Creators: Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang
Director: Aziz Ansari
Writers: Aziz Ansari, Lena Waithe
Cast: Lena Waithe, Naomi Ackie
Streaming on: Netflix
Hailing Master of None Presents: Moments in Love as the show’s third season is indirectly falling trap to Netflix’s marketing gimmicks. In reality, this season is nothing like the preceding two. It exists in the same universe but treads a different narrative territory. No longer about Dev, who was played by Aziz Ansari, this season follows Denise (Lena Waithe), who earlier appeared as his comrade-in-crime. The show’s new focus makes it practically a spin-off rather than a continuation. This news did not sit well with many, including me — the second season ended on an emotionally pointy cliffhanger, and this shift in direction meant that we would have to continue living with that narrative void. But the third season’s not bad just because it is different.
If you can accept the renovated aesthetic and plot, this season may just work. However, this modified look does take a bit of hand-wringing and adjusting. Ostensibly picking up a few years from where they left things off, we are re-introduced to Denise as a New York Times Bestselling author. Now living in a bougie, picture-perfect house around the countryside, she’s experiencing a similar level of success as Dev did when he was a reality TV host. Her personality, apart from her overwhelming nonchalance, feels newly invented — she’s now married to Alicia (Naomi Ackie). A majority of the episodes are about them in the middle of a domestic wrangle, and in that sense, this season is indeed like a successor to the previous two, albeit with different people in a distant setting.
Ansari pretty much elbows his own character out of the shot despite retaining creative control as a writer-director — Dev appears twice, perhaps for a total of ten minutes. At the risk of diagnosing Ansari’s tenure as an artist, his absence does make sense to a certain degree. Barring his stand-up special Right Now where he does address this, it is almost reflective of his temporary departure from the industry after he was accused of sexual misconduct. Every episode is overtly and indulgently silent, yet there’s an unexpected frailty embedded in the writing. Ansari’s big-mouthed character would not have let you believe that such lingering silence was possible in the first two seasons. So, these quiet, long-drawn sequences of Denise and Alicia only serve as a poignant reminder of Ansari as a creator and actor. You want him there but you know that you have to stay content with motes of his character instead.
This quietude is also essential to the married but fragmenting couple. Alicia is steely and outgoing whereas Denise is distant and reticent; the former wants a child whereas the latter is on the fence about it. This yin-yang dynamic helps uncover layers of their relationship — when they hit rock bottom, it bruises you too. They come from different places and you cannot help but empathise with both of them. And while this season excels at portraying an uncommunicative relationship, you lose attention when the plot pauses to show us the individual characters. There is something distinctly alienating about Denise’s visible lack of emotion. I could not get over her coolness, an overpowering characteristic that goes stale in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, you still feel attached to Alicia, whose tragic life is deeply affecting.
The show’s identity was carved within New York’s quotidian rumble. Even when it took a brief detour to Italy, the larger aesthetic remained intact. The unsaid connection that it previously had with its physical setting does not exist anymore. Now, it is set in an elaborate two-storey house. This high-gabled, excessively ornate setting forces the show to shed its urban simplicity. Even the background use of sopranos feels rather contrived and pretentious. While this season may not feel as natural, with Master of None’s tumultuous history, you may just forgive the show for all its missteps.