It’s a shame there isn’t more of Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Arnold’s (Eric Wareheim) friendship in Season 2 of Master of None, an unassumingly funny and always thoughtful look at urban love and friendship. Because what’s there — the second episode is entirely devoted to it — is a kind of roadmap for male friendship in a world where we’re still being reminded that men allegedly don’t know how to be close to each other unless there’s a manly task laid out in front of them.
Season 1 ended with a breakup, and Season 2 begins with Dev learning to how make pasta by hand in Italy to get over that breakup. That sounds pretty precious — the opening episode also apes the The Bicycle Thief — yet, as with so much of the show, its subject matter is treated with enough respect and self-consciousness that it’s never cloying. Even if you’re not into Italian cinema or Italo Disco (but if not, what’s wrong with you?) — the first two episodes are so well shot and well scored that they reward the music snoband the amateur equally. Beautiful Italian countryside! Obscure Ennio Morricone! But about that friendship.
In Episode 2, Arnold travels to Italy to kill two birds with one stone — to visit Dev on his pasta recovery tour and to attend the wedding of a friend named Ellen. After they hit the cobblestone streets to pig out on pastas and cheeses, Arnold comes clean: Ellen is not just a bud, but his ex-girlfriend of over a decade with whom he’s still in love, and he needs an emotional wingman on this wedding. Dev, who originally declined doing the stranger-at-a-wedding thing, agrees to accompany him. He even talks Arnold down when they arrive to discover that Ellen’s new beau looks exactly like Arnold, only shorter.
Not to spoil the whole thing, but what’s so refreshing about how their friendship and these simultaneous heartaches are handled is that it manages to portray male vulnerability and bonding seriously and with humor at the same time: These dudes genuinely like each other — there is no standard-issue merciless mockery. No one is pouring their hearts out here, but there’s an unmistakable tenderness to Arnold admitting to Dev that he’s about to watch someone who dumped him get married. And that, even as he is working numerous other lady crushes on text (all delivered with the same gif of him kissing and waving and the message “Hi Cutie”), he’s not only lonely, but as scared as everyone else that he is too old for this shit and he might never meet another Ellen. Dev is nursing his own breakup by still texting with his ex even though he’s the one who insisted they take this time apart. The friends manage to offer each other an assist that combines gravity and humor with a lot of subtlety in between (you likely never imagined talking someone off an emotional ledge using melon).
Nothing about that may sound particularly revelatory, but it is, mainly because it simply doesn’t treat such a sensitive interaction as all that big a deal. But that’s kind of the show’s master stroke: By grounding everything it does in a kind of low-key realism that winks at life’s absurdity while taking it super seriously (Arnold and Dev sing mini-songs about how excited they are to hang out), it manages to normalize male vulnerability in much the same way it spent Season 1 normalizing easy diversity onscreen (and continues to here). That is no easy feat. By the end of the season, you’ll realize you’ve just countless spent hours listening to a stunning variety of men and women talk about their feelings and lives, but without ever hitting you over the head with just how rare that is on TV.