Church bells blast whilst the black and white screen project “the thief” in bold, paperweight font styles; the opening scene of the second season in Master of None is anything to be scoffed at; it is Fellini inspired and has the exposed brightness that is all too, Italy.
First looks don’t disappoint, and for those that sat through and binge-watched the first season, and I know you did because everyone spoke about it, the second is distinctly different. Gone from the days of playing serial entrepreneur/government lacky in Parks and Recreation, Ansari and his U-turn on what “makes us human” is in full swing; he’s the modern day Woody Allen, in a leading man sense.
Vulnerable, emotional and just trying to get by. He’s relatable, and possibly even more so because he’s flawed. He is a metaphor of il bel paese; and his self-development/ self-imposed soul-searching is what we all go through, even if months away learning to make pasta from a Nonna or having quirky flirtations with the granddaughter is something we don’t get to really do.
Internet searches and Buzzfeed quizzes to “who am I?” are the real heroes of a mid thirty-something crisis nowadays. Post neorealism imbues the first episodes direction. The DVD collection by Ansari’s bed in the second scene is the biggest clue if you hadn’t known it was. The Bicycle Thief, La Notte, La Dolce Vita, all Fellini, all stacked so they can be credited, even if subtly to the Roman director of post-Mussolini Italy.
But it is the following scenes where you can begin to understand that Ansari and writing partner Alan Yang have somehow captured Italy, a real Italy. One that isn’t all Tuscan hills and olive picking in idyllic situations and one that isn’t all degradation.
The small town salutes, the interplay between people, the way the coffee is ordered or as Ansari’s character, Dev even says, “allora is my favourite word.” Allora > Well/anyway/so. It is a word that is nuanced, it can only be Italian in that, it can be applied in quite literally every and which context. Contrary to this is when Ansari says, “Me time” a concept lost to Italians. “Me Time” is something that they cure with enforced group gatherings and aperitivo.
Yes, the Italians use “cazzo” a lot, ironically, the first words spoken in this opening show, but “allora” is a distinctly flavoured, Italian word.
The apathetic police officer, the child who doesn’t hold back on correcting Ansari’s Italian or Pino, the businessman who wants to take a “small three hour drive” to show the leading man his “latest marble, black, blacker than anything you’ve ever seen, we call it, black galaxy.”
If understanding Italian culture is done through a plate, understanding its recipients is to understand its lesser known heroes, the average person. It is that way across all cultures, more than we realise, but in Italy it is a piece of the storytelling that go hand in hand.
For a town, Modena, that is piazzas and bikes, fresh pasta and subtle charm, the black and white takes away one key element; colour. Colour gives life to all of these things and yet the storytelling is more natural to the, ‘Italian way.’ It exposes and cuts through the accordion soundtrack that most programs about Italy like to put up and instead it makes you learn something.
What this all shows is that there is a greater understanding of “just how things are.” A malignant attitude of the Italian way of doing things, generally. It’s not easy to notice when someone visits for a holiday, but as in the case of the Dev character, something that shines after months of being there. The beauty, you’ve got the front row seat.
This is not perfect, but then again it’s a fictional representation, one that does the job better than most. The second episode shows a different side; an Americanised disposable view, one that the first does not capture but that’s also fine. It’s a different window, it’s not trying to show you Italy, it’s showing you how Italy is viewed from a strangers perspective, or in this case, Dev’s friend, Arnold.
Master of None, Season 2, episode 1 isn’t perfect, Ansari isn’t and no, not even Italy, but like the later it leaves you wanting more. A real taste of Italy for a non-Italian audience and one, if you really wanted to discover how Fellini and most Italians see the nation as an authentic representation.
There aren’t many ways to end this piece, I think other than, “allora” because, as we discovered, it has a multitude of uses, all, so very Italian.