'Master of None' co-writer: There's stuff in season two 'I can't believe we got away with'

Studio 360

The second season of Netflix’s comedy “Master of None” debuted some weeks ago to admiring reviews — not unlike the first season, which won an Emmy for its writing.

This time around, Dev (played by Aziz Ansari) is still trying to figure out his acting career and his love life. But the show plays with new themes and images, evoking classic Italian movies at some points while navigating modern relationships (not to mention, religious parents). 

Alan Yang, co-creator, and co-writer, of the series with fellow “Parks and Recreation” vet Ansari, says “doing something different” was a driving force behind the new season. “If you could pinpoint a formula for episodes in season one, we wanted to deviate from that formula,” he says. “We wanted it to be 10 different little movies.”

The first episode of the new season finds Dev in Italy, and in an unusual move for American television, many of the scenes are in Italian, overlaid with English subtitles. “There's stuff throughout the season that I can't believe we got away with,” Yang says. “And the idea is, can we trust the audience?”

"It's having this faith in the audience and respecting them, respecting their intelligence and saying, 'Yeah, they'll go with us on this journey if we do our jobs,'" he says. '"Just don't think that they need their hand held through everything,' is our hope."

“Master of None” deviates from other television norms in the episode “New York, I Love You” — which cuts away from Dev and other main characters to focus on regular New Yorkers: a doorman, a taxi driver and a cashier, who is deaf. Yang says the decision to do so came from the realization that “everyone is the star of their own movie.”

“If you're a person who happens to be one of these people in this episode of the show, you haven't had any movies made about you, or, you’ve had very few,” he says. “For that episode specifically, because it's not about our dumb privileged lives, we interviewed a bunch of doormen. We interviewed a bunch of cabdrivers, we interviewed some deaf actors and actresses, and they told us their stories and we put a lot of them in the episode.”

In a long scene from the cashier’s point of view, Yang suggested letting the audio drop out entirely. “I think Netflix was a little nervous about that.” But the scene was a hit with test audiences. “Within 30 seconds, people were leaning in watching, and it's one of the biggest comedy scenes of the entire season, and it killed,” he says.

Other episodes are drawn from Yang's and Ansari’s own experiences, like when Brian, a character loosely based on Yang, discovers that his elderly father is dating. “I haven't told my dad about this yet,” Yang admits, laughing.

"Aziz and I said, 'Well, when's the last time you saw the love life of a 70-year-old retired Asian American guy depicted in a TV show?'" he says. "It's like we see enough of overprivileged 30-year-old guys living in urban areas having fancy meals and going on dates. We've seen that, but this is happening." 

The result, as with elsewhere in “Master of None,” is realistic, poignant and funny. But Yang has no idea how many people have seen it — Netflix doesn’t give him numbers, which he loves.

“When you don't have ratings, you don't wake up the next day and say, 'Wow, did we get a 1.9? Aw, we got a 1.7,'” he says. “You know, that is a never-ending stress and that's real.”

Instead, he says, “the reviews are kind of the ratings, and what people tell you are the ratings, and your own satisfaction with what you made is the ratings. And then if you get canceled or picked up, it is also the ratings.”

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI's Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen.

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