Review by Sean Boelman
During its initial run, Master of None was one of the most acclaimed comedies on streaming, and it has been four years since the last season, in part due to controversies involving its creator and star Aziz Ansari. Even though it is very different from the show fans know, this is still some of the best serialized content out there.
This new season follows fan-favorite character Denise (Lena Waithe) and the relationship she has with her partner (Naomi Ackie). The award-winning episode “Thanksgiving” from the second season was centered around Denise’s story, so it makes sense that when the series was faced with a need to pivot, this was the most natural direction to take it.
At five episodes, this season is much shorter in length than the others, but it still flows quite well. Subtitled Moments in Love, each episode focuses on a portion of this love story. As a whole, it’s nowhere near as funny as the first two seasons, but perhaps even more poignant, exploring identity in a brilliantly intimate way.
The fourth episode is the strongest of the five, having some of the timeliest themes of the series to this date. Ansari and Waithe have explored some interesting topics in previous seasons, but in taking Denise from being a sidekick character to being the main protagonist, Waithe is given the opportunity to shine as a writer.
If the series has one true weakness, it is that the arc is somewhat conventional. The dialogue is consistently strong, making up for the fact that a lot of the beats are familiar. What makes this so resonant is not the story itself, but the authentic way in which it is told by Waithe and Ansari.
Waithe gives a strong performance in these episodes, expanding the fan-favorite character effectively. That said, the real standout this season is new addition Ackie, whose performance is star-making. The moments focusing on that character are among the best in the series thanks to the level of emotion Ackie brings to the character.
The season is also impressive in terms of its execution, albeit not to the extent of the gorgeous second season. All five episodes are shot on film, giving it a particular texture that adds another level of intimacy. And as always, the soundtrack is amazing, with some inspired song choices to set the mood.
This new season of Master of None might have been better off being a standalone series without any connection to the existing characters, but it’s excellent nevertheless. It will be interesting to see if future installments continue this trend of diving deep into the experiences of other supporting characters from the series.
Master of None: Moments in Love streams on Netflix beginning May 23.