Why 'Master of None' Season 2 Took So Freakin' Long to Arrive on Netflix
Similar, but different.
The Tinseltown business mantra jibes nicely with the second season of Master of None, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's whimsical look at one thirtysomething actor's life in New York. Yes, there's romance. Yes, there's more career drama. But Dev's latest adventures also come with what Yang calls daring risks and digressions, ones that experiment with story structure, tone, and character.
For good reason: The writing duo didn't want to get repetitive. Ahead of the Season 2 premiere, we called Yang to discuss delays, sources of inspiration, and Season 3 ideas.
Season 1 premiered on Netflix in November of 2015. Why did it take so long for Season 2 to get here?
Alan Yang: Yeah, well, we didn't want to make it crappy! [Laughs.] Much of it is based on Aziz's life, my life, some of the other writers' lives to some extent, and we kept saying the same thing to Netflix: If you want us to do the show immediately after Season 1, the only thing we'd have to write about, personal experience-wise, was doing press for Season 1.
In the interim between when we finished shooting Season 1 and began writing Season 2, we visited Italy. And Aziz lived in Italy for a while. He and I would talk on the phone, and while he was there he would do a brain dump and we would talk about what might be useful for Season 2, what could be funny, what were good anecdotes. He and I have been single recently, and we'd been dating, so that's in the show. I think for the type of stuff we currently like to do, the best stuff comes from personal experience, and the longer layup allowed us to tap into that.
What would be "crappy," in your and Aziz's minds?
Yang: One of the things we wanted to avoid was falling into a pattern. If there was an SNL sketch about Master of None, what would it be? Throughout Season 1 it would've been, Oh, something happens to Dev, then he talks about it to his friends at dinner at a nice restaurant, and they give him some insight from their lives and then he learns a lesson and then he's more woke at the end. For Season 2, we didn't want to follow that pattern, and on top of that: How can we be ambitious? How can we take risks? How can we -- for lack of a better word -- do something crazy?
Aziz and the writers' personal lives come through clearly in certain episodes -- like the Thanksgiving, religion, and Italy ones -- but the obvious odd one out is the episode you directed, "New York, I Love You," in which the main cast hardly appears. Where did the inspiration for that one come from?
Yang: That episode is absolutely one of my favorites, and the concept behind it has been kind of burrowing a hole in both of our brains for years. I think the seeds of it came up during Season 1, from brainstorming, before we had written a word of any script. Aziz and I were walking along St. Marks [Place in New York City] and we passed this guy selling sunglasses, and we wondered, Well, what if there's an episode just about that guy? We see enough shows about urban thirtysomethings like us. How about the idea that everyone in the world, every human being, is the star of their own movie, is the protagonist of their own story? Everyone has romantic problems, career problems, family problems, going-out problems. Everyone has comedy in their lives, and everyone has tragedy in their lives.
We never quite cracked it Season 1, and we came back to it Season 2, and I think we had more confidence. It's specifically as much as possible about lives we don't think we know enough about, and it's about people we interact with every day. It's your cashier, it's your door man, it's your cab driver -- people we take for granted in our lives.
How do you tell their stories in a responsible way?
Yang: We researched: We interviewed a lot of doormen, and they told us amazing stories. We interviewed a lot of cab drivers, they told us amazing stories. And I had the idea halfway through, you know, one of these characters could be deaf. I haven't seen that very often! As much as possible, we used real stories from these people, from the people we were interviewing. It was our priority to make every one of those characters' stories as funny and interesting and full of conflict as any other Master of None story. We wrote a lot of drafts, and some of them we would feel like, This isn't good enough, because if this was a Dev story, we wouldn't put it in. We tried our best to meet that standard.
Having worked on South Park and Parks and Rec, was that type of in-depth research new for you?
Yang: We did interview some people for Parks and Rec -- government employees, early on, for Season 1 and 2 especially, to get a handle on that world. But to actually get to know these people for Master of None and mine their lives for stories that were interesting, that was new. We wanted the story to feel real, and we discovered great performers in that episode. The main cab driver is played by this guy Enock Ntekereze, and we added his life into the story. He's a refugee from Burundi and Rwanda, and he speaks Kirundi, the language of Burundi, where he's from. I defy you to show me an episode of TV that has English, French, American Sign Language, and Kirundi in one episode.
I enjoyed those vignettes a lot. My favorite was the bodega cashier's, especially when she and her boyfriend are discussing their sex life in American Sign Language at a gift shop, but don't realize the people around them know ASL too.
Yang: When we came up with that idea and pitched it to Netflix, I think they were a little bit nervous that eight minutes of the episode would have no audio. So we screened the episodes, as we do for all the episodes we show, for a movie theater full of people. You know, the first scene is in the convenience store and the customer comes up -- and people are looking around and they're a little confused that there's no sound, and they're asking each other if it's a technical problem -- and then they get it, and it ramps up to that scene in the gift shop. That scene killed as much as any scene with our main actors.
Similar conflicts pop up in other episodes, too. What made you guys want miscommunication, or an inability to communicate, to be a theme for this run?
Yang: We've been saying that Season 1 was about a guy who can't decide what he wants, and Season 2 is about wanting what you can't have. A big part of that is Dev's inability to communicate to the people around him. The same thing comes up in the "New York, I Love You" episode, and it comes up at Thanksgiving, and it comes up for a variety of different characters. It comes up for Arnold, it comes up for everybody. It's this weird thematic thing. It comes up in the app-dating episode. That weighs on all of them.
It even happens with Brian's dad, who has trouble telling his multiple girlfriends the truth -- why has this been on your mind so much?
Yang: I think it's a pretty universal problem, and there have been all kinds of studies written about how technology is crippling our ability to communicate. I'd hate to be a total Luddite about it and say monolithically technology is bad. But I do think it makes us a little bit worse at face-to-face communication. I love texting. I just love it!
There are studies that have been done that show kids don't wanna talk in person. They don't wanna look you in the eye. But I kinda get that too. Because it protects you, it gives you a second to think. Personally, as someone who has been a writer for a fairly long time, it gives you a second to come up with something that is well crafted and hopefully a little funny.
Were there any more stories along those lines, or others, that you had to scrap?
Yang: There are some that are more delicate and a little personal that we probably shouldn't talk about. But I've always wanted to do an episode about alcohol and how it affects seemingly every aspect of our lives in an insane way. When you meet for work, you meet for drinks. When you meet for a date, you meet for drinks. When you go to a party, there are drinks there. I like to have a glass of wine, but it is a strange phenomenon in our society. We talked to one of our friends who doesn't drink, and she said, Yeah, when I go to a party it starts out normal and then an hour and a half in, everyone's acting crazy.
It's a thing we take for granted, but it's just so universal. We agreed that this one drug was OK. That's always the thing that fascinated me -- and it's always very pervasive in New York. We never quite cracked that as a story, but I like that area. There are some ideas -- like religion was an idea we always wanted to do, same with the "New York, I Love You" episode and the Thanksgiving episode -- that emerge pretty quickly.
Is that alcohol idea an example of an idea that could show up in Season 3?
Yang: If we're lucky enough to do a Season 3 I think everything is up for grabs. It's basically like, Hey, is there an interesting way to take on this story? Do we have a funny point of view on it? What can we build around this? How does this advance the character? How do our specific characters react to the idea? That's always a challenge.
Are you going to employ the same long-layup strategy you used for Season 2? Aziz made it sound like there might not even be a Season 3.
Yang: Of course we've talked about it. If something happens to us, we'll call the other one and be like, What about this? Could this be an idea? We know this is an amazing opportunity, but at the same time, there are other things that Aziz wants to do, there are things I want to do. It's definitely not a decision we're going to rush into.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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