When Master of None premiered on Netflix in 2015, it was universally praised as a thoroughly modern rom-com that seamlessly weaved in a discourse around social and racial issues such as the immigrant experience, sexism, caring for older adults, and more.
But much of Master of None‘s appeal also rests with how ready creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang have been to subvert TV-show norms.
In the episode “New York, I Love You,” the action immediately diverted from the main cast to spotlight the lives of different New Yorkers, including a deaf woman whose eight-minute portion of the episode was completely devoid of sound. “The Thief” was shot in the vein of classic Italian cinema to complement Dev’s (Ansari) pasta pilgrimage to the country. The Emmy-winning episode “Thanksgiving” charted the arc of Denise (Lena Waithe) coming to terms with her sexuality and eventually coming out over a series of Thanksgivings.
Season three of Master of None, debuting Sunday, May 23, is by far its most ambitious in sidestepping expectations.
While seasons one and two focused primarily on the trials and tribulations of Dev’s dating life, Master of None Presents: Moments in Love fast-forwards a few years in the show’s timeline to center on Denise’s marriage to series newcomer Alicia, played by Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: Episode IX—The Rise of Skywalker, The End of the F***ing World).
“For me, it was more understanding the tone of the show—not in relation to the two previous seasons, but for what the show was for this [story],” says Ackie, who also serves as an executive producer this season. “Aziz has gone totally different [this season], and I think that that’s something to be commended. Thank God for shows like this that change its form and give surprises.”
Cowritten by Ansari and Waithe, Moments in Love not only ditches the series’s main protagonist—it also pulls a complete 180 in tone. The season was shot on film instead of digital. And New York City, which is a character in itself in previous seasons, is replaced with the solitude of upstate New York.
If seasons one and two were the splashy blockbuster rom-coms of the series, Moments in Love is the brooding indie film that sets the perfect tone to unpack the everyday fissures of marriage, even though it’s a marriage not seen in everyday TV shows.
“The thing I felt more of the significance of as we were making it was—even though we’re in 2021—how groundbreaking some of the things we were doing were,” Ackie says. “Two women in a relationship. No one’s coming out. It’s just watching a marriage and normalizing that. I think that was something that felt important for me to honor and be a part of—and also telling an IVF story.”
By far, one of the breakout episodes in Moments of Love is Alicia’s IVF journey.
It’s the only time being LGBTQ+ is pushed to the forefront of the narrative as a means to highlight how much more complicated an already painstaking and expensive process IVF is for queer couples. For example, there’s a medical insurance code that covers something as random as an orca attack but not one for queer women seeking pregnancy. Also, many U.S. insurance companies define infertility in the context of cisgender, heterosexual intercourse, which automatically exempts LGBTQ+ couples.
While IVF specialists helped shape the episode of Moments of Love, Ackie wanted to know as little as possible going into filming.
“It was important for me to be surprised by the information,” she says. “There’s that scene where [Alicia] is getting that information and it’s so much, from the age of your eggs to the policies. So much of acting is about just being in the present moment.”
For Ackie, developing the character of Alicia and being asked to join the season as an executive producer made her feel like “an adult artist.”
“I’m 29 years old, but I felt like an adult,” she says. “I was helping to construct the [season]. I was also accessing parts of myself that I didn’t even recognize from my own life around what it might feel like to be in like a long-term relationship and the trials of wanting a child.”
“That’s when I feel like my work is actually doing something,” Ackie continues. “And that doesn’t necessarily always mean pinpointing topics. It might just mean my presence in a place that is not usually seen. It felt really good to be a part of something that pushed the needle forward.”