Spoilers from Master of None’s second season lie ahead.
In the penultimate episode of Master of None season two, Dev (Aziz Ansari) and Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), the Italian, engaged-to-be-married woman who has enchanted Dev all season long, exchange a series of clandestine text messages at a birthday party for Francesca’s fiancé, Pino. Dev and Francesca are not sexting, exactly. They’re more like semi-flirtexting, sending each other cute messages — “I wish we could just drink negronis and dance,” she writes, followed by emoji of a flamenco-skirted lady and a dude who vaguely resembles Dev — that culminate with a kiss emoji from Dev and an actual live wink back from Francesca.
Afterward, Dev commiserates with his friend Arnold (Eric Wareheim) and shows him the text chain. In many TV shows and movies, this would be the point where the two bros engage in chest-thumping banter about how hot Francesca is and how she clearly wants to get a piece of the Dev. But because this is Master of None, that is not what happens.
Instead, Arnold says: “You bopped a kissy emoji at Pino’s birthday party?” Then Dev says: “Guess what she did after I sent the kissy? She winked at me!”
Kissy? Wink celebrations? I don’t spend a lot of time in male locker rooms, but this is definitely not my impression of what locker-room talk sounds like. That’s because Master of None veers away from that sort of thing, especially in the more romantic season two, where its primary male characters are more interested in emotional connection than satisfying feelings of lust. The way Dev and Arnold relate to and discuss women — especially in contrast to the behavior exhibited by Dev’s other best male bud this season, Bobby Cannavale’s Chef Jeff Pastore — is devoid of the crude and crass. It’s almost innocent, in a way that reminds us that, even though modern society often proves otherwise, not all guys are pigs. Some of them may enjoy eating pork even when their parents disagree with it (see Dev in the episode “Religion”), but they’re not pigs.
To be clear: Dev and Arnold are hardly painted as monogamous saints and Master of None is not some puritanical piece of television. There were certainly plenty of sex scenes in season one. In fact, the very first episode opens with a sex scene in which Dev’s condom breaks during intercourse with a woman he just met (Rachel, his soon-to-be girlfriend), leading to the purchase of a Plan B pill on what is, sort of, their first date. In season two, Dev is trying to get things going with a woman who’s already planning to marry another man, which is definitely at least a minor ethical violation.
But what makes the Master of None men different from the guys we have historically seen on other male-driven television shows — say, Entourage or Ballers or more traditional sitcoms like Two and a Half Men — is that they do not pursue women purely for sex and they don’t objectify them. In season two, the one person who behaves boorishly is the gregarious Chef Jeff (Bobby Cannavale), who becomes the focus of a sexual-harassment scandal. But to the show’s credit, it allows us to understand that scandal by first providing details entirely from the point of view of one of the women he harassed, a makeup artist who becomes friends with Dev. When news stories circulate about several women accusing Jeff of inappropriate conduct, Jeff swears that all the accounts are made up. (Cannavale’s so good in that scene, you’re almost inclined to believe him.) But Dev knows better, because he actually heard a woman’s side of the story first.
That plotline aside, male-female relationships are dealt with on mostly a lighter note in this season of Master of None, one that, again, prioritizes the need for connection over the need to copulate. In episode two, “Le Nozze,” Arnold acknowledges that he’s been dating multiple ladies, with an assist from an app tailored toward those who dig big-and-tall men. But when Dev asks Arnold if he’s hooking up a lot, he immediately responds, “It’s not just about the sex – I’m meeting amazing people.” The fact that Arnold sends more than one woman a GIF of himself kissing a sandwich, accompanied by the text, “Hi cutie,” might be insulting to these women if they realized he was disseminating the same message to multiple recipients. But in a world where dick pics have become the standard imagery of text seduction, something about a sandwich GIF and a “Hi, cutie” also feels refreshingly goofy and sweet.
Later in the episode, when Arnold and Dev attend the wedding of Arnold’s ex-girlfriend, Arnold is overcome by extreme jealousy and a need to win back the bride, feelings that foreshadow the romantic desire Dev will later discover for the affianced Francesca. Ultimately, Arnold concludes that he should stay single, play the field, and keep bopping out those cutie GIFs, not because he’s getting laid a lot but again, as Dev points out to him, because he’s having wonderful adventures with these women. After years of watching romantic comedies that tell us being single is either filled with loneliness or a nonstop parade of casual sex, there’s something uplifting about a TV show that insists singlehood can also be a fun time to meet potentially interesting people — yes, people, as opposed to conquests.
In “First Date,” Dev also dips into the app-dating pool, going on a revolving-door series of meet-ups with various women. Sex does enter the conversation from time to time; on one of those dates, with a woman he already knows, Dev uses the phrase “possible boning situation,” and that may be one of the reasons why she’s totally not into it when he tries to put the moves on her while Uber-dancing to “Scatman.” But having sex with a bunch of women doesn’t seem to be what’s motivating Dev, either. He wants what everyone wants: companionship.
At a low point in his relationship — non-relationship? almost-relationship? — with Francesca, he tells Arnold: “When we were together doing all that stuff, I felt really connected to somebody. It felt good.” The scene is notable as an expression of the depth of Dev’s feelings for Francesca, but also because of who he is expressing himself to: another guy. We are culturally conditioned to not only think that most men are pigs, but that they also never talk to each about emotions. Master of None proves the false absurdity of that, over and over again.
I’m not saying that Dev and Arnold are the only openly humane gentlemen on television. There are plenty of them: Edgar on You’re the Worst, Clay on 13 Reasons Why, pretty much all the male Randalls (fine, Kevin’s a little iffy) on This Is Us, Earn, for the most part, on Atlanta — you get the idea. But what I am saying is that it’s nice to watch a full season of a show in which the key male protagonists treat women as equals, are open about their personal struggles, and, even though they screw up, are still decent guys.
It’s notable that Ansari and Master of None co-creator Alan Yang met while working on Parks and Recreation, a show whose creator, Mike Schur, is also one of Master of None’s producers. Those two comedies differ wildly in terms of sensibility but both Yang and Ansari have clearly carried over some core values, one of which is to treat characters with respect and to show those characters attempting to do the same thing toward those around them. For that, Master of None, here’s a kissy bopped directly at you. 😘