Over the last few years, Netflix’s original programming has exploded in popularity thanks to mainstream hits like House of Cards and Stranger Things, as well as terrific projects with more niche appeal like Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories and Chef’s Table. Master of None is really the best of both worlds — it’s a big comedy with a lot of laughs, as well as sly details about food and dining for the restaurant-obsessed viewers out there. If you’re new to the Master of None phenomenon, or simply want a refresher before the Season 2 premiere this week, here’s guide to everything you need to know about Aziz Ansari’s hit Netflix show:
What is this show all about?
Master of None follows the romantic exploits of Dev (Aziz Ansari), an easy-going commercial actor living in New York City. When he’s not arguing with his agent or going on dates, Dev can usually be found hanging out in bars and restaurants with his friends Brian (Kevin Yu), Denise (Lena Waithe), and Arnold (Eric Werheim). Dev spends a lot of his free time talking with his friends about his evolving relationship with Rachel (Noel Wells), a band wrangler.
Is this a sitcom, like Aziz Ansari’s other show Parks and Rec?
Not quite. Some of Master of None’s biggest laughs come from sitcom conventions that are turned inside-out. But really, at its core, the show is a post-modern romantic comedy. Think of it as a story along the lines of Annie Hall or When Harry Met Sally, but exploded and put back together in a new way. Part of the fun of Master of None is seeing how Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang make clever tweaks to the rom-com formula, while still hitting the emotional and comedic beats that you expect and love from this genre.
The 10 half-hour episode format is especially well-suited to Ansari and Yang’s vision, because it allows the creators to take detours from the love story to explore issues related to race, identity, family, and the media. These sidesteps are some of the show’s best moments.
Okay, so where does the food come in?
Food is omnipresent in Master of None — and not just any old grub, but the good stuff. Dev and his crew are constantly congregating at acclaimed New York City bars and restaurants, and our protagonist always has some delectable things to eat and drink back at his pad.
Dev is a new kind of character for TV — a very timely archetype — that you might call the Casual Urban Optimizer. Yes, he goes to all the best restaurants, knows about the cool concerts, wears the freshest casual attire, and lives in a groovy Brooklyn loft. But Dev is not elitist or pretentious about his lifestyle — he just likes finding the best stuff that’s out there, and he has a lot of fun doing that. You probably know a Dev — or you might even be a Dev — but rarely do you see someone like this on TV.
Through Dev’s quest to find the best of everything, Master of None also explores how the internet and smart phones allow for a degree of lifestyle optimization that didn’t exist a decade ago. As Dev and his buddies learn, sometimes having more options — for food, for dating, for communication — does not make life any easier.
Got it. Do I need to watch the show in any particular order or can I jump around?
Since some of the story lines take several episodes to unfold, and the show does have an emotional arch that extends throughout the season, it’s best to watch Master of None from start to finish. But if you just want a taste, the three best episodes are like little independent films that stand on their own, no context necessary.
What are those three best episodes?
“Parents”: The funniest and most profound episode of Master of None reveals the backstories of Dev and Brian’s parents, who immigrated to America from India and Taiwan, respectively. The flashbacks to their life stories are triggered by separate conversations Dev and Brian have with their dads about going to see the new X-Men movie. The sons decided to get their families together at a dinner to thank them for all their sacrifices as parents and to hear about what their lives were like when they were young. The parental reveals are not what Dev and Brian expected, but the dinner brings the crew closer together. This episode contains what might be the most memorable line of the show: Dev’s Dad, Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari), tells his dinner guests, “You realize fun is a new thing, right? Fun is a luxury only your generation really has.”
“Indians on TV”: This episode uses the casting for a new sitcom called Three Buddies to explore the problems with Hollywood’s depiction of Indians on film, and the challenges minority actors face in general. It begins with a reel of racist depictions of Indians on film, and, after Dev and his friend Ravi struggle to eke out better roles for themselves, this installment ends with the two actors arguing about a potential remake of Perfect Strangers, where one of them would be forced to use an accent. “Indians on TV” is another example of Ansari and Yang using their half-hour comedy to tackle big issues and start important conversations. Hopefully, other show-runners are taking notes.
“Mornings”: The penultimate episode of Season 1 depicts, in funny and perhaps all-too-real detail, how two people can fall in love and grow apart from each other over the course of one year. “Mornings,” which takes place entirely within Rachel and Dev’s apartment, is a stylistic triumph and also the emotional anchor of this season. Definitely make sure to check this one out before diving into Season 2.
Are there any episodes worth skipping?
Nope. It’s good all the way through.
What are the greatest food moments?
Five of them, in no particular order:
• Dev opting to eat the Parm sandwich instead of the gross one that his friend’s kid made him.
• Dev sneaking Grandma Carroll out of the retirement home to go to dinner at Bamonte’s.
• Dev and Rachel missing their flight back to New York because he wanted to pick up white barbecue sauce at Tickler’s.
• Dev and Arnold finding the best taco truck in NYC... that’s out of tortillas.
• Dev learning to make pasta by himself, taking a bite, and exclaiming “I did it!”
Anything else I should know?
Dev’s conversations with his friends are the glue that holds Master of None together. Like Seinfeld, some of the funniest, most insightful moments of this show occur when the four friends are arguing while sitting around a table, or when two of them are shooting the breeze while walking down the street. These scenes make you feel like you’re part of Dev’s crew, and they’re part of the reason why Master of None is so easy to binge-watch.