“Everyone in the world, every human being, is the star of their own show, their own movie,” Yang says. “No one’s a background player in their own TV show.”
He’s talking about one particular episode of the second season, which ranks among the best TV I’ve seen this year. And if you’ve seen it, you know exactly which episode he’s referring to — but that sentiment permeates every aspect of the series, which is fascinated by every single person onscreen. In the eyes of Yang and his co-creator Aziz Ansari (the series’ star), any character, no matter how minor, could take over the story at any given moment. Everyone has a point-of-view, and everybody matters.
Throughout our chat, Yang and I discussed his career (going all the way back to his days on Last Call with Carson Daly) and making Master of None, among other things. But at the end of the episode, we pivoted to a spoiler-y deep dive into some of Master of None’s season two highlights.
If you haven’t finished the season yet, now’s the time to turn back. But if you have, read on for his thoughts on three of the season’s most memorable episodes.
Episode 4, “First Date”: “We made a chart, because it’s math!”
The fourth episode of Master of None season two unfolds as Dev (Ansari) goes on a first date — except it’s actually many first dates, with various women he’s met through a dating app, and they’re all edited together to look like one date. Yang says that he and Ansari knew they wanted to do a dating app episode from the earliest stages of planning the season.
“It’s now gotten to the point where if you’re not using the dating apps and you’re a single person, it’s a conscious choice,” he says.
Some of Dev’s dates, Yang says, were planned to go particularly well. “We wanted to weave those stories throughout,” he says, “and then we were, like, ‘Okay, what other kind of people do you meet?’ That was really fun — just pitching comedy characters and shitty people that you meet and great people that you meet.”
And when it came time to write and piece everything together: “We made a chart, because it’s math!” That helped with the intricate process of figuring out which dates ended when, how many actresses needed to be cast, and other technical details.
The use of organizational charts came in handy during filming, too. “We had a massive posterboard of every actress and every date and making sure we got every side and Aziz’s reaction on every side. It was confusing,” he says. What’s on screen cinches it, though — they accomplished what they set out to do.
Episode 6, “New York, I Love You”: “The idea fails if the stories aren’t as interesting as Dev’s stories”
Yang says he and Ansari came up with the idea for “New York, I Love You” — which follows a doorman, a deaf bodega clerk, and a cab driver through their days in the city, with only brief appearances by the series’ regulars — while planning season one. But it took until season two to make it a reality.
“In a rom com or something that stars Jennifer Aniston, you see a character like the doorman, all he ever says is, ‘Hi, Miss Jenkins!’ And then she walks in and has her drama with Gerard Butler or whatever. But we were like, ‘What’s that guy’s life? He has that one line, and I’m sure he has problems!’” Yang says.
The two thought long and hard about which characters to include in the episode, which almost functions as a short story anthology. “We talked about what kind of people you bounce around and bump into when you’re walking around New York,” Yang says. “We had a whole other story beat out that was an older Chinese woman who was a waitress at a restaurant that Dev and his friends like to go to, and she had a romance. ... We had one about a housekeeper that cleans apartments.”
But Yang and Ansari ultimately went with the stories they felt were the most fully realized and thought out. “It was very important to us that these stories didn’t feel half-baked and watered-down,” Yang says. “The idea fails if the stories aren’t as interesting and fun and funny and emotional as Dev’s stories. Then you’re just kind of mailing it in.”
To ensure that the stories rang true, the two spoke with people whose lives are like those being depicted onscreen. Indeed, one scene — in which a man attempts to flirt with the deaf woman using American Sign Language and instead says the two are “socks” — was taken directly from a story a deaf friend told Ansari and Yang.
Episode 10, “Buona Notte”: “It’s not Dev’s story. It’s Lisa’s story.”
Master of None’s season two finale brings Dev to a point of crisis in both his personal and professional lives. The personal crisis concerns his attraction to his engaged friend Francesca, while the professional one stems from his affiliation with Chef Jeff — a seemingly gregarious celebrity chef who is actually a serial harasser of women.
“That was so relevant at the time we were writing, and some of the writers were afraid, ‘Well, will this feel dated?’” Yang says. “The sad conclusion we came to is: No, it won’t feel dated, because it’s gonna happen again. It keeps happening.”
The trick was to make the situation a thorny one for Dev — but also not make it a way for the character to become the hero. “We always wanted to make Chef Jeff a positive, happy guy. He’s a friend to Dev,” Yang says. “It was a very tricky writing problem at the end, because it’s not Dev’s story. It’s Lisa’s story.”
Lisa is one of the women Jeff harasses, who tells Dev what’s happening. And as Yang emphasizes, “It’s really shitty for Dev to do nothing, but we also didn’t want him to be a white knight and swoop in and save Lisa and report it, and he’s a hero. That seemed so wrong to us.”
In the end, Yang and Ansari decided to make the scene where Chef Jeff goes down — and ends up taking Dev with him — one of the season’s hardest to watch and one of its funniest, as Dev attempts to suggest he’s not actually friends with the man with whom he’s co-hosting a show called BFFs. (This all unfolds, amusingly, on a fictional, Raven Symone-hosted talk show, Raven Live.)
This, Yang says, allowed the two to have Chef Jeff see his comeuppance at the hands of Lisa — who goes to the press with her story — while leaving Dev paralyzed with inaction. “We beat out so many different options where he does X or Y, and none of them felt right,” he says.
To hear more interviews with fascinating people from the world of arts and culture — from powerful showrunners to web series creators to documentary filmmakers — check out the I Think You’re Interesting archives.