'Master of None' Boss on Pulling Off a Silent 8-Minute Scene and Why the Show Can't Be Pigeonholed

Master of None -SEASON 02 -EPISODE 03- Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix

Alan Yang, who serves as showrunner of the Emmy-nominated Netflix comedy alongside star Aziz Ansari, talks to THR about taking even more artistic risks in the show's sophomore run.

As artsy a comedy as they come — the pilot was helmed by indie filmmaker James Ponsoldt — Netflix's very bingeable series by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang loves to play with convention. A great example: The second season opened with an episode, "The Thief," that was shot entirely in black and white (an homage to Italian filmmakers of the 1960s). Yang recently spoke with THR about other risks that were taken in the new season.

I still can't believe we got away with …

We have about eight minutes of silence in the episode "New York, I Love You." It's a hard sell for any network, but I think especially for Netflix, because a lot of their customers are using their laptops or phones to watch. Very early on, when we sent a cut to Netflix, they very gently said, "Are you sure you want to do this? Because we were watching the episode, and we thought our computers broke, so we restarted them." (Laughs.) And we're like, "Yeah, that's the point of that section." The episode is about putting yourself in other people's shoes, and we thought that this was a really interesting way [of showing that].

The most challenging scene to write this season was …

We talked a lot about what would happen at the end of the "Religion" episode, because it's a very specific situation, and we didn't want to come down too hard on either Dev's [Ansari] side or the parents' side. The episode isn't ultimately about what your take on religion is; it's more about learning to communicate with your parents and your parents learning to communicate with you and seeing you as an adult as well. Some of us are so repressed, especially people in the Asian and South Asian communities, that you don't talk to your parents until you're old. That's one of the themes of the show, too.

The person on Master of None who has the most difficult job is …

Aziz, because he has to be in almost every scene, and he's running the show with me, and he's directing a bunch and writing a bunch. I'm always impressed by his energy level. Eric Wareheim and Aziz's brother, Aniz, are on set a lot, too. The four of us handle a lot of stuff together as a team, which was a nice departure from season one because Aziz and I had to do a lot of heavy lifting ourselves. So it was nice to spread out a few more duties and have a few more eyes on the monitors.

The biggest misconception about Master of None is …

One of the things I like about this show is that it can be anything. So I don't know that people have tried to pigeonhole it that much, because all of the episodes are so different. Sometimes you can watch the season and feel like it's a lot of different shows, and I really like that. The second season is an example of the variety of tones and styles we like to experiment with. When we come up with a topic for an episode — for instance, the "Thanksgiving" episode [which follows Lena Waithe's character during her coming-out process] — we want it to be about how we meet this character, and then, more specifically, we want to make it about her coming out. So how do we do this in a way we haven't necessarily seen before and make it really special and make it feel a little bit more original?



Netflix, with the creative fertility that would make a rabbit blush, has churned out too many original series at this point to label any one of them an industry favorite — but, for comedy, Master of None comes close. The second season of Ansari's moody, self-referential show dropped just before the Emmy eligibility window closed, with the streamer clearly keen to capitalize on the momentum Master built with its first season. Ansari and Yang shared a writing win in that first year, one of four categories where their show scored a nom. The fact that it extended its footprint in year two, upping its total to six, bodes particularly well. Evidence of a large industry fan base seems overwhelming — if anecdotal. — Michael O'Connell

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.