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An Italian girl visiting America walks by a pharmacy on a street corner in New York City, stops, and, like she’s found her favorite amusement park ride at last, begs her American friend to take her inside.
That scene and every other that happens before and after it in “Amarsi Un Po,” the second-to-last episode of Master of None‘s second season, put together the best hour I’ve spent watching television in a while.
There’s a lot of that going around in Season 2, just in the show’s shorter, 30-minute segments. “Amarsi Un Po” showcases two of my favorite things about this season of Master of None: the Italian language and the staggering artistry of Aziz Ansari’s filmmaking.
Aziz is an excellent writer — he’s written a terrific love story in Season 2 — and a hilarious comic. These skills of his are well-known. But above all else, Season 2 demonstrates his impeccable vision and creativity from behind the camera, especially in the way he uses lighting and color to create gorgeous scenes inside a small apartment and out. His directing in “Amarsi Un Po,” “The Thief,” “Buona Notte” and “Le Nozze” exhibits his mastery of the art form.
“The Thief,” the Season 2 premiere shot in Italy, is entirely in black and white, an ode to old Italian filmmaking. The absence of color, the location, and that the dialogue is almost entirely spoke in Italian make “The Thief” a standout and joyous surprise in the series’ return to your screen.
Aziz knows how to use great location scouting. That aspect was already there from Season 1, and certainly starting Season 2 in Italy created an embarrassment of riches. His character, Dev, and best friend, Arnold, give us an awe-inspiring tour in the second episode, “Le Nozze,” with private dining at an upscale Italian restaurant, wedding crashing at a castle, and scootering along the countryside in between.
Location is also a big part of what makes “Amarsi Un Po” such a beautiful episode as well, like when Dev and love interest Francesca visit the outdoor Storm King Art Center in Upstate New York. Aziz gets a super-wide picture like this:
The “Amarsi Un Po” scene from the helicopter is an incredible, heart-wrenching part, but as art goes: the way it paints the city at night is surreal. You can kind of see it here:
And maybe I’m overemphasizing the helicopter tour. Maybe that’s how the city looks at night. But significant amounts of the episode are spent inside of Dev’s apartment. It’s a pretty sweet apartment, but Aziz makes it look like the most romantic place on Earth, which sets the ambiance for the primary setting of one hell of an episode.
And this, too:
How many colors and shades of those colors can you count in that shot?
A snow storm keeps Dev and Francesca stuck inside for a night of emotional Tug of War, pulling on the heart strings of the characters (and us as an audience). When the episode finally gets back outside, there’s this day and night combo:
And this, from a stressful, heart-breaking scene at a bar:
So, this season is gorgeous, and it showcases Aziz’s filmmaking chops over and over again. It also tells a love story that feels really special. Season 1’s, with Noel Wells as love interest Rachel, although good, was pretty ordinary. Season 2, with Alessandra Mastronardi as Francesca, looks and feels extraordinary — joyfully surprising, at least.
The surprising nature of much of Season 2 is the other main part of what makes it such great TV.
The first season ended by telling us Dev was on his way to Italy. We knew he’d be there. But then “The Thief” opened up in black and white with subtitles for everyone speaking a different language. That language, Italian, it should be said, seems like the most fun language, doesn’t it? Everything sounds happier in Italian. (My wife and I are considering learning it, then traveling to Italy — that’s the impact this season had on us.)
“The Thief” is surprising filmmaking.
The satisfaction of witnessing the warm, loving friendship blossom between Dev and Francesca is surprising.
Going on the best walk thru of a basic city pharmacy you’ve ever been on is surprising.
Also in continuing a theme from Season 1 of having excellent standalone episodes like “Thanksgiving” and “New York, I Love You,” altogether Season 2 of Master of None turns out to be an extremely satisfying watch.
Meet Mike and Eileen Parker. Are they the portrait of what Queen Elizabeth II’s and Prince Philip’s marriage will become five months — a year? — from the time in 1957 The Crown begins its second season? Rocky, untrusting and absent, that’s the comparison show runner Peter Morgan starts to unfurl in “Misadventure,” and it’s the primarily plot point we were promised.
Mike Parker is the private secretary to Philip. He’s the closest adviser accompanying the Prince on his five-month royal assignment around the world. And, as described by Princess Margaret, whose unwavering social life would seem to qualify her to make these kind of well-informed descriptions, Mike is a man with famous friends and a reputation that’d make him a sour influence on Philip. We’ll likely be seeing a lot of him. But, in “Misadventure,” it’s the portrait of his wife, Eileen, that is most interesting, a housewife left too often to care for her family alone — one son, one daughter (not unlike that other couple).
It’s one of the Parker kids’ birthdays, after dad leaves for the business trip, and the family is waiting for a phone call that never comes. There seems a long-unsettled argument between mom and dad, about Mike having accepted such a time-consuming position, when the family is dropping dad off at the airport. From the backseat even, one of the Parker kids is noticeably, significantly more dispassionate toward their dad than the other. And finally, both when Mike picks up Philip for Lunch Club and after Philip boards the plane and says goodbye to Elizabeth, Mike very openly expresses his dissatisfaction with his wife and the institution of marriage altogether.
None of it sounds good. Mike doesn’t seem like the type of person Elizabeth would want Philip to be around. It’s the type of personality Philip is susceptible to. The Queen’s been warned before, and no doubt has concerns of her own about him, about Lunch Club, etc.; after all, as she packs away a surprise gift for her husband to open on the plane (a video camera), she attaches to it a brief message: “Always remember you have a family.”
With that, Season 2 of The Crown is off and running. We’re expecting to see quite a bit from Philip this season, as that what was described as one of the primary focuses of this continuation from the show’s award-winning first season.
It’s the main tension this premiere focuses in on, beginning the episode actually five months later than the season will flashback to begin to tell its stories. News men and photographers are scratching notes and snapping photographs from a dock, hundreds of yards away from the boat Elizabeth and Philip occupy, in this flash-forward scene. The papers have been going crazy for weeks (months?), rumors are swirling about Philip’s infidelities and his missteps. On board, Elizabeth and Philip are sitting down together in a eerily quiet, almost pitch-dark master suite to discuss their huge problems. Divorce isn’t an option, so what do you need in order to make this marriage bearable, Elizabeth asks Philip to no response — no response, yet.
When the episode tracks back to five months earlier, the time period in which this second season will take place, the royal couple is actually rather happy together, still frisky, still with some of the child-like exuberance when they’re alone together.
But just as the sparks faded in Season 1 and the doubt entered, the same quickly happens in this premiere. It so often seems like Elizabeth and Philip have their moments of happiness that only temporarily distract from the real problem.
In the scene in which Elizabeth excitedly goes to put a new camcorder in Philip’s carry-on as a nice surprise for her husband, she discovers a small framed picture of another woman as she’s pulling out items from the bag to make room for it. Her joy quickly hides away as panic overcomes her. She’s noticeably distracted during much of the rest of the episode, when it comes to dealing with some political happenings.
She recognizes the woman in the photograph. It’s Russian ballerina Galina Ulanova, one of the famous women that would be in Mike Parker’s larger circle.
A staunch supporter of the arts as she is, Elizabeth goes to see the ballerina when the Russian ballet is in the country. It’s this scene that’s one of the best of the episode. Silent but deadly it is, a first-one-to-look-away-loses stare down.
Outside of the royal marriage and its surrounding variables, the groundwork for other important storylines is just now being laid.
Margaret is expected to have a big, extravagant arc this season, but only in one short sequence to be find out what she’s up to — staying out ’til 4 a.m., partying, sleeping in, rinse and repeat. She’s a royal socialite.
Politically, something large is developing at the Suez Canal. Egyptians have taken over the British port and Prime Minister Anthony Eden, seemingly bored of speaking at universities and looking for his thing that’ll take him out of Churchill’s shadow, puts boots on the ground to take it back — going behind the back of the U.N., and leaving the Queen in the dark until he’s already moved in.
There’ll be much more to break down this season, in what’s shaping up to be a pretty contentious period of time.
Jim Carrey says, “I don’t know what else to say about all this. I think I’m tapped out.”
“OK,” the producer says.
But for one last whimsical thought, this is where “Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond” stops. And it’s strange, isn’t it? Well, “Jim & Andy” is strange, a documentary revealing long-locked-away footage of what it was like behind-the-scenes with Jim Carrey during the making of Andy Kaufman biopic “Man on the Moon.” It’s a singular interview with Carrey — the only other commentaries were made in 1998-1999 to the camera crews originally filming on the set at Carrey’s request.
But this wispy ending is not a practiced tactic. Yeah, more often than not, your interview with a subject is going to conclude in a similar fashion — either the subject is going to say they’re out of things to say, or you’re going to sense it by their weakening or shortened answers. But you’re not going to include that in your article or documentary or report or whatever you’re interviewing them for. So why is it here? It begs the question: Who’s driving the interview, Carrey or the producer interviewing him? Maybe it’s Carrey. And if so, “Jim & Andy” looks more like spilled guts in a diary than a documentary with vision.
And, still, maybe it is all of those things, but what’s unfortunate about where it ends — where the producer fails to push Carrey forward — is that there’s a lot of meat left.
“Jim & Andy” drops the story of this odd-beyond-belief experience on the set of “Man on the Moon” at the wrap of the movie, but, oh, how much more story there was to tell. It’s there in Carrey discussing his regret for refusing to appear in R.E.M.’s music video, “The Great Beyond,” the title song of the 1999 film, because he didn’t want to “be Andy” anymore. He’d shed himself of him, and if you’d watch the film you’d understand how significant a transition that must have been. It’s there in Carrey discussing how disappearing into the character and reappearing as himself after filming changed the way he thought about himself and his career.
The old footage is Carrey’s story to tell. What comes next, what was left unexplored, is where director Chris Smith could’ve taken the doc. That’s the juice I really wanted to know about, and Carrey is so candid and self-aware here that there seemed no better person to explain what it’s like to try to shake a character so crippling as Andy Kaufman turned out to be for him, to try to re-emerge into public life after such a mentally draining work experience. What happens to an actor after that?
The funny little thought at the end of “Jim & Andy” is Carrey wondering what would happen if he just decided to be Jesus. This is a branch of what makes this documentary so interesting. Carrey is so self-aware and so thoughtful about his life, career, the universe and his place in it, that it makes for an engrossing viewing experience.
The footage is dumbfounding. In fact, Carrey admits in one instance that the studio didn’t want him to release the footage as he originally intended in 1999 because it was worried audiences would hate what they saw of him. And that is no joke. It’s downright impossible to watch at times because what’s happening on video is exhausting.
You come thinking you’re seeing a documentary about Jim Carrey, but the exploration of Carrey, the man, is lost at the end. You’re seeing Andy Kaufman, and you better be mentally prepared for Tony Clifton.
“Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond”: ★★