters or big ideas whenever its creators please. In Season 1, this meant viewers got wonderful episodes like “Parents,” a flashback-filled tribute to the sacrifices many immigrants make for their children; “Ladies and Gentlemen,” a candid look at how differently men and women experience the world; and “Old People,” a poignant tale that humanized its elderly characters. These episodes work so well precisely because they decentered Dev’s viewpoint, and earnestly tried to dive into another’s.