The Emmy Award-winning comedy-drama Master of None (Netflix) is returning after a four-year absence. And it’s a very different program now than it was when it first aired between 2015 and 2017. Most notably, Aziz Ansari, the show’s co-creator, has backed away from the limelight after an incident in January 2018 in which he was falsely accused of inappropriate conduct on a date.
With Ansari’s role as Dev, a troubled actor, appearing in just a few episodes this season, the show focuses on his writer friend Denise (Lena Waithe) and her wife Alicia (Naomi Ackie in a phenomenal, career-best performance). Waithe and Ackie offer the rawest, frank, and completely convincing portrait of a relationship likely to be created this year, and the decision proves to be a masterstroke.
Denise and Alicia are living in a bucolic idyll when we see them in the first episode: a gorgeous farmhouse complete with clucking chickens in upstate New York, which attentive audiences will note looks almost identical to the British countryside (where it was actually filmed). The popularity of Denise’s first novel, which has a glowing New Yorker review that she proudly displays on her refrigerator, has allowed the couple to live in blissful isolation. Despite this, she is struggling to finish her second novel and can scarcely see her wife moving away from her through the haze of the joints she is continuously smoking. The plot begins with Alicia initiating a “serious” dialogue about whether or not the pair should have children.
The subtitle for this season is “Moments of Love,” which emphasizes that it is a whole new story for the channel. It seems to be a deliberate homage to Ingmar Bergman’s 1973 miniseries Scenes from a Marriage, which isn’t Bergman’s only source of inspiration. Ansari, who directed all five episodes of the new season, lets his camera pause as scenes in the Swedish auteur style unfold steadily. These lengthy, sultry sequences not only reverberate with suspense and passion, but they also ache.
Waithe, who co-wrote the entire season with Ansari, deserves the most of the praise. They have a lot of experience together, having won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy in 2017 for the Master of None episode “Thanksgiving,” which followed Denise on her complicated road to telling her mother about her sexuality. Afterward, in 2019, Waithe reunited with “Thanksgiving” director Melina Matsoukas for their first feature film, Queen & Slim, a sublime road movie starring Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith that established Waithe as one of her generation’s best screenwriters.
Moments of Love is a work of the same caliber as Master of None season 3 unfolds. It has everything. Waithe tells an amusing anecdote about a child’s toy car that would murder at the Comedy Store in one scene. In another, the show makes a passionate case about insurance providers’ inability to help queer women who want to get pregnant, all while being true to the story’s heart and soul. Early critics have panned the season for being too sluggish and ponderous. Don’t pay attention to them. It can take a while, but those who patiently wait will be rewarded.