'Master of None' Co-Creator Previews "More Ambitious" Season 2

Alan Yang talks to THR about the evolution of Dev, tackling religion and the Italian influences on display in the forthcoming episodes.
Courtesy of Netflix

The first season of Master of None followed aspiring actor Dev (Aziz Ansari) as he journeyed around New York, looking for love, discussing the meaning of it all with his friends and eating the best food the city had to offer. It shouldn’t be revolutionary content for a sitcom, but the show, from co-creators Ansari and Alan Yang, was far more ambitious than the basic description would suggest, with structural experimentation, deep dives into what it means to be Indian in America, and a questioning, earnest heart beneath it all.

By the end of the season, Dev had found love and then ultimately decided it wasn’t right for him before jetting off to Italy to figure out what came next. Yang and Ansari took some time off before coming back with a fresh set of ideas. A year and a half after season one premiered, season two finds Dev back again, still falling in and out of love, and learning a bit more along the way.

THR talked to Yang about the unique challenges in making season two, the Italian influences on the forthcoming episodes and putting Dev "through the wringer."

When you finished up season one, were any of these ideas in place for season two, or was this all completely fresh once you had taken some time off?

I would say the vast majority of it was new ideas. When we took a little bit of time off, we told Netflix we needed a little time to fill the well, have some personal experiences, etc, and it ended up being really, really helpful. A lot of stuff that happened to us in between season one and two got put right into those episodes. There were a couple ideas that were hanging around that made their way into the season, but nothing very fleshed out at all, more like one word, or one idea, that was like, 'Oh, OK, this could be the kernel of something.'

Was there a struggle at all to try and decide what to do next?

Writing is always a struggle. No one likes writing. Anyone who tells you they like writing is a psychopath. It’s just about putting your heads together and talking about what’s the most compelling way to go. What opens up the most doors and what is exciting to us. That was a real priority for us — what can we do that not only we have not seen on other shows but that we ourselves didn’t do season one? How can we be more ambitious? How can we make the show more beautiful, more engaging, more interesting, aesthetically more ambitious, structurally more ambitious, all of those things. We took bigger swings this year, I think.

Was moving the action to Italy for parts of this season helpful in terms of finding new stories for Dev?

Yeah, absolutely. We were joking, like, 'Man, people are really going to have to come with us on this journey, because episode one is in black and white, 70 percent of it is in Italian and there are no characters from season one except for Dev.' So that alone is going to be like, OK, this, at the very least, isn’t going to feel like a rehash of season one. I think that was also useful for story because look, this guy, he’s not a totally different person, but he’s grown a little bit… and he moved to a different country and learned a little bit of Italian. Is he going to live there forever? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly provides for different kinds of comedy, different kinds of performers, different scenarios and honestly the opportunity to pay homage to different types of movies than we did in season one.

How does that Italian influence shake out over the season?

It pops up all over the place. Obviously, there’s an homage to a very specific film in the first episode. But we watched a lot of not only [Vittorio] de Sica, but [Michelangelo] Antonioni, [Federico] Fellini. We watched L’Avventura, La Notte, 8 1/2. It might sound pretentious, but man, those movies are good. There’s a lot to learn from those movies. What do we know about directing that those guys don’t know? Let’s watch these movies and see how they’re made, and pick them apart, and can we attempt to come close to matching the emotional depth or the subtleties or the level of performance, the look of the show. I thought our cinematographer did an amazing job this year. I think the show’s more beautiful than it’s ever been. All of those things were things we explicitly talked about before the season began.

What were some of the main things that you wanted to take from those Italian movies? You mentioned the look, was it a certain heightened emotion?

I think emotion and lyricism was a big part of it. One of our jokes was — we tried not to overdo this. I hope I’m not pointing out a go-to move in the season this year, but there’s a lot of sad Dev face. Dev’s sad face is all over this season, because we put that little dude through the wringer. He really has a seesawing of emotions this year. There’s also different subtler aspects of those Antonioni movies that get put in there. Some people talk about his movies being a criticism of the bourgeoisie class, or stuff like that. That’s never explicitly addressed. We never were talking about that in the show, but we watched all of that stuff and it bleeds into the show. There’s an homage to the movie L’Eclisse in the show. Ultimately we’re telling the story we do want to tell. Our tone, I like to think, is something we’ve kind of established ourselves, but to be inspired by these other looks and the feel of some of these truly great movies is something that’s just going to make the show more interesting.

In the first season you guys were clearly very interested in tackling social issues. Does that passion and interest remain as strong in season two?

I think we just followed whatever we were interested in. So we definitely didn’t want to repeat ourselves and do anything sort of formulaic. If you were writing a parody of Master of None season one, it might have been like, 'Oh, something happens to Dev on the street, and it’s a little weird, and he talks about it with his friends and he sits with them in a nice restaurant and he learns a little bit of something and then some more stuff happens and then at the end of the episode he’s like two percent more woke than he was at the beginning,' and we didn’t want to necessarily follow that formula to a T.

But there were certain issues we were interested in. There’s an episode called “Religion,” but it’s not really explicitly about Islam in society or even about religion in general. That episode is more about how you communicate with your parents when you get older. These episodes, I think we’re trying to add more layers to them. It’s not just like, 'Hey, did you know about this social issue? Wake up, America!' That’s not the show at all. That’s not what we’re trying to do. I don’t consider myself No. 1, very knowledgeable politically and No. 2, I definitely don’t have a serious ax to grind. If anything, I think this show projects more of a curiosity about the world. It’s like, 'Hey, just don’t assume you know everything. There’s shit all of us don’t know about.' That to me is part of it. It’s not everything, but it’s part of it for me.

Master of None Season 2 premieres May 12 on Netflix.

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