With every new season of Master of None — perhaps Netflix’s finest show — co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang take consistently surprising but always satisfying creative leaps. Season three, titled Moments in Love, is a spin-off in the literal sense, existing almost in some sort of branched reality.
Certainly, that is where Ansari must’ve felt he’d landed after he was accused of sexual harassment in 2018 — an alternate world where he was no longer a hotshot comedian but a deviant deserving of cancellation. Unsurprisingly, it has taken four years for him to return with this new season, after he carefully re-assimilated himself back into polite society with a stand-up special and a handful of guest appearances on other television shows.
Watch the Master of None: Moments in Love trailer here
There is an element of self-reflection to Moments in Love. “I never realised how good I had it,” Ansari’s character, Dev, says ruefully in one scene. He’s upset with his friend, Denise (Lena Waithe), whom he accuses of having discarded him on her path to becoming a successful novelist, while his acting career unraveled. In real life, Waithe capitalised on Master of None’s triumphant reception by booking back-to-back writing projects, all of which happened in parallel to Ansari’s downfall.
But as far as backlashes go, the one against Ansari was feeble, to say the least. Netflix prepared a standing offer for him to return when he was ready, and even I didn’t hesitate before leaping at the opportunity to watch him perform live in New Delhi, in 2019.
Like that show — Aziz Ansari: Right Now — the third season of Master of None finds the multi-hyphenate in a particularly sombre mood. And his storytelling is as mature as the series’ thorny themes.
Moments in Love, co-written by Ansari and Waithe, is centred around Denise’ marriage with a young woman named Alicia, played by Naomi Ackie. It opens with a 50-minute episode that sets the tone for what Ansari, who directs all five chapters, is going for.
Shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio by Yorgos Lanthimos’ regular cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, season three is a major creative departure from the vibrant widescreen visuals of the Italy-set season two. Nor can it be called a comedy — the retro-inspired aspect ratio combined with what appears to be grainy film stock makes the show resemble Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage.
Like that series, Moments in Love can be treated as a long-ish movie. Although even at a combined running time of three hours, the entire season is still an hour shorter than Zack Snyder’s Justice League; another film that was shot in the 4:3 ratio, incidentally.
As a director, Ansari is curiously non-intrusive. There are perhaps no more than five close-ups in the entire season. For the most part, Ansari seems to prefer framing static mid-shots and allowing the actors to do the heavy lifting, his camera unwavering despite the emotional tremors on screen. Season three is a masterclass in blocking and composition.
There is an early scene in which all three characters in frame discuss a painting off it. But Ansari chooses to hold on them, resisting the urge to show the painting until the very last moment, by which time it serves almost as a transition shot. He understands that what is just outside the frame is often as important as what is in it; he has faith in your imagination.
On other occasions, characters simply walk off screen during heated arguments, a directorial choice that injects a feeling of helplessness in you, the viewer, as you observe Denise and Alicia’s relationship come undone in true Malcolm & Marie fashion.
Master of None is a touchstone in millennial filmmaking — the true successor to Lena Dunham’s Girls, especially in how it handles the painful period of early adulthood. But Moments in Love, in particular, is also a quiet achievement in queer cinema. Episode four, centred entirely on Alicia’s efforts to conceive, is something special. It would’ve won the Audience Award at Sundance had Ansari screened it there as a feature film.
Season three might not win any new converts, but it’s quite staggering to realise that this is partially the doing of an Indian-American who once played a dimwit on a network sitcom. Its true impact, like that of any great piece of art, will only be acknowledged and appreciated years later. Poda.
Master of None: Moments in Love
Director – Aziz Ansari
Creators – Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang
Cast – Lena Waithe, Naomi Ackie
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The author tweets @RohanNaahar