BINGE-R #43: Master of None + The Honourable Woman
MASTER OF NONE S2
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 10 episode streaming from Friday
For the most part, Master of None flows seamlessly from the first season to the second, a testament to the assuredness of creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang and an apt reflection of Ansari’s inviting performance as now single New Yorker Dev Shah. An optimist who geeks out over food and finds a connection with nearly everyone he meets, Dev bestows a cheery curiosity on each episode’s encounters, so that all the show’s flourishes – the arthouse cinema homages, the quick quips, the sudden sweeps through tangled issues, and the acknowledgment of melancholy – fit together with barely a stitch apparent. Master of None’s inclusive mood strengthens the ideas, instead of diluting them.
Having broken up with girlfriend Rachel (Noel Wells) at the end of season one, the comic drama’s new batch of half hours opens (in black and white) with Dev completing a pasta making apprenticeship in the Italian city of Modena, which allows Ansari and Yang to offer up tributes to Italian neorealist films such as Bicycle Thieves amidst comic misadventures. This is Dev’s “Diane Lane Under the Tuscan Sun moment”, as one observer puts it, changing tack with the visit of Arnold (Eric Wareheim), Dev’s friend and the best example of the program’s feel for how modern friendships can transcend the ironic commentary and social media streams that are meant to define them.
Arnold attending an ex-girlfriend’s wedding is just one of several self-contained episodes – marked by terrific song selection – that reveal how transformative Master of None can be. The first season’s episode about being the bemused American children of immigrants is matched by a seemingly bemused exploration of Dev’s distance from his Indian Muslim parents’ faith (Ansari’s amateur actor parents return as Dev’s scene-stealing mother and father). “They have really good AC,” Dev awkwardly tells the devout uncle who asks him about the mosque he never actually attends, one of many sudden gags that just rear up out of the storytelling. The writing never builds to a punchline, they appear without warning.
There’s a terrific episode, editing together multiple dates to form a night-long tapestry, about modern dating, but the romantic-comedy pedigree eventually shines through via Dev’s relationship with Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), a friend and co-worker from Modena who visits him in New York. This is the most formulaic element in the season – or perhaps the one where Ansari and Yang surrender to their influences – but there’s thankfully always a degree of nuance to these rules of attraction because of Ansari’s heritage puts him outside the usual leading man parameters. There’s not a hint of comic misanthropy to Master of None, but that rarely precludes it from being enjoyably sharp and, like Dev, getting beyond your expectations.
>> Bonus Binge: Amidst Netflix’s vast stock of comedy specials are two from Aziz Ansari – 2013’s Buried Alive and 2015’s Live From Madison Square Garden – that cover many of the themes subsequently taken up by Master of None.
THE HONOURABLE WOMAN S1
Streaming Services: Netflix + Stan
Availability: All eight episodes now streaming
Densely plotted and contemplatively paced so as to render each revelation cruelly earnt, The Honourable Woman is a 2014 BBC drama that, fittingly for a show whose protagonist is caught up in the Middle East’s labyrinthine politics, is somehow available via both Netflix and Stan. If you need a quick fix of answers then this espionage thriller is not for you – some of the characters feature in multiple scenes before they’re even identified. Witten and directed by Hugo Blick, the story stretches out to become a kind of echo chamber, where vast political realities are visited upon individuals. The most notable is Nessa Stein (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the London-born head of a vast business that was founded by her late father, a Jewish refugee turned mogul who helped arm Israel and was murdered in front of his children three decades prior.
“Terror thrives in poverty,” proclaims Nessa, just appointed to the House of Lords, but her plan to promote the West Bank by wiring it with fibre optic cable come unstuck when her Palestinian contractor commits suicide under questionable circumstances. In the initial episodes the rights and wrongs of Palestine and Israel’s conflict are not debated; they are simply intractable enemies whose conflict exerts a gravitational pull on people, agencies, and countries. Nessa’s history, along with her Palestinian confidante, Atika Halibi (Lubna Azabal), who is nominally the nanny to Nessa’s brother, Ephra (Andrew Buchan), is caught up in events that happened there eight years prior.
Trust in The Honourable Woman is seemingly only won through adversity and loyalty flickers. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s formidable self-possession keeps fracturing as Nessa is caught between unknown adversaries, even though she’s smart enough to play the game herself. She sleeps in a panic room and sleeps with the MI6 agent sent to seduce her before dispensing with him, while the politics of the security services – populated by fine actors such as Janet McTeer and Stephen Rea – are equally ambiguous. Flashpoints that another mystery would quickly reference – such as an underling being killed to keep the trail clean – are here extended into suspenseful set-pieces. If you’re patient, the show’s knotty intrigue will win you over.
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