It’s safe to say that all of our lives have significantly changed since the second season of Master of None debuted in mid-2017. Beyond the tensions of the Trump presidency (and Brexit, and so many other things on this messy blue and green rock), the show’s co-creator Aziz Ansari had stepped out of the public limelight after being accused of sexual misconduct.
Lena Waithe had created, produced, wrote, and starred in numerous television and film projects, most recently the fairly maligned Amazon series Them. Alan Yang had created and directed his deeply personal indie darling movie Tigertail and high-concept TV show Forever. But really, no matter what might have happened in the world between the years 2017 and 2021, a third season of Master of None had to be different.
And different, it certainly is. Dropping on Netflix on May 23, Master of None‘s third season (this time, subtitled Moments in Love) trades freewheeling vivacity for mature scrutiny, flighty interaction for intense dialogue, solipsism for existentialism. It recognizes the power present within its auteurist aesthetic sensibilities alluded to in previous seasons while propping up its desire to comprehend intimacy through vivid character dissection and stellar relationship analysis. It is sumptuous, uncomfortable, and emotional – it solidifies Master of None as, undoubtedly, the best Netflix original show.
Moments in Love jumps ahead in time from when Master of None left its last season, finding Denise (Waithe) living in a rustic house in upstate New York with her wife Alicia (Naomi Ackie). Gone are the flashy, referential touchpoints of the show’s fun-loving energies, and in their steads are two millennials happily unplugged from much of the outside world (how envious, right?). Denise is in the process of writing a second book to follow up the breakout success of her first, while Alicia hopes to initiate a career in interior design while working at a small antique shop. As the title suggests, Moments in Love depicts the habitual and domestic lives of these two, both between each other and as individuals.
All episodes are directed and co-written by Ansari (whose Dev takes a visible backseat throughout these five installments), and his role as director allows him to flesh out Moments in Love with a pensiveness and devoted cinephilia that no other Netflix original show is doing today. Ansari ceding his lead status to Denise and an entirely new character, on top of adopting a visually distinct tone, is a swing for the fences. But by changing so much up and adhering to more malleable constructs that might come with a limited series, he and co-writer Waithe provide themselves the space to create a meditative, engrossing text.
Filmed in 16mm fullscreen, the camera forms choice stationary angles in and beyond which Denise and Alicia exist. It’s a welcome, relaxing balance to the profound emotional depth of these two. Moments in Love portrays Denise almost solely within the bounds of a romantic relationship, an environment that contrasts mightily with her out-with-friends persona. Waithe brings out the ways in which Denise wrestles with her defensive, hardened traits and, in doing so, acts as a kind of reflexive interrogation of Master of None’s own removed and surface-level tendencies.
The real draw of the season is Ackie, whose Alicia is at once overwhelming, sympathetic, and dogged. The British actress shades Alicia with an unwavering sentimentality that positions her as the more invested and frustrated of the two, best illustrated during a fleeting moment in which Alicia tries to stave off the slim possibility of another couple’s argument infecting the happiness she’s found in her relationship. Her stake in seeking out contentedness for others, as well as acquiring bliss in her personal journey, is captivating to an extent the show hasn’t journeyed before, and Ackie gives perhaps the best television performance of the year so far.
Moments in Love presupposes that Master of None’s formally experimental episodes (season 1’s “Mornings,” season 2’s “Thanksgiving”) entail the best way forward for the show, and they’d be right.
In fact, the specific paradigm shifts in Moments in Love enable it to latently connect back to topics examined in other episodes in touching ways: Dev’s dilemma regarding having kids in “Plan B,” extramarital affairs in “Amarsi Un Po,” and quality time in “Nashville.”
Moments in Love thus becomes a sort of thesis statement for Master of None itself, imbuing its most selfless themes with a refreshing singularity and an unabashed uniqueness that are growing more and more difficult to come by. Moments in Love demands your time, attention, and best of all, patience, setting it in a class far above the churn of television, let alone other Netflix series.Next: 50 best TV shows on Netflix right now