Master Of None doesn’t always feature the best, most fluid, performances, but at the same time, there’s an air of naturalism to the show. The characters really do feel like real people, and a lot of that has to do with how well written every episode is. The dialogue is very realistic and rarely weighed down with exposition. But a major contributing factor to Master Of None’s realism is its relationship work, particularly when it comes to all of the connections in Dev’s life.
Master Of None doesn’t keep Dev confined to a main friend group. Whereas a lot of sitcoms, especially ones so driven by interpersonal relationships, will introduce the character’s main circle in the first episode and then rarely venture outside of that, Master Of None is more closely aligned with how people interact socially in the real world. Dev has his core group that includes Arnold, Denise, and Brian, but sometimes he hangs out with all three, sometimes just one, and sometimes varying combinations. He also has Ravi and work pals like Benjamin and now Colin Salmon (played by Colin Salmon). Some of the friends we meet in the pilot haven’t returned at all. Friends come and go in a way that’s very true-to-life. Dev, like any outgoing person living in a big city, has several social circles. Every time Master Of None introduces a new character, whether they’re new to Dev or not, it does so with little fanfare. And the characters are all so well written right off the bat that it doesn’t matter that we haven’t spent much time with them—we still know who they are and what they’re about, almost immediately.
“The Other Man,” for example, introduces Nina (Claire Danes), a food critic whose extreme self-confidence makes her effortlessly cool but also very intense. Danes is great in the role, easily the best part of the episode, and gets to flex her comedic muscles a bit. She has fantastic chemistry with Ansari, and the initial flirtation between the two characters, sparked when Nina uses him as an excuse to dip out of a conversation with someone else, is so fun and charming. Dev is just meeting Nina for the first time, as we are, but we get a really strong sense of who she is right away. And even more impressively, her character actually gets an interesting arc in the episode.
“The Other Man” doesn’t quite have enough time to get into all of the emotional complexity of her situation, but it also doesn’t completely simplify the situation and just milk it for comedy. It’s dark and sad and then ultimately thwarts assumptions about cheating and relationships. Dev getting caught by Nina’s husband (Noah Emmerich) and then thrown out could have easily been where the episode ended. It’s where a lot of affair arcs do end, and the scene plays out like a climax, especially because Ansari is hilarious in it. But “The Other Man” then jumps ahead a month and shows us that Nina and her husband have worked things out. He’s sober, working less, and making tables for Nina. It’s weird and sweet, and Denise and Dev are totally thrown by the whole thing. This isn’t how either of them anticipated a run in with these two to go, and it wasn’t how I did either, which makes the entire arc more nuanced and emotionally compelling.
But it’s still funny, too. “The Other Man” is definitely a strange episode of Master Of None, especially because it employs so many actors who aren’t really known for comedy but then pulls some really fantastic, and weird, comedy out of them. Danes, Emmerich, and Salmon all give performances that are totally different from what we would normally expect from any of them. Emmerich’s delivery of “so you fucked my wife?” is definitely the funniest moment of the episode.
This is also a standout episode for Lena Waithe, as Denise ends up playing a big role in the episode’s musings on relationships and infidelity. Dev takes Denise to visit the set of The Sickening, and in one very long and gorgeous tracking shot, they meander through the set, talking about their respective nights. Denise successfully gave straight girl Carla the Denise Experience, and Dev backed out of sleeping with Nina once he found out she was married. Denise and Dev pick apart the infidelity scenario, attacking it from all sides, with Denise ultimately concluding that he should do it. After he does, though, she says it was a bad idea and that all that talk on set was just an abstract conversation between two friends that she didn’t think was going to lead to anything real. That is, in fact, how that conversation on set really does feel. Dev and Denise use the specifics of the Nina situation, but their conversation has a more macro feel to it. It’s, again, very realistic, and the tracking shot lends to the natural, unscripted feel. The conversation is funny throughout, without trying too hard to hit jokes. It’s just a normal conversation between friends, something Master Of None is exceptionally good at.
- “Look, I don’t have time to explain lesbian shit to you.”
- Benjamin describes Dev in the Nina situation as a human dildo.
- “What the fuck is Car Man? That sounds stupid.”
- “Just let me finish this sonnet.”
- Colin’s affinity for toppling dominoes was a Harris Wittels idea.
- I love that sequence of ominous dings over quick cuts between photos of Nina’s husband, people at the ice cream place, and ice cream. This is a very well edited episode.
- “I’m kind of tired. I should probably put this seabass in the fridge.”
- “You didn’t have to bring up my ethnicity or my size.”