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Is Master of None more than just lifestyle porn?

Taste, not just food, is a fundamental concern of the show. (contains spoilers)

It’s been described as “a gastronomic and visual feast” and “an elegantly presented, thoughtfully created, and sublimely delicious 10-course tasting menu”. Yes, Aziz Ansari’s Master of None returned to Netflix over this weekend, and it’s as appetising as ever. Food has long been a primary concern of the show, and much of the coverage has centred around the amazing meals on display throughout seasons one and two.

Taste, more broadly, is a fundamental concern of Master of None, not just in the (gorgeous) aesthetics of the show itself: from Dev’s exposed brick apartment to the plethora of beautiful restaurant interiors, to Arnold’s weird… nautical… house (?), to the arthouse influences at work in episodes like “The Thief” and “Amarsi Un Po”. It also bleeds into the ways in which characters interact with one another and the types of characters the show values – something that becomes increasingly clear in season two.

It starts as Dev heads to Italy to learn a more authentic approach to pasta, and immediately connects with Francesca (who, not coincidentally, looks like she’s stepped out of a Fellini frame), for her sophisticated tastes: a love of classic Italian music, art history and, yes, food. Meanwhile Francesca’s boyfriend Pino is mocked for his less sophisticated passion: tiles. Dev and love interest Sara bond over their shared desire to eat at a tiny, critically acclaimed restaurant and her “lovely”, “charming” British accent. When Arnold arrives, his friendship is demonstrated by his ability to secure a table at an exclusive restaurant with an extensive tasting menu.

Back in New York, Dev is charmed by Chef Jeff thanks to his habit of treating Dev to exciting meals, unnecessary gifts of champagne and glamorous parties at his fancy apartment with his famous friends. Etiquette is a primary concern of Dev’s, as he chides Arnold, Brian and Francesca for not acting appropriately around famous people (don’t ask John Legend for a photo at your famous mate’s house), while in “First Dates”, he balks at the rudeness of many of his dates, but forgives one a 15-minute phone call thanks to her apology gift: an expensive bottle of wine. Arnold and Dev debate which restaurants are most likely to spark romance (”classy cocktails”: “hidden”, “intimate”), while Dev’s feelings for Francesca (and, spoiler alert, vice versa) peak at one of Jeff’s fancy parties, Storm King and on a helicopter trip around New York.

Of course, the lifestyle on show here didn’t happen by accident. “We agreed Dev should have decent money from his commercials (Gogurt, Wendy's voiceover, Garden Depot) and national commercials actually pay a decent amount,” Aziz Ansari explained on Reddit. “We mainly did this to differentiate from the other New York shows where characters are younger and not doing as well work wise.”

It could start to feel like the show is a type of elitist lifestyle porn – but Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang deliberately move away from that in later episodes. In “New York I Love You”, “Door #3” and “Thanksgiving”, we delve into less self-consciously glamorous stories: a farcical few hours of a doorman of a classy apartment building, a day in the life of a deaf woman who works at a convenience store, a seemingly bad day for a cinema-going cab driver who gets spoiled for an upcoming movie and rejected at the door of a club. We get insights into the complex lives of more marginal characters: Brian’s father’s loneliness, or, in a particularly special episode, Denise’s upbringing and experience coming out to her family. These are bold departure’s from Dev’s more breezy storylines, and some of the series’ best moments.

But as the Francesca situation moves forward, Dev’s plotline (and Ansari’s acting) takes on new depths. He struggles with the idea that the relationship is a fantasy, and tries to interrogate where the substance in it might lie. When the camera lingers on Dev’s sad expression after Francesca leaves him sat in the back of a taxi, while Soft Cell sing sadly, “I tried to make it work / You in a cocktail skirt / And me in a suit”, you get a sense that Dev wants more than a glamorous lifestyle to feel satisfied.

Of course, the show’s biggest takedown of relationships based on taste alone is (yes, massive spoiler alert) the collapse of Chef Jeff’s nice guy persona in the finale, which suggests that there are no such thing as Best Food Friends. While Arnold and Dev are best friends who coach each other through work and dating and happen to share a pretty consuming passion for food, Chef Jeff is disgraced as a sexual predator and master manipulator- someone Dev should definitely have tried to get to know better before posing for enormous posters captioned “BBFs” with.

Master of None is not simply tasteful; it is engaged with the meaning of taste, and the problems inherent in fetishizing it. The result is a show that is yes, beautiful, and often causes twinges of envy – but one that is also curious, empathetic, and ultimately satisfying.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.