Season 2 of Master of None pops off in the most delicious way: with Dev chasing his dreams and the perfect plate of pasta in Italy. The seemingly whimsical trip to Modena, for both the characters and the crew, wasn’t just a flight of fancy, though. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, co-showrunners of the critical darling, wanted to push Season 2 in a way that they couldn’t in Season 1.
“Honestly, the thing we didn’t want to do was repeat ourselves,” said Yang in an interview with Inverse. Becoming formulaic — something happens to Dev + he talks about it with his friends = he’s two percent more socially aware at the end of the episode — was Ansari and Yang’s worst nightmare. “That’s not really … that can’t be every episode of the show,” said Yang. “We wanted to be more ambitious, bolder, and try to be as interesting, if not more interesting, this season.”
“If Season 1 is about a guy, a character, who doesn’t know what he wants, then Season 2 is about wanting what he can’t have,” Yang continued.
What Yang and Ansari ended up creating is a season of television packed with big ideas and little experiments. Could they shoot a black-and-white episode entirely in Italian? Could they write an episode that basically ignored the main cast entirely? Could they tackle critiques of Season 1 in a way that was both unexpected and thoughtful? Yang unpacked the challenges of Season 2, and gave Inverse a behind-the-scenes look at how Master of None Season 2 was made.
Spoilers for Dev’s journey through Italy and beyond in Master of None Season 2 follow.
1. Aziz Ansari did, in fact, learn Italian for the first episode in Season 2, but certainly not in class.
Dev’s obsession with the soon-to-be-iconic aloooooooora, is something Aziz picked up on a trip to Italy, said Yang. “Aziz spent a lot of time there, and he did pick up some Italian. The whole episode was kind of similar to how his life was in Italy. So then, recreating the first episode in Italian and in black-and-white just felt like that might be what happens.”
2. Arnold’s singledom is embraced as a 30, flirty, and thriving lifestyle.
Here’s a common refrain most single people in their 30s hear: When are you finally going to settle down and get married? But in Yang’s mind, there’s no need to date with the idea of finding “The One,” regardless of what age you are. “I’m still being an idiot. I’m single,” said Yang.
“I think our generation just has a different perspective on this,” Yang continued. “I don’t think we passed any judgment on Arnold [for throwing hi cuties left and right on dating apps], because we understand what it’s like to be that age and not be settled down yet,” he revealed. Some people never get married or have a family, and the writers wanted to present those options as just as acceptable as the traditional narrative.
“There are hopes and fears you will have being single, just like people with families have. Who’s to say that Arnold will ever settle down. We don’t know. Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll have a family. Maybe he won’t. That’s totally legitimate. The second episode [“Le Nozze”] was very real and relatable for us in terms of the ups and downs of how we feel about not being settled down yet.”
3. A lot of the dates in “First Date” were based on real experiences the writers had.
Playing coy, Yang said, “I don’t want to get into specifics because it may or may not be based on vague, real-life scenarios, so I can’t get into any more detail because of that.” And because they were so closely based on IRL stories, Yang and Ansari made sure to carefully balance an episode that would be far too on the nose otherwise.
“Talking about race on dates, we tried to mete it out in portions that are similar to how it comes up in real life. I’m not constantly talking to my dates about being Asian, but it does come up sometimes because that’s part of who I am. If you look at me you know that I’m not white, right? Five out of every hundred people look like me. That’s regular. That’s the average proportion of America, maybe higher in New York. You get the point. We don’t want to hammer it home. That’s not what the show’s about. It’s certainly part of who you are. It’s part of what people see when they see you.”
4. “Religion” was a story idea the writers’ room had in their pocket from Season 1.
“We talked about it from Season 1, but we never quite hit on the right idea,” said Yang. “We didn’t carry over that many ideas, but religion was definitely one of them — it was just sitting on an index card that we wrote at the beginning of the season. We just wanted to crack it.”
Yang’s parents aren’t very religious, but Ansari’s attend mosque regularly, even though their kids have strayed away from organized religion. “I was just curious about how Aziz and Aniz [Aziz’s brother and writer on the show] navigated that: If your parents do have those beliefs and you don’t necessarily share them, what is the interplay? What are negotiations there?” asked Yang.
Ansari’s love of eating pork became the inciting incident for this episode, but Yang insisted that it’s not really about pork, or Islam, at all. “The real emotional story, like you were saying, is how do you be honest with your parents about who you’ve become as an adult? On the converse, how do they deal with the fact that their child is now an adult who makes decisions on his own?”
5. “Thanksgiving” was inspired by Lena Waithe’s own coming out, and her relationship with her mom. It’s also one of Yang and Ansari’s favorite episodes of the season.
“We love that one,” Yang exclaimed before the question was even finished. “Really, we were inspired by Lena, who had never acted in a show before Master of None.” Yang said he and Ansari cast her because of how compelling her personality was in real life, and in the second season they wanted to push her character with an episode that delves deeper into Denise’s backstory.
“The more we talked to Lena, the more we realized we needed to tell a story that took place over a longer period of time; essentially, in this case, 30 years. Then we came upon a structure of it’s every Thanksgiving, or a series of Thanksgivings, and you see the passage of time. After that, we sat down with Lena and just chatted a lot. We got details from her life, a lot of the stuff in the episode comes straight out of her actual childhood and adolescence, and when she actually came out. She worked with our production designer and made the house look right. To us, the authenticity of that episode was really important, because we didn’t want to get it wrong. We wanted to do right by Lena. I think she’s really happy with how it came out, and we definitely are as well.”
6. Dev’s grown romantically this season. After all, Francesca is a woman he can picture being with in the future — but we’re not sure how this newfound maturity will pan out.
“Really, [Francesca and Dev’s relationship] is different from the Rachel relationship because, obviously, this is someone who is a friend of yours who is not available,” said Yang.
“That was really the key, right?” said Yang of switching up the romantic dynamics for an older, wiser, but still clueless Dev. Starting in “Dinner Party” and ramping up through the season, Dev and Francesca dance around her boring but comfortable fiancé. “Kind of what I touched on earlier, Dev finally knows what he wants, and it’s pretty clear they have some chemistry, but she’s not an option,” Yang continued.
The end of the season rests on quite a romantic cliffhanger, but Yang demurred when asked about Season 3. “Alessandra is such an amazing actress. She really brought a lot to the character, but we haven’t heard anything about a Season 3, so if we’re lucky enough to have that opportunity, we’ll talk about it when we get there,” he explained.
7. The penultimate episode of the season has one of the most romantically charged scenes of the entire series, which Ansari and Yang created as an homage to L’Eclisse.
“Obviously, we wanted to take advantage of being in Italy,” said Yang. “That meant not only taking advantage of the setting — Modena is such a beautiful city — but also being inspired by great Italian cinema, obviously Antonioni, and Fellini, and De Sica.”
So when Francesca ends up in New York, getting closer and closer to Dev, Yang and Ansari turned to Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni’s oeuvre to help them bring the couple’s emotional affair to fruition.
“It’s a movie from 1962 and one of our inspirations, along with a lot of others Antonioni put out; his brilliance is just overwhelming,” said Yang of the scene where Dev and Francesca kiss with a glass pane of a french door between them. “Masters have tread some of this ground before, and we want to put our take on it.”
8. Yang thinks the fetish equation is too varied to solve.
“First Date” brings up a question every person of color has asked themselves: Does this white person have a “me” fetish? How many Indian girls can a white guy date before it becomes a thing? The episode itself suggests that three is enough, and when I back that up on the phone with Yang — after all, three is a pattern — he throws a curveball my way.
“Oh my god … what if it’s three out of forty, though?” Yang pondered. I suggested a time limit. Three within a month is pretty suspect, unless one somehow has time to go on multiple dates every week. After laughing at the idea of that much free time, Yang brought up another key factor, “I guess it also depends on the ratio of where you live.”
“If you’re a white person living in San Gabriel Valley, California, everyone there is Asian, but if you live in like St. Louis, and you date six Indian women in a row, something is up,” Yang said, leaving us agreeing on one simple thing.
If you’re brown and go on dates, you’ll try to solve this equation (with all its variables) many, many times — and the answer will always be just out of your grasp.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Master of None Season 2 is now available on Netflix.