Few TV comedy series have as much to say about romance, multiculturalism, generation gaps, and friendship with as much immediacy and as many laughs as "Master of None" did in its first season on Netflix. And it turns out that was just the warmup.
The critically hailed streaming series dials its signature style up even further in the second season debuting May 12th -- everything from an extended European location, highly stylized nods to international masters of cinema, and a heart-melting love story that sneaks up on Aziz Ansari's Dev throughout the season.
Executive producer Alan Yang, who co-created the series with Ansari -- the two shared an Emmy victory for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series -- joined Moviefone to discuss the wildly ambitious new directions.
Moviefone: There's a point where you're making the first season of the show where it's just you guys making the show that you want to make and want to see, and then you put it out there and you get the response, and then you come back to make a second season. Was there any effect on you, creatively, based on what you knew the audience had responded to in the first season?
Alan Yang: Honestly, not really. I think we tried to do the same thing we did the first season, which is, trust our instincts, and just try to make the show that we would want to see. I think it's really difficult to try and guess what the audience might want, or not want, or expect, or not expect.
I think all you can really do is trust your own gut and know what you want. I think anything else is kind of a fool's errand. We were thrilled with the reception the first season got, and I'm so happy that people saw the show, and some people responded positively.
Yeah, Season 2 was just like, "How can we make this bigger, better, more ambitious, different, more beautiful, more emotional, funnier, more interesting, more thought-provoking?" All of that stuff. It definitely wasn't, "Let's make the show more like Season 1." It was "Let's make it different than Season 1," if anything.
You definitely accomplished that while still keeping the spirit of the show.Tell me about figuring out where you wanted to go. You mentioned "ambitious," and you guys were certainly ambitious with this one. Figuring out the narrative through-line, while also being able to go off to explore certain corners of characters' lives. It's such an interesting road map you guys follow in the season.
It's always a tricky thing, right? The way our show is kind of laid out is that it's lightly serialized, and this is one thing we kind of took forward from Season 1. There is an overarching story for the season, but we always want to leave room for these episodes that are digressive or that are experiments, formal experiments, content experiments, where we can pursue any idea or emotion or concept that we find interesting.
We never want to be locked into like, "Well, the overall plot for this season is going to determine what's in every episode." I think part of the show's charm, if it has any, is that every episode can be something unexpected and can be a surprise.
So at the very beginning of the year, Aziz and I got together and we talked about what the bigger, overarching stories for the season would be. Typically there's one usually about Dev's relationship, and our secondary story about what he's doing in his career. So once we sort of hammered those out and the very sort of rough beats of that story, we laid those all out.
We also started talking about what the topics for the year might be. What's happened to us? What's made us really emotional, or impacted us in the last month, the last year, and what are we interested in? What seems to be something people are talking about, or something that made us angry, or something that's impacted us?
Then we just start talking about, it could literally be one word. There's a card that says religion on it, and then we just start talking about it, and try to figure out if there's a narrative that makes sense in the context of our characters. Then you go through the work of, "Okay, is this a one-off? Or does this fit into the larger story?"
And then, once you figure out the episodes you want to do, you kind of lay them out. You put them up on index cards on a board and just figure out, "Okay, how would this feel? What would the pace be like? What do we want Dev, the character, to be feeling while this episode takes place?" It's like building a building: You're putting pieces here and there and hopefully meeting out the larger story at the proper pace for the audience.
And always finding those funny moments as much as the true storytelling, character, and the tone that you're going for. You still keep it consistently funny, which is, I imagine, part of the trick of it all.
Yang: Yeah, I'm glad you thought it was funny. That's a big part of the show. I think that's definitely part of Aziz's charm as a performer. We have such funny actors on the show, including Eric Wareheim, Lena Waithe, Kelvin Yu. His parents -- his dad is so funny. We try to keep the comedy character-based as much as possible. I think it's very fun to watch these characters interact.
Yeah, we're not afraid to go for a big joke here and there. It's not the jokiest show in the world. I like to think that there's definitely some funny stuff this year that will be surprising to people.
One of the things that I find really compelling about the show is how you really take advantage of the fact that you're a streaming series, and you play with the form -- this season in particular -- so much, wether it be use of subtitles, use of color, or the length of episodes. You've got things that are around 20 minutes, you've got things that go an hour. Tell me about indulging in the freedoms, but also making sure that you're using those freedoms to a proper purpose.
Yeah, I'm so glad you picked up on that. We went pretty wild with stuff. We talked about how the length would range tremendously. We didn't go in saying, we're going to mess with the length. It's just, those are the lengths we thought those stories were told best in. And I think, obviously, we want to follow whatever our creative instincts are, and we like to be ambitious, we like to experiment, as you said, but I think we always keep the audience in mind also.
I'd like to think that the show's also entertaining and fun to watch, in addition to being interesting and challenging whenever possible. We don't see it as, like, an art project that is sort of insulated against the audience. The show also should be something that is fun and entertaining to watch. So it's kind of balancing those things, and putting comedy in, putting fun character interactions in the show.
It's a balance, where you have the sort of beats that you want to get across, and ideas you want to get across, and emotions you want to say, but at the same time, let's also have Arnold do something silly, or have the Jabbawockeez in the show, or have some hard comedy also.
Tell me a little bit about the cultural issues that are at the core of your show, and have been at the top of the list of our cultural conversation over the past few months, often in a very heated and polarizing kind of way. Tell me where you were in production as these conversations were heating up socially, and how they might have affected what you were producing as far as the show goes.
Yeah. It's really an insane story. I think one of the things you might be referring to is the episode about religion, which touches on Islam and Aziz's family and a variety of topics. That episode was written, conceived and written, entirely before, definitely before Donald Trump was elected president, probably before he was a serious candidate, and definitely before he called for a ban of all Muslim immigrants.
It was a really intense moment, and, in fact, the day after he got elected, we were shooting that episode. One of the first scenes up, eight o'clock in the morning, it was a flashback where the Dev character, after 9/11, is crossing the street, and a driver wants him to hurry up, and screams, hurry up terrorist, at him.
So it's just such a weird, fraught moment in the show already. It's the day after the election, and this guy who made bigoted comments about the Muslim ban has just been elected president, and I'm the director of this episode, and I have to tell the actor, "Hey man, when you say, 'Hurry up, terrorist,' can you do that more angry? Like, be angrier? Can you do that more angrily?" It's a strange moment.
And we talked about whether we'd change that episode to directly address Trump, because it seemed so topical -- and almost coincidental, a horrible coincidence that the United States has just elected this guy president. But we thought about it. We thought of all these options, and montages, and different scenes we were coming up with, it just didn't feel right for the episode. We like how the episode exists right now, and it doesn't directly address him, nor should it, because it wasn't conceived in that way, and I think it stands on its own.
So many of the stories are really filtered through a very romantic prism. Tell me what it means to you guys to be able to write and comment on the modern romantic and dating dynamics, but also, include a certain almost sweet and old-fashioned sensibility to a lot of the stories you tell.
Yeah, I like that. I've been asked about this a couple times, where people comment on, "Man, a lot of comedy is angry and negative and bitter and pessimistic," and we're used to the stereotype of comedians being these really depressed people. I'm hoping that we can make a show that isn't necessarily like that. We're not Pollyannas, we're not naive, I think. I know I personally am just a pretty optimistic, happy person. We're trying our best to make a funny show, and I hope that it's not incongruous.
I think that's just our personalities. I don't think Aziz is a particularly depressed, angry person either. This is just our taste. As far as the romantic aspect goes, man, Aziz and Alessandra [Matronardi] do such a great job pulling those scenes together. We were really inspired by these classic Italian films by Antonioni and Fellini and De Sica, and the sort of lyricism and emotion expressed in those films, if we could capture one iota in our show as an homage to those films, that would be amazing.
You and Aziz have a good, long working history together, and these things evolve over time. So what was the fun of your collaboration, particularly this time around? Was there a new evolution in your work together, or a new dynamic that emerged?
I like to think that we are growing together. I think we're getting better as writers and directors and performers, and everyone on the show is getting better, because we're learning, and we're getting better at working with each other, and our aspirations are higher.
I think one of the things that we do best is that we push each other. Recently, we've been watching more and more of these classic films and learning from them. Frankly, we're writing and directing a show, and to us, our ambition should be as great as people making films were 50 years ago. So let's watch some of those films, let's learn lessons, let's watch stuff, and take pictures of the frames on our cameras, and text them to each other, and talk about different aspects of filmmaking that we didn't necessarily have an education in before.
We're kind of learning on our own, and trying to be autodidacts, and really push each other. I think one of the reasons we work well together is that we both work really hard and we're obsessive. Neither of us are the kind of person to say, "That's good enough." If anything, it's one of us telling the other, I think we can do better, and let's keep working on this. I hope that's borne out in the show.
Was there any one particular storyline or episode that, for you, had an extra special resonance in that, you're kind of telling, this is my story?
There's so many that I just love. Frankly, a lot of those are other people's stories this year. People's lives I was curious about, or felt some empathy towards. There is a story that's not necessarily my story, but is very loosely based on my dad. I haven't even told him about it. It's not completely factual, of course, it's exaggerated completely.
Yeah, there's a storyline about the Brian character's dad, Peter, and his adventures in the dating world. We always thought that story was really funny and it came out great. Clem Cheung, the actor who portrays Peter, and Kelvin are both really funny in it. So that always was a small one that made us laugh.
Your show feels so personal from the first season. Did friends and relatives say, "Hey! That actually was us, right?"
Yeah, oh absolutely. Pretty much everything that happens in the parents episode that happens to Brian's family, happened to my family. So that all happened to my dad. Him eating chicken, them not getting served in a restaurant, that's all stuff that they told me. So I think it was extra special for them to see it portrayed on screen in a relatively high-budget way.
Once again, you have some amazing guest stars that come in and deliver some pretty special performances. Are you guys out there just going through the usual casting paces? Or do you know, and have connections and friends in mind, that you want to bring in as stories are being written?
It's a little of both, right? Some of these amazing guest stars are people we know, and then other people we're just calling and hoping. When you call Angela Bassett up, and it's like, "Would you want to do our TV show?" That's just like, "We hope she says yes!" She was our first call. We didn't really have a backup.
Yeah, watching these performers, Angela and John Legend and all these people. I just feel lucky that they're willing to hang out with us, and they were all so cool, man. They did such a great job. Yeah, we just feel fortunate that they came to hang out.
Are you already brimming with ideas for more seasons? Or are you taking this minute to regroup and gather strength? How are you looking at the series as a whole?
One day at a time, man. One day at a time. If we're lucky enough to get that call to think about a third season, we'll cross that bridge then. But I always laugh when people ask that question. It's like a mom who just gave birth, and they hand her the baby, like, "How about the next one?" It's like, "I just got this one, man. I just got this one. Let me chill for a second with this one."