There are scenes-as-social-commentary that are strong, too, though the ones that feel like reworked, dramatized stand-up bits (“Going to Whole Foods, want me to pick you up anything?”) work far better than the after-school special chatter the show sometimes falls back on. Don’t get me wrong, I love a show that addresses the realities of sexual harassment in the workplace, but does the writing have to be so wooden around it?
Moments like that, where the morality subtext is louder than the characters wants and needs, are the downfall of this season of Master of None for me. No doubt the show deserves all the praise it’s received for being inclusive and diverse, and for engaging on topics that are decidedly modern and relevant. But, with the exception of “Thanksgiving” which I thought was fairly excellent, when the going gets tough, the writing seems to suffer. These writers know their way around well-oiled friendships, zany parents, and awkward silences. It’s when the stakes—emotional, social, romantic—get high, the patter falters.
This season also suffers from staying too close to Dev’s perspective. While the episodes where Dev is a secondary or even tertiary character shine, when we’re following him too closely, the storytelling is a little too blinded by his point of view. He’s the protagonist and it’s third-person limited, I get it, but just a few moments to deepen my understanding of the other characters in this universe would go a long way to helping me love them myself, instead of just taking the it at Dev’s word that I should I love them.
Many of Master of None’s secondary characters suffer from this limited third-person storytelling, but none more than Francesca. For a show that is in other ways pretty culturally and politically aware, the most-seen love interest of this season sure is reduced. Francesca is little more than a pretty face, a cute accent, and a passing mention of an interest in art history. For much of the season, I remained hopeful that Master of None was up to something truly clever: perhaps the Francesca we saw was very intentionally the bella donna of Dev’s projected fantasy, perhaps we were all due for a reckoning with reality. Francesca’s not quite a manic pixie dream girl, but she does have that same kind of blank-slate-character quality that is the hallmark of the trope. What does Francesca want? Master of None sends her to the door whenever she’s about to tell us.