'Master of None' Co-Creator Explains How 'Parks and Rec' Influenced Their 'Finale'

Alan Yang talks with THR about subverting expectations in the first season of Netflix's Aziz Ansari comedy.
Courtesy of Netflix

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season one finale of Netflix's Master of None.]

Although Netflix's Master of None may start out as the comical adventures of a funny young guy in New York, by the end of the series, it's clear that creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang had something much more profound in mind.

Not content to wrap things up neatly at the end of the half hour, the two explored issues of race in America in 2015, and deeper questions about what it means to try to share your life with someone. By the end of the first season, main character Dev (Ansari) has gotten his big break in acting and then lost it, as well as gotten the girl (Noel Wells) and then felt truly ambivalent about having the girl.

THR caught up with exec producer Yang about some of those bold choices and whether they ended Dev's story.

 

You guys did something really adventurous, in that the second-to-last episode takes place over two years. Was that always part of the plan, that you really wanted to just dive in and get through the entire relationship story all in one episode?

That came up because we were discussing episode nine as a Dev and Rachel (Wells) episode and we had some good ideas, but this idea came up and it just seemed so exciting, because what kind of show have you seen that has the freedom to do that? We just hadn't seen it. It seemed really cinematic in a cool way. It seemed like it would tell a story that you couldn't convey in an episode that doesn't span that course of time. And the idea of how things change and how they can improve and sometimes decline in a relationship as a result of the passage of time was really interesting to us. So once we had the idea, we moved with it very quickly. A lot of that episode is very personal to Aziz, and he did a great job plucking moments from his life. Other people contributed, obviously, but a lot of that episode is very personal to Aziz.

You also upend a few romantic comedy tropes. It seems like Dev and Rachel are going to break up when she has a Chicago job opportunity, and then at the very end it seems like he's flying to Japan to make up with her. Only he's going to Italy to learn how to make pasta. Were you trying to fake the audience out a little bit that you weren't going to go in those directions?

Yes. We didn't want to be predictable. They say the best endings are both surprising and inevitable. And we are conscious of all those romantic comedy tropes. We didn't want to do something that you've seen a million times. We were going to shoot that scene where he has the passenger next to him who's asking about where he's going and why he's going there on the airplane, and Aziz came up with the idea of, "We should make that passenger Asian." You see an Asian woman next to him, maybe you assume they're going to Japan. I think it's just a tiny microcosm of one of the themes of the entire show, which is that appearances don't always tell the whole story. Just because a person's Asian doesn't mean it's not an American person going to Italy on vacation. Asian Americans go to Italy, too. I went last year! I just thought that was a funny added touch where the lady next to him was Asian.

 

You also end Dev's story in a very real way. In sitcoms, usually everything goes back to the status quo. If there is a second season, was that something you were planning for all along? That you were going to round off a story here, that Dev's going to grow a lot as a person and change a lot in his life, but you still felt you had other stories to tell?

Absolutely. I think the best stories involve change. And yes, there have been many, many great sitcoms in which the end of each episodic story is to bring things back to the status quo and that's just how things were done for a while. But I think we're in this exciting time where we can do stories where the protagonists change. One of the ideas for our show was, he'll change a half of 1 percent each episode, but at the end of "Finale" [the season finale episode title], he changes more than that, and I think it is an important decision. I really like the aspect of subverting the expectations of the guy's running to the airport and getting on a plane to chase after the girl, but in a real significant way; what Rachel has done in his life is impact him in a different way. She's motivated him to make a big decision in his own life and stop being so scared and go after something, which is something he hasn't done for a long time. I love that her trip to Japan motivates him, and he does his own trip that mirrors hers.

 

Were you always thinking that by the end of this season he might put acting aside for now?

I think there's room for a lot of possibilities. There's the possibility that he changes jobs completely or there's the possibility that he relapses and gets scared again. There are a lot of interesting ways I think we could pursue [the story]. One thing we talked about on Parks and Recreation, which was a show that every year seemed like we weren't sure if we were going to be renewed or not, was "let's just write the most interesting thing we can think of and then we'll deal with it." We'll deal with the ramifications, and we'll work really hard and we'll figure out a creative and interesting way that the story could continue. We did a similar thing here. The best, most organic, most satisfying, most true to the character ending is this one, so let's do it and we'll figure something out, and we definitely have some ideas.

How careful were you about avoiding Tom Haverford (Anzari's Parks character) moments?

We were pretty conscious of it. There were moments pitched in the writers' room. There were a couple jokes about Dev's colognes or something, and it was like, no, those are too close to what Tom Haverford would do. It's tough, because there's a point at which Aziz's personality infused Tom Haverford's character with life and with an energy that Aziz has as an actor. So in a way, sometimes it's a little bit inextricable. For instance, when he makes a face that's excited, how are you going to separate that from when Tom is excited? Aziz has done a great job in his acting of modulating, and the world portrayed in our show is slightly different from Tom's in Parks and Rec. I honestly think we did a pretty fair job of not reprising that character, which was a character that a lot of people loved. 

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