May 12, 2017
Master of None, but Jack of All Trades Too: A Chat With Co-Creator Alan Yang On Season 2 Of The Netflix Hit
When the first season of Master of None debuted on Netflix back in the fall of 2015, Aziz Ansari was already a star for one of the decade’s most beloved sitcoms, a New York Times bestselling author, and one of the most adored stand-up comedians alive. Yet, somehow, Master of None still caught viewers and critics alike by surprise. A nuanced, measured look at young life in New York City, Master of None took on a different key overarching subject with each of its ten episodes, coming together with a layered story that pleased everyone who took the time to watch.
Just as the background of Ansari’s character, Dev, is loosely based on the stand-up’s life and experiences, the background of Kelvin Yu’s character, Brian, is loosely based on the life and experiences of Alan Yang, Ansari’s co-creator. After previously collaborating on Parks and Recreation, the pair wound up winning an Emmy for writing Master of None, and now have returned for a second season of fun. If early word is any indication, the new season is more ambitious, dives deeper into the characters, and somehow, even better than a first season which had a certified 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to hop on the phone for a brief interview with Yang to talk about the new season, and the swings that he and Ansari took to make exactly the show that they wanted to and continue to make. The show is gorgeous to look at, and it, of course, will make you laugh as you binge your way through the entirety of the new run of episodes. We talked influences for making the show, music, expanding characters, Kanye West videos, and way more.
Brooklyn Magazine: I know so much of the influence of the first season came from a very cinematic place. I got a lot of Woody Allen vibes from it; did you guys have similar influences for the second season?
Alan Yang: You know, we tried to do something different this year. As much as possible, we tried to be more ambitious and take more risks, and given that the season starts in Italy, we watched a lot of classic Italian films. A lot of Antonioni, and Fellini, and De Sica—we tried to get that in our heads as well.
I got this sense in the first season—when each episode didn’t just open with ‘Master of None‘, but ‘Master of None Presents:’—that each episode was serving, in a way, as its own short film. From what I’ve read, it sounds like this season takes that concept a step further.
Yeah, I would say so for sure. We not only didn’t want to repeat stuff that we’ve seen in other shows, but we didn’t want to repeat what we did in Season 1. Yeah, we had all sorts of digressions and formal experiments, and episodes from perspectives of different characters.
Did you have a favorite one that you worked on this season?
I have a bunch of favorites! There are so many that I think surpass some of the stuff that we did in Season 1, just in terms of scope and ambition. I think “Thanksgiving” is a great episode. “New York, I Love You” is one that’s personal to me because it’s one of the ones I directed. Really, there’s so many; I think the last two are so great—Aziz directed those two, and he did an amazing job.
With any successful show that moves from season to season, you get to build on your characters and develop them even more. Obviously, I’m sure we’ll see Aziz’s character, Dev, grow a lot over the course of the season, but are there any other characters you got to dive deeper into that you didn’t in the first season?
We learn a lot more about Arnold, Eric Wareheim’s character, and Denise, Lena Waithe’s character. They have episodes that are more focused on them more than they were at all last year. We have a new character played by Alessandra Mastronardi, Francesca, who we get into a little bit more this year too.
Another of my favorite things about the show was the music, and it was really all over the spectrum. Did you guys do a similar thing for Season 2? And where does the inspiration come from when curating that selection?
Yeah, I mean, both Aziz and I love music, and we’re real nerds about trying to write down what we’ve been listening to, and trying to put stuff in the show that isn’t super popular or current, and our music supervisor, Zach Cowie, is unbelievable. He just has the largest record collection known to man, and he has impeccable taste. So he’s always suggesting interesting, amazing, unique songs, and as much as possible, we want them to really be identifiable with the show, where it’s like… it’s a show where every episode has its own theme song, which is really fun. Sometimes, even while writing a scene, we’ll be like, this is the music that will play here, and it influences how the show’s made.
Right. Right. And even aside from hearing songs that sometimes I haven’t heard before, I love hearing some nostalgic favorites in new situations, like when you guys used “Africa” by Toto for a memorable scene in Season 1.
Yeah, there’s a couple more instances this year where hopefully you’ll get it stuck in your head as related to a certain scene. There’s a montage in the beginning of the episode called “Religion,” that I think does a really funny music cue that either Aziz or Aniz [Ansari, Aziz’s brother who also works on the show] pitched that was really funny.
I’m excited. You guys had amazing guest stars, too, in Season 1, whether it was Claire Danes, Noah Emmerich, Danielle Brooks, et cetera. I’ve read Bobby Cannavale is in a bunch of episodes this year, which is exciting. Is there anyone else that you guys were excited to work with this year?
Yeah, Bobby was amazing. He’s in a bunch of episodes, and Angela Bassett is in the show. Cedric the Entertainer, Raven Symone. The dance troupe The Jabbawockeez is in the show [LAUGHS]. There’s a lot of crazy stuff happening this year; we were really lucky to get that cavalcade of stars.
Is there anyone that you guys haven’t gotten to work with in the first couple seasons that you’d love to get into the third season down the line?
Our running bit—and it’s not really a bit—is that we really like the enthusiasm Hugh Jackman displays on his Instagram. So we want to will Hugh Jackman into being on the show if we ever get to do more episodes.
Like, using his real Australian accent, too.
So you guys start the season in Italy, but make your way back to NYC. The first season had a very genuine ‘New York’ feel. It felt like what it actually feels like being here. Was that something you guys made sure to capture again?
Absolutely. We just want the show to feel real, and authentic, and we base it as much as possible on stuff that we’re actually doing. You know, when the characters go to a restaurant, we generally try to make it a restaurant that we like to go to, or a bar that we like to go to. It always feels of the same place, and of people with the same taste. Absolutely. And there are some new places this year, and sometimes it’s our buddies’ places—you know, our actual neighborhood spots.
I remember last year, after Kanye West’s album came out, Aziz and Eric did that really fun music video for “Famous.” How did that happen?
So, we took a lot of trips that were not necessarily related to shooting the show. So that was a trip right after? I don’t think that was directly when we were shooting. Aziz and I went to Italy a few times before we actually shot the show, and then we went and scouted, and then Eric came, and we stayed with Eric in Puglia for a while. A lot of it, we were thinking about the show, and writing the show, and hoping that we would experience stuff that we could put into the show, and I think some of the stuff from their trip—that specific trip—did work it’s way into the first couple episodes. So, keep an eye out for some of their adventures, because some of them were inspired by real life.
How much of the stuff that makes its way into storylines is based on real experiences?
There’s an episode about dating apps this year, and we used not only our experiences, but also those of our writers, and our friends, and also some stuff from research. Real personal anecdotes, man—there’s no beating ‘em. There’s just this kernel of truth, and it’s really hard to beat. Even when you replace details, and stuff like that, it changes the tenors of the story. There’s also a story about the Peter character, who’s the Brian character’s dad, that is very loosely based on something from my dad’s life, and I have not yet told him about it [LAUGHS].
The first season was so great, and such a success, and everybody loved it. That season’s cycle basically concluded with you and Aziz on stage winning an Emmy. How do you stay grounded after something so cool?
We’re monsters now. We didn’t work on the show at all, we phoned it in, and don’t fuckin’ talk to us. [LAUGHS] No, I don’t know, man. I don’t think it changed our process of making a show at all. We’re workaholics, and we’re psycho about details, and just making it as good a show as we can possibly make, you know? All we can do is our best, and put as much of ourselves into it as we can. I like to think that we push each other, and hold each other to the highest standard. Again, we don’t want to do a season of the show unless we really believe in it, and we’re really passionate about it, and we really believe in this season. We had lofty ambitions, and I hope that we came somewhere close to meeting them.
We were so happy with the response, and were so happy people responded well to Season 1. We’re excited to have people see Season 2.
Both seasons of Master of None are now streaming on Netflix.
Alan Yang headshots by Robyn Von Swank
Still photos courtesy of Netflix
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