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Josh Reviews Master of None: Moments in Love

It’s been four years since the second season of Master of None.  I’d assumed the show was finished.  That saddened me, because I absolutely adored the first two seasons of Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang’s series.  (Click here for my review of season one and click here for my review of season two.)  To my great delight, the series has returned with a five-episode installment titled “Moments in Love.”  This new short season focuses on Denise (Lena Waithe), a stand-out supporting character from the first two seasons, and her partner Alicia (Naomie Ackie).

I enjoyed watching “Moments in Love”, but this new mini-season represents a huge departure for the series.  To be honest, I’m of mixed feelings whether this should have been called Master of None at all or if it would have been better for this to have stood on its own as an entirely new thing.  While the first two seasons of Master of None focused on Aziz Ansari’s character Dev, Dev is almost entirely absent from these new episodes.  (He makes two brief appearances.)  Other than Denise, all of the show’s other characters have been jettisoned.  The show looks very different visually, with a 4×3 aspect ratio and a distinctly different style of long, uninterrupted takes and very few close-up coverage shots.   Most importantly, the tone of this new season is completely different.  There are almost no jokes to be found.  This is a very somber, elegiac, melancholy season, telling a story that is emotionally wrenching.

One of my favorite aspects of the first two seasons of Master of None was the soulfulness found among the comedy.  The show never shied away from telling emotional and dramatically real stories.  And yet, I never tuned into Master of None expecting to watch a melancholy drama.  I’m reminded of when Woody Allen shifted from his funny films to the entirely serious, dramatic 1978 film Interiors.  

However, I enjoyed this season of Master of None quite a bit more than I did Interiors!!

It’s a pleasure to see Lena Waithe’s Denise given the spotlight, and Naomie Ackie (Jannah in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) is a dynamite partner for her.  Both women turn in very powerful, moving, and emotionally real performances.  I loved their on-screen chemistry.  They have such a great energy together onscreen right from the start of the first episode (which is part of what makes the roller-coaster journey the two go on, over the course of the season, so painful to watch).  Both women really shine throughout the season.  These are Emmy-worthy performances, without question.

Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe co-wrote all five episodes, and Mr. Ansari directed them all.  I’m impressed by what they’ve created, and the bold choices they made in this season, even if the result was something very different from the Master of None show I’d known and loved.  The 4×3 aspect ratio, to name just one example, was quite a surprise to me.  I have mixed feelings about that choice.  I was more taken with the way Mr. Ansari and Ms. Waithe embraced stillness throughout the series, often holding the camera on silent moments in which little to nothing was actually happening.  They took the time to bring the viewer into the lives of Denise and Alicia, which creates a very intimate feel.  Watching Denise and Alicia fold laundry in a loooong sequence in the first episode is an unusual choice, but it works to establish the idea that we the viewer have been invited into the private moments of their lives, witnessing everyday moments not usually captured on screen.  (And that laundry scene in specific pays off when we compare that happy moment to several more somber moments later in the season.)

The standout episode of the season is the wrenching fourth episode, as we follow Alicia through her long and difficult process of IVF, an already challenging process exacerbated by the extra hurdles she encounters as an unmarried lesbian woman.  The slow, step-by-step storytelling of the season is used to full effect here, as we’re right there with Alicia throughout the day-to-day grind of the IVF process, and the long painful waits for news about her results.

As we slogged through the misery, I was hoping the season would end with some happiness and hope for these characters.  I’ll take what I got, though I’m not sure what exactly to make of where we find Denise and Alicia in that final episode.  MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know any of this.  Clearly Mr. Ansari and Ms. Waithe wanted to avoid the usual type of clean TV ending and opted for a more ambiguous one, which one could argue is more true to life.  I’m all for that, but as a viewer who had invested in these two women’s stories, I was uncertain how to feel about where the season left them at the end.  It’s nice to see they’ve come back together.  Their relationship is arguably in a better place than it was even when the season began.  But I found it so sad that they were happy together while cheating on their spouses.  It’s difficult to evaluate how I feel about those choices, because while I have invested in their relationship while watching the season, we never get to see or know anything about their lives with their new respective spouses.  So for the viewer, it’s not an equal playing field.  Am I rooting for them to ditch their new families and get back together?  I don’t know.  It’s a weird feeling.  While I respect the ambition to tell a messy story without easy Hollywood answers, after watching these five episodes I had hoped for more catharsis or resolution at the end.

Even though the ending of the season left me somewhat lukewarm, I can easily say that I enjoyed watching the journey, and I think it’s cool that Mr. Ansari. Ms. Waithe, and Mr. Yang felt the freedom to completely reinvent this show.  At the same time, I’d love to someday get a new installment of Master of None that feels like a return to the show that was.  I’d love to check back in with the show’s characters.  And in particular, I’d love to see a happier ending, ultimately, for Dev, whose life seems to be in shambles when we see him briefly in this season.  (The ending of season two left things on a very ambiguous note between Dev and Francesca; it’s sad to me that not only did that relationship apparently not work out, but that pretty much everything else in Dev’s life is a mess.  I’m rooting for better for this character!)

But I applaud the way they used the show to tell a new and different story, and I quite enjoyed giving the focus to these two talented women of color.  I’d love to see more of these two characters on future seasons of Master of None.  Whether or not that happens, I’ll for sure be paying attention to what Lena Waithe and Naomi Ackie do next.

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