Master Of None has been subtly fucking around with storytelling this season, departing even more from traditional narrative structures than the first season does. Each episode this season has been a loosely structured but evocative and charming vignette, and “First Date” is a vignette made up of smaller vignettes. With a teleplay from Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, based on a story by Sarah Schneider, and fluid, intimate direction from Eric Wareheim, “First Date” is one of the best televisual explorations of dating apps, an aspect of modern life that television so often tries but usually fails to mine for comedy.
Whereas many of television’s takes on dating apps go broad and seem to rely too much on coming up with a funny name for the imagined app, Master Of None gets into some of the weird specifics of app-driven hook-up culture. The opening sequence flits between women swiping and eventually coming across Dev’s profile, and even though it’s mostly meant to be funny—including a woman swiping at a funeral and one swiping on a toilet—the bite-sized scenes feel real and specific. It ends with a group swipe sesh—that mean and yet totally fun group activity where you let your friends weigh in as you swipe, turning dating apps into more of a tribunal process.
Dating apps are full of contradictions, impersonal and intimate all at once, and “First Date” encompasses that. The episode unfolds as if it’s one linear timeline when it’s actually several dates smashed together and presented as one, one date blending into the next. Despite this approach, the women Dev sees don’t all blend together. In fact, quite the contrary. Dev immediately establishes different rapports with each of the women, who are loosely sketched but brought to life by charismatic and distinct performances from Tiya Sircar, Lauren Miller Rogen, Alison Barton, Aparna Nancherla, Condola Rashad, Mary Elizabeth Kelly, Pallavi Sastry, and others. Meshing all his first dates with these women into one dynamic yet fluid piece—a testament to both the direction and editing—allows “First Date” to tackle all sorts of first date drama, awkwardness, and humor all at once. Like New Girl’s “Dice,” the episode doesn’t just employ a dating app for the sake of a few quick jokes but rather makes an effort to dig into the specifics of online dating.
Through the different women, lots of specific dating app personalities are represented: the person who’s just on the app for friends, the swipe addict who lines up the night with as many dates as possible (and swipes during them), the friend who pops up while swiping. But these women are more than just those stock Tinder types (the app here is named simply Love @ First Sight, which may be one of the funnier fake dating app names I’ve heard if only because it’s so stupidly earnest). They’re imbued with details that make them more real and not just one continuous slew of New York women. Christine (Rogen) works at a dog hotel and immediately has a similar dynamic with Dev as his ex-girlfriend Rachel, witty and playful. Nancherla is hilarious in her portrayal of Stephanie, lover of WWE, hater of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (although she watched it twice in a row for some reason), and secretly the woman behind The Rameniac, a ramen blog Dev has read before. Priya, played by Sircar, settles into an easy breezy vibe with Dev, and they bond over good wine and being Indian people who don’t necessarily only date other Indian people. Their conversation about Indian-fetishizing white people, Indian friend cliques that always seem to have that one token white person, and why white people shouldn’t be allowed to do the Indian Nod is one of the most candid and refreshing parts of the episode.
“First Date” accomplishes a lot with very little, including a succinct but accurate look at how straight women’s dating app experiences differ from straight men’s. They’re on the receiving end of creepy fetishizing, unsolicited dick pics, aggressive come-ons, and way too many impersonal, meaningless first messages like “hey” and “hi.” Dev’s friend Diana (Rashad) who he reconnects with on the app points out that as a Black woman, she gets the worst of it. “First Date” doesn’t dive deep into the racism and sexism rampant on dating apps, but its acknowledgement of those problems works well and builds off of season one’s sharp “Ladies And Gentlemen.”
The first date mishaps that go down aren’t too over-the-top so as to feel entirely played up for comedic effect. One woman runs into her ex, whose job as a war photographer casts a shadow on Dev’s Clash Of The Cupcakes job. Priya abandons Dev at the table for too long when she goes to the bathroom, but she acknowledges it right away, and their date keeps chugging along. One woman is rude to the server. Another tells a bizarre story about hooking up with the bartender when on a date with a different guy. One date gets interrupted by a Clash Of The Cupcakes superfan. And there’s the aforementioned swipe addict who literally asks Dev for his opinion on another dude (Dev’s resigned “let’s see the rest of his profile” is great). They’re all normal enough date snafus, and the script flows as fluidly as the direction. It’s an improvement upon season one’s “Hot Ticket,” which is too predictable and rigid in its exploration of texting rules and dating politics. It’s a rare depiction of online dating that could actually age well, as it doesn’t run its jokes into the ground.
The differences from date to the next open up different outcomes that similarly touch on many ideas at once. In the back of the cab, Dev and Christine have an intense makeout sesh in the back car; Dev and Priya share more delicate, hesitant kisses; Dev and Stephanie agree to hang out (with Stephanie’s boyfriend, who she failed to mention); Dev goes in for the kiss with Diana, but she shuts it down. Ansari always nails Dev’s more awkward moments. From the start of these dates to the ends, everything builds believably, each outcome making perfect sense given how the dates gradually unfolded. The only moment that doesn’t quite land is the final twist, when Dev finds out just before sleeping with Christine that she’s an ignorant white person who doesn’t realize the jar she keeps condoms in is a racist depiction of Black womanhood. Dev attempts to lecture her, and she throws the fact that he still slept with her even when he thought she was racist back in his face. It’s the only part of the episode that’s forced, trying too hard to make a point (and a muddled one at that) it could have otherwise explored more organically, especially given that the rest of the episode is so grounded.
- Dev’s go-to opening line (“Going to Whole Foods, want me to pick up anything?”) is wonderful and maybe even better than the opening line I used to use on all the ladies back in my Tindering days (“Rank the Fast & Furious movies).
- I’m crossing my fingers that Nancherla’s Stephanie somehow resurfaces. With this show, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility!
- Between her performance here and on The Good Place, I’m falling in love with Tiya Sircar.
- “Indians On TV” remains my favorite episode of Master Of None, and I’m very pleased to see that the show continues to cast lots of South Asian actors, directly combating the problem it points at in that brilliant season one episode.