The Paley Center in New York hosted a screening of two of the finest episodes of Master of None's very good second season on Friday, "New York, I Love You" and "Thanksgiving," followed by a panel discussion with co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang and "Thanksgiving" star Lena Waithe moderated by Uproxx senior writer Alan Sepinwall.
The two episodes are unique in Master of None's second season as standalone stories told in structurally unconventional ways — "New York, I Love You" consists of three-ish vignettes that follow a doorman, a deaf woman and a cab driver, who are types of people whose stories don't usually get told on TV, while "Thanksgiving" takes place over about 25 years and tells the story of Denise (Waithe) coming to terms with her sexuality, and then her family coming to terms with it. Both are episodes that only Master of None could do thanks to its pretty much open-ended format and its makers' highly specific points of view.
Waithe called "Thanksgiving" "scarily autobiographical," with much of it coming from specific memories from Waithe's life — for example, Waithe knew about Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill at a very young age, which really did make for some awkward dinner table conversation.
"I knew that episode would work, because anytime we do stuff where it's really coming straight from our hearts and our lives and is very honest and full of real details, it always connects with people," Ansari said. "And the only reason it works is because of Lena," he concluded, which earned a "thanks, boo" from Waithe.
"New York, I Love You" is distinctly non-autobiographical, but still comes from Yang and Ansari's personalities, since it was inspired by their curiosity about what people's lives are like who they encounter in New York. There were other possible subjects, like a Chinese waitress at a restaurant Dev (Ansari) and his friends went to and a cleaning lady, but they settled on these because they seemed rich and funny enough to build episodes around.
Ansari and Yang made an effort to tell to different New York stories for the episode. Their own points of view are different from other comedy writers', but they're still the points of view of young, affluent comedy writers. They wanted to show people you don't see on TV.
"I live near Chinatown, and I was like 'what the f--- is these peoples' Master of None?" Ansari said. "Everyone's f---cking and being sad now and then." This set off a riff about how they originally pitched Netflix a show called F---ing, Eating and Being Sad but Netflix didn't go for it, so they turned that idea into Master of None instead.
Getting back on track, Ansari explained that Master of None happens to be from his perspective, but anyone could have their own version.
"I always think about this quote from Howard Stern, where he says 'there is no bad interview,'" Ansari said. "Everyone has drama and comedy and love and heartbreak and all those things in their life, there's no one that doesn't. In our show most of the time we're looking at it from my point of view, but in that episode and 'Thanksgiving,' it's cool to take the skillset we've built making the show and apply it to other people and see if we can pull that off."
Master of None is available now on Netflix.