Master of None
“The Dinner Party” brings Dev’s professional and personal lives together for the first time this season. Half of the episode follows Dev at work on Clash of the Cupcakes and his burgeoning friendship with Chef Jeff Pastore (Bobby Cannavale), the intensely friendly celebrity chef who produces the show. The other half tracks Dev’s growing feelings for Francesca, who visits New York on a trip and seemingly spends most of her time with him. The former contains a fair amount of comedy, while the latter coasts on sweetness and ultimately feels a bit stale.
Let’s start with the professional: Though it’s undoubtedly a cushy job, Dev clearly feels frustrated by his hosting gig. His lazy producer Lawrence (Leonard Ouzts) half-asses his own job and then passes extra responsibility onto Dev. He has special guests like the Jabbawockeez dance crew that mostly irritate and make his job harder, even though the audience loves it. It’s just very much not his thing.
Nevertheless, Dev has made a fan of his boss Chef Jeff, a popular foodie who seemingly eats four dinners a night and scares the hell out of people with his aggressive kindness. Dev and Jeff go out to dinner one night and hit it off so well that Jeff invites him to a fancy dinner party that’s guaranteed to be filled with a whole bunch of cool folks.
But whom will Dev bring to this soirée? He wanted to bring Priya, one of his dates from “First Date,” but after a profoundly awkward second date in which the two make strained conversation about flat versus sparkling tap water, he nixes the idea. On a whim, he decides to take Francesca, who’s in town and with whom he shared a lovely afternoon at the Brooklyn Museum. Dev obviously begins to fall for her over the course of evening, much to his frustration. But then again, Chef Jeff’s beautiful lavish home, great food and wine, and an impromptu John Legend performance will inevitably set the mood for romance.
This is all very sweet and nice because first love is very sweet and nice, but as it stands right now, it’s also fairly bland. Alessandra Mastronardi plays Francesca perfectly well, and yet as written, her character has almost no personality beyond the fact that she’s Italian, beautiful, and Dev is in love with her. Maybe that’s the point? Perhaps Ansari is setting up a story about an adrift, broken-hearted guy who desperately falls for a seemingly perfect, unavailable woman? If so, that’s a basic premise destined for innocuous insights, but it’s possible Ansari has something else up his sleeves. So for right now, the plot is stuck in a holding pattern.
The episode closes with a three-minute single shot of Dev heading home after dropping off Francesca as Soft Cell’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” plays wistfully in the background. While I respect Ansari’s willingness to test his audience’s patience with this choice, it captures everything that’s generally off with Master of None this season. It’s superficially daring without actually doing the work of being daring. Director Eric Wareheim adopts a slow-cinema technique by forcing the audience to languish in the moment with Dev, as he gradually accepts the pain of realizing he loves someone in a serious relationship. The shot is well composed, with Francesca’s lingering absence next to Dev carrying the frame as much as Ansari himself, but it doesn’t really compel that much on its own. It’s difficult to pin down if it’s Ansari’s passive acting or Wareheim’s direction, or if it’s just a misconceived idea from the start. Regardless, it’s a brief indication of obvious self-seriousness, which isn’t inherently a bad look, but it’s one that doesn’t quite work for this show.
Jack of All Trades
• The Ravi scenes in the episode are very, very funny. Patel excels at his brand of weird desperation, like how Ravi buys a wool tuxedo for a casual dinner party, which makes everyone think he’s a valet or a waiter, or how he keeps trying to sell people on Mumbai Muscle, “New York’s number-one, Desi-owned, non-GMO, chickpea-based protein.” Every moment he’s on screen is worthwhile, especially contrasted with Ansari’s general frustration with his presence.
• Of course, Arnold and Brian are huge Jabbawockeez fans. I’ve never related to Dev more than when he showed general distrust and/or irritation with the crew and their weirdly specific tactics.
• “What’s this party’s hashtag?”