After a multi-year hiatus, Master of None returned to Netflix in May. The Aziz Ansari-led critical darling became a sensation inside and outside the industry with its unique focus on food, religion, and dating in the 21st century. At times, it was an emotionally satisfying romantic comedy. A willingness to bend perspectives, genre, and styles opened the door for its cast and writers to dig deep into its themes. The series featured a murderers row of writers and storytellers and paired strong teleplays with ambitious directors.
Despite its popularity, Ansari’s brush with the #MeToo movement put the show on indefinite hiatus. Before the allegations, Ansari and his team felt Master of None had to change its focus. Four years later, the third season, subtitled Moments in Love, is a triumph of television. With a change in perspective, the series explores new angles on the concepts and themes that made Master of None a critical darling.
Few series have undergone a perspective shift quite like Master of None in its third season. Lena Waithe takes centerstage as Denise, a writer living with her wife Alicia (Naomi Ackie) in Upstate New York. Living away from the world, Denise struggles with writer’s block, but Alicia supports her through it while coveting a child of their own. The two decide to embark on the journey of parenthood, leading them down a winding path of love, loss, and forgiveness.
Living up to its name, Moments in Love examines their relationship through the good, the sad, and the heartbreaking moments of their lives. The rollercoaster ride fully explores their relationship, even as it shines a light on their problems. Ansari’s empathetic lens (he directs all five episodes) captures the minutia that anyone in relationships can relate to. Ansari may overcommit to the changing seasons as a metaphor, but it’s hard to argue against the poignancy of the images. Ansari feels like a surefire nominee, especially as one of the standout auteur-driven series in competition. His episode submission will make a huge difference in determining his ability to contend.
Once again, the series thrives on its writing and direction. Ansari and Waithe wrote the whole season, and they truly bring out the best in each other. The two won an Emmy for the semi-autobiographic “Thanksgiving” in Season 2, and it feels as if personal experiences are sprinkled throughout Season 3. The struggles of each character benefit from their specificity. This creates an emotional core that builds to a crescendo in the fourth episode. It is hard to argue against a repeat nomination for the duo, who have a genuine chance to win a second Emmy for writing.
On the performance side, Ackie comes away as the season’s undeniable MVP. Her powerhouse turn will leave you breathless as she navigates extreme pain with grace and poise. She runs the gamut of emotions on screen, from an excited girl willing to negotiate to a steely-eyed woman unwilling to sacrifice her happiness for someone else’s selfishness. She brings some truly unique performance notes out of Waithe, but her journey takes center stage. Familiarity may draw you toward the Waithe as the bigger name, but Ackie’s brilliance will win you over. She delivers the finest performance on Master of None to date, but in a just world, both women would find themselves nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy.
With only five episodes of varying lengths, Master of None is an unusual contender in other categories. One might even begrudge the comedy moniker, as its dramatic elements become the focus of the last two episodes. Moments in Love fluctuates between subtle, human comedy and truly nightmarish interpersonal moments. The tonal balance may not work if a lesser editor handled the material. Luckily, the series returns Jennifer Lilly, a previous Emmy-winner for Master of None in Season 2. Her choices certainly increase the intimacy on-screen of Moments in Love, helping to shape it into a profound statement.
Just as essential to the storytelling, production designer Amy Williams invites us into the lived-in world shared by Denise and Alicia. Her design choices in the first episode pop, but they only continue to live in your heart as the series progresses. The house’s unique aesthetic helps tell the story of a couple. As the house slowly empties, you feel the loss for the characters and the story. You mourn a missing painting or two, and other items hasten the breakdowns between the women. She also creates genuine laughs from her choices, a rare feat for any production designer. With her skill on display, it would be tough to ignore a wonderful LGBTQ+ haven, especially as its disappearance makes us yearn for days of the past.
Master of None will not be the favorite heading into Emmy nomination morning. That distinction belongs to Ted Lasso, which feels like a juggernaut. Yet, the heartfelt and emotional storytelling of Master of None creates an advantage. It is unlike any other contending series both in tone and aesthetic. It captures the last year of living with COVID-19 better than any series on television. Simultaneously, it provides an acting showcase and seems guaranteed to find love among the writers’ branch. Master of None’s largest weakness is a lack of buzz since its release, as other shows and films have filled the void. Despite this, the quality on screen is undeniable, and as the Television Academy quickly catches up, they could elevate to Emmy night spoiler.
- Outstanding Comedy Series
- Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – Naomi Ackie
- Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series – Aziz Ansari
- Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series – Aziz Ansari
- Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series
- Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series
- Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy
- Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour)
- Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (Half-Hour)