Once, while living in Manhattan, I sat across from a couple on the uptown 1 train. Without a book to occupy me, I read them instead. I remember them still: She, gamine in a striped shirt, brown bun, and almond eyes; he, a bushy beard, happy to be with her. Over the stations I watched them lean into each other, necks twisting inward like swans. I got off at 116th and they rode on.
A few weeks later, I saw the same couple ambling through my college courtyard. I was shocked enough to halt my flurried walk to class. Shocked, because this kind of coincidence doesn’t typically happen in New York, a city where other people’s lives blur in your periphery, mixed with neon signs and bodega flowers and the sounds of traffic.
Such is life in New York: lives, like threads, colliding and diverging to weave some chaotic pattern that you hope, at least, is beautiful from above. I interpreted my otherwise insignificant encounter with the exceptionally beautiful subway couple as proof of the Pattern.
Of course, the “pattern” is an idea I gleaned from the rom-com conception of the universe, in which coincidence is not only possible — it’s necessary for life’s more significant events to occur. Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s hit Netflix series, is squarely situated in this impossibly cohesive, “rom com” New York. It's version of the city amplifies micro-moments of serendipity into many individuals' stories. In Master of None's New York, beneath the blanket of anonymity is a network of connection and meaning.
In fact, there’s an entire episode devoted to that idea. At the start of “New York, I Love You,” we catch Dev (Aziz Ansari) and his two friends on the Upper East Side arguing over a movie twist. Instead of continuing to follow their conversation, the camera shifts to a passerby, a patient doorman who puts up with wealthy and idiosyncratic tenants, and then briefly becomes the story’s protagonist.
On and on the camera jumps, crossing boundaries of age, socioeconomic means, and ability. The entirety of the episode runs like a thought experiment: If we could follow the threads of others’ lives, how long would it take for theirs to cross ours again?
In the episode’s best moment, a group of African cab drivers seeking a night out encounter a group of young women trying to get into a restaurant, minutes past closing time. One cabbie happens to be friends with a restaurant worker. After knocking on the window, the worker lets them all in for a french fry-filled dance party. Sure, the coincidence of the cab driver knowing the restaurant staff might be extreme. But in Master of None’s New York, it’s possible. With their raucous evening, the characters are rewarded for being open to a city in which many different lives border each other constantly.
In this episode, we get a version of the city we tell ourselves might exist when we get fed up with gritty reality: It’s dirty, it’s crowded, it’s expensive, and oh look, there’s a rat. I’d even go so far to say that shows like Master of None make living in New York possible by reminding us of its ideal iteration.
Just like the “New York, I Love You” is a pastiche of stories, season 2 of Master of None is a pastiche of ideas. Ansari devotes entire episodes to topics only tangentially related to the season’s “main” story, an ongoing relationship between Dev and his Italian friend, Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). There are episodes on the strategy of online dating, the tense balance between family expectation and independence, and Thanksgiving tradition.
While season 2 of Master of None deals with issues like race, religion, and relationships with realism, the show nonetheless exists in an optimistic universe. Even beyond “I Love New York,” Dev and other characters still run into people on the street at opportune moments. From the vantage point of Master of None, New York feels like a place teeming with connection. Call it what you will, but I call it lovely.
Watch Season 2 of Master of None on Netflix starting May 12.
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