Nice guys may not finish last, but viewers seem to have a harder time making room for them in their hearts. We simply relate more to flawed characters such as narcissistic Sheldon Cooper in “The Big Bang Theory,” or power-hungry Selina Meyer in “Veep.” Plus, jerks get all the best lines.
Successfully cutting against the grain have been Dev Shah of “Master of None” and the title character in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” two sunny-side-up protagonists who could turn a tsunami into an excuse for kite flying. Both series return to Netflix this month, but only one still manages to charm.
That honor goes to Shah (Aziz Ansari), who has retreated to Modena, Italy, for pasta-making lessons, the most romantic strategy ever concocted to get over a broken relationship. The first episode is shot in black and white with tips of the fedora to Vittorio De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief.” Ti amo!
Love is still in the air when he returns to New York and romances a gal pal he met in Europe, dancing the Twist while snowed in, taking a helicopter ride over the skyline, gazing into each other’s eyes at acclaimed restaurants.
Ansari, who created the show with Alan Yang, keeps finding innovative ways to re-create the lobster scene from “Annie Hall.” In fact, “Master of None” often feels like classic Woody Allen — if Allen had ever befriended any minorities in Manhattan.
Shah’s tender approach to everything from lasagna to courting could easily go down like a sugar overdose, but our hero is so earnest in his search for life’s simple pleasures that you still want to kiss him on the forehead or, at the very least, buy him a Cronut.
As in the first season, Ansari and Yang lead with their hearts behind the scenes as well, crafting each episode like a indie project designed to impress their film-school classmates. In one of the best installments, the camera veers away from Shah and his loyal friends to follow three black characters — a deaf store clerk, a dedicated doorman and a lonely cabdriver — for no other reason then to celebrate the unsung men and women who make our cities hum. If that isn’t a love letter, what is?
While I’m still head over heels over “Master of None,” I have to admit my crush on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is fading. There’s plenty to adore in the third season, with guest appearances by Jon Hamm, David Cross and especially Amy Sedaris, all having a ball in the ridiculous world created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. Breakout star Tituss Burgess remains TV’s most huggable sidekick, even when his dreams of stardom convince him there’s nothing wrong with recording a song about how the CIA invented AIDS to sell quilts.
The problem is Schmidt herself. Ellie Kemper is an inventive comic actress who takes pluckiness to a new plateau. But her presence on camera has been largely reduced to a G-rated impression of Jim Carrey, flashing one over-the-top facial expression after another. It’s starting to get on my nerves.
There is hope. In episode six, Schmidt enrolls at Columbia University and is making goo-goo eyes at a student who may be her match in the good Samaritan department.
We need more than Dev Shah to melt our cynical hearts.
Njustin@startribune.com Twitter: @nealjustin