When Master of None last left Dev, his girlfriend, Rachel (Noël Wells), dumped him to move to Tokyo, he was cut out of a big sci-fi movie, and he made a rash decision to move to Italy to learn how to make pasta. For a food-obsessed, emotionally and romantically adrift 30-something, a pasta-motivated transatlantic move makes some sense. Is it a little silly? Sure. But blowing up your old life for something potentially better always seems a little ridiculous, especially for people looking in from the outside.
Master of None picks up three months after the events of the first season with Dev living a comfortable life in Modena, a small city in northern Italy. He makes pasta by day and spends his off hours with friends, who include Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), the granddaughter of Dev’s pasta mentor; her partner Pino (Riccardo Scamarcio); and a young boy named Mario (Nicolo Ambrosio). While Dev clearly enjoys the culinary lifestyle, “The Thief” illustrates how solitary his life has become, despite his newfound Italian buddies. He even plans to celebrate his birthday alone.
Fortunately, Dev meets Sara (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a charismatic British woman, when he arrives at the hard-to-book restaurant Hosteria Giusti for that birthday meal. After Sara realizes she accidentally booked her lunch for the next month, Dev offers to share his table so she can enjoy the food and good company. The two quickly hit it off and make plans to meet up in Puglia, where Sara and her friends have rented a house for the weekend. Sadly for Dev, things go south when a thief (Daniel De Maio) steals his phone and he loses Sara’s number.
Though the black-and-white cinematography and the art-house opening credits might give the impression of a different direction for Master of None, “The Thief” mostly functions as a standard episode of the ambling, lovelorn series. Ansari may have uprooted the series to Italy, but the song more or less remains the same. Dev is just as “lost” in his new home as he was in New York, and Master of None will follow him through his adventures in food and love. (Like on most sitcoms, this location change largely serves as a superficial transformation while holding on to what people love about the series.)
More than anything else, the low-stakes first half of “The Thief” is a comforting reintroduction to the series. Ansari and Yang usually succeed when they focus on montages and sweet banter, even if it can fall a bit too far on the saccharine side, while Ansari and Ashitey have nice enough chemistry to keep Dev and Sara’s scenes peppy and light. Ultimately those performances save the blandness of their meet-cute, which feels both too drawn out and like a strange excuse for Ansari to show off his Italian.
The episode’s second half features an extended Bicycle Thieves riff that basically covers the entire plot of Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film (minus the fatalistic ending), but it feels too contrived to have much of an effect. Not to unfairly compare a comedian’s sitcom to a neorealist classic, but Bicycle Thieves succeeds while “The Thief” doesn’t, partially because of narrative urgency. In the film, if Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) doesn’t retrieve his stolen bicycle, he will lose his job and be unable to support his family. In “The Thief,” if Dev doesn’t retrieve his phone, he won’t see Sara again, a character whom the audience has known for all of ten minutes. It’s difficult to be invested in a story like this if the actual outcome feels irrelevant and largely depends on the audience siding with the protagonist at every single turn, even if “The Thief” is a pleasant enough episode. It might have been better if Dev’s search was funnier or more compelling, but alas, that was not the case.
In the end, Dev celebrates his birthday with his Italian friends and eventually decides to get back in touch with Rachel, but only after Google searches like “Sara Finance New York” and “Sara Diane Lane Fan” don’t offer any hope. If Master of None chronicles the trials and tribulations of dating, Dev losing Sara’s phone number to a dastardly Italian thief is just another drop in the bucket. More joy, more romance, and more heartbreak is sure to come for our hero this season, even if it doesn’t arrive in the places he expects.
Jack of All Trades
• Dev loves saying the Italian word “Allora,” which means “Well …” He says it to start or end almost every sentence.
• After Mario spots his favorite soccer player outside, he begs Dev to takes a photo of them on his phone. When asked by the player if Mario is his son, Dev responds in Italian, “He’s a baby I sometimes play with,” much to everyone’s confusion.
• Though the actual mechanics of Dev’s phone search aren’t super interesting, it’s good that they addressed the obvious elephant in the room: Why doesn’t he have his “Find My iPhone” app turned on? Answer: International data charges.