“Master of None” wasn’t ghosting us. A year and a half after its debut on Netflix, the comedy is at long last back for its sophomore season.
The series, which hails from co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, charmed critics in its first season as it followed the adventures of aspiring actor Dev (Ansari) in New York — exploring modern love, familial pangs and other personal travails along the way. The first season ended with Dev, post-breakup, on an Italy-bound flight for a bit of personal restoration — and some pasta of course.
Season 2 of the series is now available on Netflix. The Times spoke with Yang about taking the show to Italy and not playing it safe. (For those who hate spoilers, bookmark this for later.)
“Master of None” had its tone down from the beginning. How did that inform what you wanted to do in Season 2?
With season 1, we wanted to be as original as we could make it. Season 2, we wanted to do the same thing, but also not repeat what we did in the first season. Originality and ambition were important to us, and if that meant that we were going to take risks or take ourselves a little out of our comfort zone, then we were willing to do that — even if the results weren't perfect. It was important to us that people wouldn't be able to settle in and be like, "All right, here's an episode of ‘Master of None,’ and Dev's going to have something happen to him, and then he'll talk about it with his friends, and then he'll learn a lesson, and he'll become a little more socially aware by the end."
How early into the mapping out of Season 1 did you know this Italy excursion would become a moment for Dev?
It's been in the back of our minds. It's one of our favorite places to visit, and has been for a long time, and so it was no coincidence that at the end of Season 1, the character says he's going to go there, because it's based on a genuine, real-life emotion and opinion that we have.
We adhere to this philosophy of ‘write what you know’ as much as possible. That was one of reasons we took a little bit of time after Season 1, because we didn't want to just write about doing press for Season 1. I was a big fan of this sort of fake-out ending last year, where instead of chasing the girl at the airport and trying to win her back, it's this other thing where the two people have influenced each other in subtle ways and grown as people due to their relationship, but it isn't necessarily this romantic comedy ending where they get back together right away.
We adhere to this philosophy of 'write what you know' as much as possible.
— Alan Yang, showrunner of "Master of None"
The logical extension of that was, well, we don't really want to yank the audience and say, "Well, he's going to Italy, that sounds really fun," and then in Episode 1 it's like, "Well, Italy was fun. Let's just do this back in New York now." It was really generous of Netflix to let us shoot [in Italy]. Basically, Aziz and I visited Italy a bunch of times, and Aziz actually lived there for a little bit, and we did our best to location-scout and to think about which parts of Italy would be most interesting, both aesthetically and concept-wise. It was important to us that we didn't necessarily shoot in the same parts of Italy that have been shot over and over again — your Romes, your Venices, your Florences — all unbelievably beautiful, picturesque cities, but you've seen them in movies a little bit before, and we wanted to explore new territory if possible. So we hit upon this city called Modena, and Aziz spent some time there and got to know the city really well, and he was able to be a great guide for us. He learned some Italian, and shooting there was a real treat. Great food there, which is not a bad byproduct.
What inspired the look and vibe of the Italy trek?
There's very much an homage to the film “Bicycle Thieves” by [Vittorio] De Sica, and that inspired a lot of the look of the first episode, and even some of the shots. We watched that film and a lot of Antonioni — “L'Avventura,” “L'Eclisse,” “La Notte” — and you'll see even further along a few nods to those movies.
Was it hard maintaining Dev’s voice in Italy? Translating it over?
We try to play off the sort of character I've never seen before, which is a young Indian man speaking Italian in a small town in Emilia-Romagna. It's not something I've seen over and over again in movies and television, the story of a young Indian American, expatriate, but in Italy. There's built-in comedy there. I think we enjoyed playing with Dev learning Italian, Francesca [Alessandra Mastronardi] and Pino [Riccardo Scamarcio] learning English, and of course, little Mario (Nicolo Ambrosio) was such a great, fun, young actor.
Oh, he was my favorite.
Nico? Yeah, he's one of the cutest people I've ever met. We flew in and Aziz and I read a bunch of kids, and man, like, the second he walked in that casting office, we were just blown away. Just charmed everyone he ever encountered, and that's just such a win. He really carried the episode with Aziz, and just like in “Bicycle Thieves,” it's very much a two-hander with the father and son, so in this episode, it's kind of a two-hander between Dev and Mario and, man, Nico really carries that.
“Mario's Solo Adventure,” an all-over-the-world travel show. Or what about a food show, where he just travels the world eating food? The new Anthony Bourdain. I’d watch that.
What are Aziz’s pasta-making skills like after all this time?
They're very good, man. He's legit. He bought a mattarello, which is the big rolling pin that you can basically only get in Italy. It comes out and flattens the fresh pasta. Dude lived in Italy for like a month. He worked in a pasta shop, literally the one that we shot at.
[Aziz] can make a pretty mean pasta
Alan Yang, showrunner of "Master of None"
The show faced some criticism in Season 1 for its choice of leading ladies for Dev. How did that inform Season 2, particularly the dating episode?
We try not to respond explicitly to criticism. Season 1, it was more like, "Hey, he's dating this one woman." We just kind of wanted to take the reality of what happens in New York too.
We did an episode about dating on those apps, and we talked to all our friends who might be on those apps. I've been on them a little bit. The reality of it is that we talked about this in the writers room a lot. We have Asian writers, Indian writers, black writers, and we talked about being not white on those apps. One of the big things is, you do match with your own race more often. We have this conversation in this episode, where, you know, they did a study, and the people who get the fewest matches are black women and Asian men, and so we are like, "Well, let's just put that in the episode, because it's real."
Tell me someone in the writers room uses the Whole Foods pickup line.
Oh, my God. So, I won't name who it is, but a friend of ours who is actually on those apps a lot, that was one of his real opening lines, and he said it worked so well. As soon as we thought of this episode, we thought of him, and we took him out to lunch, and we talked about it for a little bit, and he offered us that little nugget. We said, "Oh, my God, can we use that in the episode?" He's like, "Sure, you have my blessing. I retired it. I don't use that line anymore."
Was there an episode that was more personal for you from this season?
This is actually an interesting question, because you know, Season 1, we had that parents episode, very much about my parents, and so there is a part of an episode [in Season 2] that is even more about my dad, and he does not yet know about it, so we'll see about that one.
I did really very much enjoy directing the episode about religion. That is very much based on Aziz and his brother’s lives, and they wrote that episode together. Their parents are Muslim and Aziz and his brother don't really practice, and they don't go to mosque that much anymore. It was really just interesting for me to learn from two of my friends what that was like for them growing up, and how it affects them in their current-day lives.
Part of the reason we wanted to show these characters in this light is that, the depiction of Muslim characters in almost every movie and TV show is that they're about to explode a bomb on someone. They're going to play scary music while they pray, and it's like, "No, that's not the majority of Muslim people.” Like a lot of them are goofy gastroenterologists, or people who work in offices, or you know, people who are just like you and me. These parents are Muslim, and they go to mosque, and they're just normal people. One of the things you want to get across is the conflict between Dev and his parents in the episode is very much a conflict that someone might have with their Jewish mom and dad, or their Catholic mom and dad.
In this case, it's not even about that specific religion, it's more about communication with your parents. It's a two-way street in that respect too, where you know, parents can do a better job of talking to their kids, and expressing what their expectations are, and understanding if their adult children don't necessarily have the same beliefs. It's about both sides if not giving in a little, then at least seeing the other perspective a little bit.
How has this show changed the way you approach your work, in terms of not being afraid to make something representative of you?
It's definitely influenced me in my other writing. I'm working on a movie right now, and man, there's almost no white people in it. Will it be a challenge to get it made? Sure, but I just think it's worth it. I think it's the thing that we've been preaching to other people: "Man, if we're not going to do these stories than who is?" It's like, if an Indian guy and an Asian guy aren't going to write stuff for an Indian guy and an Asian guy, then you're in trouble, and we are well aware of how fortunate we are, and the privilege we do have to get to have our own show and make other things, and I think there is a certain responsibility.
People should do whatever they feel most passionate about, but definitely at this point in my life, it does affect me that basically my entire life I haven't seen that much representation of people who look like us. That doesn't mean that that's all we're going to do, or that’s all that I'm ever going to write, but I do think about it, for sure.