I Love Dick explores a woman's lust and pursuit of a man who's not her husband, while Season 2 of Master Of None sees the lead character travel to Italy
With the debut of I Love Dick and the second season of Master Of None, it is a good month for comedy series.
I Love Dick, based on the cult feminist novel of the same name, offers a thought-provoking look at female sexual desire and what happens to those who dare express it.
A film-maker named Chris (Kathryn Hahn) tags along with husband Sylvere (Griffin Dunne) to his academic residency in Marfa, Texas. The programme is run by a revered artist named Dick (Kevin Bacon) and Chris falls in lust at first sight when she spies his dashing, cowboy-hatted form across a crowded room.
Overwhelmed by desire, she begins writing letters detailing every torrid fantasy, addressing them to Dick, but sharing them only with Sylvere.
The couple use the letters to reignite their moribund sex life, but the letters do not stay private for long and this sets off a chain reaction for both Chris - for whom writing feeds not just lust, but also a whole new font of creativity - and others in their artistic community including, eventually, Dick himself.
The series offers a smorgasbord of meaty ideas - firstly, about society's presumption that there is something grotesque and undignified about female desire. It compels the audience to reckon with this as they take in the raw spectacle of Chris' infatuation, the camera often channelling the female gaze as it lingers over Bacon's frame.
It takes aim, too, at the pretentiousness of contemporary artists and intellectuals (Dick, at one point, declares himself "post-idea", right after lecturing Chris about how "most films made by women aren't that good" because women are oppressed).
Also in the crosshairs are privileged white feminists.
What makes I Love Dick so watchable is its close observation of mortal failings, from the infinite complexities of marriage to Chris' awkward attempts at seducing Dick.
In its eagerness to unpack all those big ideas, however, the characters occasionally sound like intellectual mouthpieces, rather than living, breathing people, and Chris' motivation is not entirely clear.
And as much as her relentless pursuit of Dick deliciously reverses centuries of cinematic and literary convention - here, the man is the object and the muse and the woman is energised rather than destroyed by her feelings - it does make you wonder whether, if the gender roles were reversed, this would feel more like harassment (and indeed, this has been a criticism of some of the grand romantic gestures by men on screen - we're looking at you, Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually).
Still, flipping the script and triggering these thoughts is the whole point. As an art-historian character points out, there have been hundreds more female nudes than female artists - so in that regard, consider I Love Dick one small step for womankind.
After its much-loved first season, Master Of None - a comedy about the personal and professional adventures of a young New Yorker named Dev (Aziz Ansari) - could have probably gotten away with doing more of the same.
Instead, its creators Ansari and Alan Yang picked an ambitious new canvas, following Dev all the way to Modena, Italy, on his quest to learn to make pasta and mend his heart, which was broken at the end of last season.
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MASTER OF NONE SEASON 2
The palette is more expansive too: There is the same gentle observational humour, but also a meditative, almost indie-film-like sensibility, along with a willingness to experiment with form.
Early episodes are a love letter to Italian food, language and cinema, crammed with close-ups of Dev and friends eating plate after glorious plate of pasta, and numerous allusions to classic films such as La Dolce Vita (1960) and Bicycle Thieves (1948).
But Dev remains unlucky in love. Still hung up on his ex-girlfriend, he now finds himself developing feelings for pasta-shop pal Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), who is engaged to somebody else.
He moves back to New York and hits the dating apps - one brilliant episode splices scenes from his first dates, distilling all the tropes of online romance, including the glaring racial biases.
But he does not find anyone this way and the series lingers in the pang of loneliness of that and the sweet ache of his forbidden bond with Francesca.
As with the first season, however, some of the best episodes are the standalone ones exploring bigger themes, such as the immigrant and minority experience.
One features interlocking sketches about an immigrant cabbie, a deaf black girl and a Hispanic doorman; another sees a visit from Dev's observant Muslim relatives triggering an inter-generational spat about religion; and a third is a snapshot of Thanksgiving dinners spent with childhood pal Denise over the years - a window into her struggle to get her family to accept that she is gay.
All in all, an impressive sophomore effort that suggests Ansari and Yang still have a lot to say.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'Lustful love letters and a quest to heal a broken heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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