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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Master Of None falters but finds footing in final act

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“Hot Ticket,” which returns to some of the themes of modern dating introduced in Master Of None’s first episode, is the first installment of Master Of None that doesn’t seem so sure of itself. The episode deals mostly with sweeping jokes about modern communication and how texting politics make dating a hellscape. Master Of None does fine with these broader jokes, but for the first time, I felt a little bored by the rehashing of Ansari’s stand-up material. Master Of None intends to build upon Ansari’s stand-up and go deeper into the ideas that he explores, showing them through the scope of Dev and his life instead of just Ansari telling you directly what’s up. A lot of the texting scenarios outlined in “Hot Ticket” are ones Ansari has used in his stand-up, only instead of Ansari creating hypothetical “Brians” for us to imagine, we see all the game’s players here and know a little more about them.

It’s certainly fun that each member of Dev’s crew has a different suggestion for how to deal with an unanswered text that is totally indicative of who they are. Brian goes for the solo question mark because he can make anything look cute; Arnold says to send a photo of a turtle coming out of a briefcase and then follow it up with a “that wasn’t for you,” which makes perfect sense based on what little we know about Arnold; Denise spits the truth, as she often does, and tells him not to engage at all. And then Dev is dependably unsure of what to do and goes the Brian route even though it isn’t really him. But with the exception of the voicemails from Michelle a.k.a. Princess Love a.k.a. Lil’ Funyuns, the jokes never really land, and the commentary on texting politics just feels shoehorned in. It doesn’t help that Lena Waithe, Eric Wareheim, Kelvin Yu, and Ansari all come off as a little rigid in their initial conversation about texting. There’s tension there that isn’t really present in the other scenes, but it definitely took me out of the moment.

Plus, Master Of None completely ignores a large part of why some women don’t feel comfortable rejecting a guy over text, which can often lead to stalking, harassment, and even violence. All “Hot Ticket” would need to do is let one of the many women Dev texts speak, but instead, Alice is really just used for laughs. It wasn’t too hard to see the twist that Alice is a bit unhinged coming. The second characters started referring to her as “hot Alice,” I figured she was bound to be a weirdo. I admit that her particular brand of weird, which includes a Cartman impression, a horrifying Vine presence, and a strong urge to steal other people’s jackets, leads to some very funny moments, especially because Nina Arianda gives a fantastic performance. But they’re easy jokes. Make a hot girl weird. It has been done a billion times, and it doesn’t feel particularly fresh here.

But even though I felt a lot of the texting material never quite landed, there are parts of Dev’s date anxiety that do feel fresh, particularly the subtle but powerful attack on the dreaded “Nice Guy,” guys who think they’re owed things just because they’re not complete jerks. Dev unironically declares he’s a Nice Guy to his friends as he laments over why girls don’t text him back. He doesn’t want to just be bubbles on a phone, but thankfully Denise is there to spit truth, as she points out that that’s exactly how he is treating these girls. And then Dev also goes ahead and cancels on another girl, lying to her so he can take Alice to the concert just because she’s hotter. Sure, he has reservations about it, but it doesn’t take much pushing from Arnold for Dev to hypocritically blow off another person. “Hot Ticket” doesn’t let Dev be the heroic Nice Guy, and he comes off as a bit of a jerk, which is a much more interesting direction than Dev just complaining about how rude other people are these days.

And at least it all builds to a strong ending. The highlight of “Hot Ticket” comes near the end, when Dev runs into Rachel from the pilot. Noël Wells and Ansari have really mesmerizing chemistry with each other, which makes it an even bigger punch at the end when Rachel tells him about her ex-boyfriend who has just moved back to town. Ansari plays Dev’s awkward frustration so well, and it’s a sad scene steeped in the realism that Master Of None really nails. All the stiffness of some of the episode’s earlier scenes evaporates, and you can really feel the beating hearts of these two people, who both so obviously think of each other as more than bubbles on a phone.

Stray observations

  • Harris Wittels, the Parks And Recreation writer and co-executive producer who died from a drug overdose earlier this year, wrote the story for “Hot Ticket.” Wittels, who has a co-executive producer credit on the show, was one of the best comedy writers working in television, and it’s nice to know that some of his voice still lives in this series. If you haven’t read Ansari’s tribute to Wittels, do that.
  • The Sickening is shaping up to be my favorite fake movie ever.
  • H. Jon Benjamin is so delightful here, and I can’t wait to see more.
  • I love that Brian apparently has a propensity for grading everything.
  • Denise refers to Rachel as “Plan B apple juice girl.”
  • I officially hate Dev’s ringtone.
  • “Scarlett Johansson head, shoulders, knees, and toes”