If you like H. Jon Benjamin, you’ll like “Hot Ticket.” And if you don’t like H. Jon Benjamin, voice of Bob in Bob’s Burgers, maybe books are more your thing?
It’s a compliment to the comedy veteran, who plays Ansari’s colleague Benjamin in The Sickening, that his performance is the X factor that makes this episode work, but it’s also a slight to the show itself. If “Plan B” was a promising introduction and “Parents” was a bold experiment that paid off, then “Hot Ticket” is a return to safe waters: An entire episode about asking a woman on a date. Yes, it’s littered with plenty of Ansari’s clever insights about the difficulties of getting people to commit to plans through text, but that material was much funnier in his stand-up than it is here. In scripted form, it feels stilted, and the seams of the source material are too apparent. Exhibit A: Dev reads a consternating text exchange aloud to Benjamin, which is something that Ansari himself does in his stand-up.
Blessed with Father John Misty tickets at the start of this episode, Dev must decide who to bring along, and Arnold goads him into asking out the unattainable Alice (Nina Arianda). Dev does so successfully and then the episode becomes a race against the clock: Will Alice firm up their plans before the concert, or will she flake out?
When Dev is on set with Benjamin, the episode is at its best. Before the main plot takes hold, the two chat over craft services and Benjamin shares delightful tidbits from his career such as “Taye Diggs? He hates celery. But I love it,” punctuated by a big, almost lustful bite of celery. Later, when the two are getting their makeup done for The Sickening and Dev can’t touch his phone, Benjamin manages his texts on his behalf, texting Brian, “Sorry, just ate. But I really admire you as a person” when Dev wants to reject his friend’s lunch request with a simple “No.”
In another scene, Dev complains that “XOXO” in text form actually means “go f*ck yourself” and Benjamin responds, “Well, if that’s true, then all the letters my grandmother wrote me ended with ‘Go f*ck yourself—Grandma.’” (That line and the Taye Diggs bit were both improvised, according to Ansari.)
The two actors have a sparkling chemistry, but this is an episode about Dev’s date and so, alas, it must move away from their budding friendship into less enjoyable territory.
The rest of the episode feels like five to ten minutes worth of observations about texting and dating stretched into a full half hour. Arnold has a particularly brilliant suggestion to send Alice a picture of a turtle climbing out of a briefcase in order to get her attention but, apart from that, it’s just not enough material to hang an episode on. The concert eventually happens, Arianda does an excellent job of being a nightmare of a date with a perfectly awful Cartman impression, and that puts a wrap on the main plot. Yes, the writing is sharp, the production is excellent, and all the leads are delightful, but Master of None can and—if you’ve watched a bit ahead—does do so much better.
What can be said for “Hot Ticket” is that it fleshes out Dev’s existing relationships. Rachel (Noël Wells) from “Plan B” reappears for some flirtation at the end of the concert, making it clear that she’s going to be the series love interest. And although the episode can be faulted for its slow pace—a good five minutes is spent watching Dev, Brian, Denise and Arnold watch Sherlock on Netflix—it’s nice to see them spending time together, and bouncing off of each other, in a setting that isn’t a bar, coffee shop or restaurant. Television comedies with stand-up comic leads sometimes have trouble fleshing out their side characters but “Hot Ticket” puts in the time to do just that.
Here’s hoping that setup pays off down the road, and that we get to see much, much more of Benjamin, too.
May Saunders is a professional dog walker living in Minneapolis and an occasional freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her cat, who does not need to be walked. Follow her on Twitter.