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Master of None: Moments in Love's attempt to replicate Ingmar Bergman results in unbearably slow episodes

  • Ansari directs "every episode on film in long take after long take as if staging his own Ingmar Bergman series," says Caroline Framke of the third season of his Netflix series. "It’s undeniably jarring, in a good way, to see a story about a queer Black couple given the kind of treatment typically only bestowed upon white couples. And yet the stylistic gambit quickly wears out its welcome in the season’s first meandering chapter, which runs a solid 50 minutes long in fits and starts. Master of None has always indulged a conversational detour, but previous versions at least took pains to fit within a half-hour runtime, a smart limit to which Moments of Love has no attachment. It’d be one thing if the episode used its extra time wisely. Instead, it lingers on banal back-and-forths and then fast forwards through the truly seismic events that reverberate through Denise and Alicia’s lives for the rest of the season. Ansari likewise plants half his shots in one place many feet away from his actors as if to mimic the feeling of eavesdropping on someone’s most intimate moments, but it mostly just feels frustrating not to be able to see the characters more clearly. The season’s first real close-ups, in fact, don’t come until its fourth episode — which is not coincidentally focused on Ackie’s character rather than Waithe’s. This season’s iteration of Denise doesn’t feel like an older version of Denise so much as a very different one altogether, begging the question of why this couldn’t have just been a different show outside of the Master of None umbrella with Waithe playing a new character. Most notably, this Denise is much more stoic than the last, which the season acknowledges. But at some point, her total inability to express any extreme emotions in some of the most significant moments of her life just seems like a way to bypass the fact that Waithe’s range is much more limited than her scene partner’s. This also applies to the many, many minutes Ansari devotes to Denise simply sitting, staring, or eating a sandwich with no discernible nuance whatsoever. Whatever curated vibe these scenes are trying to go for, they end up feeling interminably long for the sake of it."


    • Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari successfully capture real life in Season 3: "While this season of the show argues that the things that matter in life — having a partner, having a child, building a fulfilling career — require effort and determination, it doesn’t fully invest in the concept of monogamy," says Jen Chaney. "Instead, it wrestles with that throughout, and its conclusions are ambiguous, which is not surprising given the creative interests of Ansari and Waithe (the latter is also developing a series for Amazon about non-monogamous marriages). But the one thing that these five episodes are sure of is that life, as monotonous as it can sometimes be, also contains great joy. Master of None is determined to make us stop and take the time to notice that."
    • Season 3 is like coming home to an old friend in the way it feels different yet familiar: In Season 3, Ansari "slows everything down, both figuratively and literally, and that allows for plenty of opportunities to lay these characters’ souls as bare as possible," says Kimberly Ricci. "In the case of Denise, her at-times impenetrable exterior means that, yeah, this intimate approach to what she’s going through is gonna get interesting. That’s especially the case because she’s now married (to Alicia, played by Naomi Ackie), and as a freshly successful author, she’s moved out of the New York City bustle to a roomy house upstate. This setting, on one hand, caters to the pandemic shooting mode of fewer people in one place, but also, it allows the show to strip away any side stories in a realm where there’s no pretense allowed. There’s no room for maneuvering away from difficult situations. No distractions exist for conversations that one might want to avoid. Vulnerability can shine through. The process brings utterly unpretentious results (unlike what happened with the same getaway-to-a-remote-house approach for Malcolm and Marie), so that’s also a bonus. Also a good thing: Aziz is not entirely absent from being in front of the camera, but those moments are sparse. Perhaps he purposely meant to hang back to keep from drawing attention to his recent situation and distracting from this season’s mission. Yet even more so, he’s seizing this opportunity to further hone his eye behind the camera. The results are fascinating, particularly because Denise can be a tough egg to crack. Watching her layers emerge, although she never fully reveals herself at once, is fascinating. In fact, seeing what Denise chooses not to tell the world makes her all-the-more compelling, and her marriage is truly a modern love story, including the inevitable drama that arises. Meanwhile, Aziz knows how to point a damn camera, and he knows the value of restraint while allowing his subjects to simply do their thing without any rush to action."
    • Moments of Love feels like nothing Master of None has done before: "The pacing takes the Moments part of the subtitle extremely seriously, as long swaths of each episode just feature Denise and Alicia hanging around the house, washing dishes, doing laundry, and enjoying the sights and sounds of the countryside," says Alan Sepinwall. "It’s meant as an immersive technique — a way to make the viewer feel like they’re in this relationship at this particular inflection point when things are on the verge of going from blissful to anguished — but one that is asking a lot of patience from the audience. The 55-minute opening episode effectively sets a mood and the state of the marriage, but can feel self-indulgent next to the second and third episodes, which both clock in at less than 30 minutes (albeit at times feeling longer than that). But those viewers willing to be patient will find reward in the penultimate episode, a Naomi Ackie spotlight in which Alicia navigates the emotional ups and downs of fertility treatments. It’s another long, slow outing, but one where all the waiting is palpably, at times heartbreakingly, the point of the whole tale. That episode doesn’t retroactively make the earlier installments move more quickly, but it does make the approach make some sense."
    • Even allowing for the indie-film sensibility of it all, Moments in Love becomes frustrating in its sluggishness: "It's an obvious attempt to create a sense of intimacy and reality, but one that requires a total investment in the material and characters in order to succeed," says Brian Lowry. "Perhaps foremost, this Master of None underscores the freedom that Netflix affords artists, giving Ansari, Waithe and producer Alan Yang the opportunity to flex their creative muscles in an unexpected but self-indulgent way, while (more pragmatically) adding another season to the franchise. While it's easy to see how that works out for both parties, the reward for viewers is more nebulous, one that feels more compelling in individual moments, as advertised, than its impact as a whole."
    • Master of None skews too far from its fly-on-the-wall authenticity: Naomie Ackie "is a stand-out," says Ben Travers. "Her chemistry with Waithe is excellent, as the two create clear-cut individual identities that feel like a good fit together even when you can see where their edges might prove incompatible. Ansari’s static camera, real film, and square frames emphasize the natural tone, as long, uncut takes allow the actors to walk in and out of sight. But the scripts let them down at critical junctures, failing to clarify issues that drive the plot forward in ways where Master of None typically excels. Previous seasons matched complicated progression in relationships with frank discussions with friends or equally muddied indecision, allowing the audience to either clearly understand what’s gone wrong or accept that there’s not always an easy answer. Too often in Season 3, Denise and Alicia land somewhere in between. Eventually, the story gets these two where they need to go, ending on an unanswerable question that should feel familiar to anyone who’s been part of a few long-term partnerships, but Moments in Love isn’t substantial enough as a standalone or clearly designed to go further."
    • Moments in Love is a beautiful depiction of real relationships and real life outside the life-or-death concerns that permeate Peak TV: "Eleven is busy saving the world in Stranger Things and June is trying to save America in The Handmaid’s Tale," says Brandon Katz. "But Master of None‘s stakes are merely everyday happiness. Its collateral damage is the connections we hold dear in our lives. Episode 2, in particular, is a reminder that life is what happens in between the moments we hang up our jackets and put them back on. With all due respect to This Is Us, but this is us. Moments in Love is particularly adept at juxtaposing our imagined lives with our realities. There are multiple tracks to our existence that we coast by on simultaneously. Our lives are never just one thing – they are everything in a blink that all end the same way. This season hones in on how we operate with others and for others versus our honest selves. Mistakes are often a subconscious declaration of what we truly want, the show seems to argue. Its tone is helped by Master of None’s ability to smuggle comedy into the absurdity of everyday life."
    • The most notable difference between Moments in Love and its preceding seasons might be how adult it all feels: "Denise and Alicia are, in a sense, playing house — they first appear outside of time in their cozy but isolated existence, a GOOPy vision of soft-lit rusticity and aspirational hygge," says Inkoo Kang. "I’ll say here — undercutting my own review — that season three is best watched totally cold, but if you choose to continue reading, I have to reveal that it derives its emotional might from exploring that transitional life phase in one’s mid- to late 30s when you’ve lived long enough to experience true failure, witness the mortality and frailty of your elders and face the absolute closure of certain possibilities. Denise and Alicia undergo fertility issues, the deaths of family members and the aftermath of wunderkind success. And then the season opens its heart again, to expand its ideas of romance and love to rousing, even provocative, heights. It also takes its damn time getting there. Ansari appears for about seven or so minutes total as a strikingly deglamorized version of Dev, mostly staying behind the camera. (All episodes are directed by Ansari and co-written by him and Waithe.) If season one was heavily influenced by Woody Allen and season two paid tribute to Italian neorealism, Moments in Love’s lodestar is Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage (down to the similar titles). The autobiographical elements in Bergman’s miniseries/film even find a parallel in the details seemingly borrowed from Waithe’s personal life; despite Denise and Alicia’s full characterizations, certain authorial choices make it practically impossible not to speculate how much of her own feelings and experiences the writer-actor put into this season."
    • Master of None is oddly wrapped up in its characters' affluence in Season 3: "Moments in Love seems, fitfully, to want to look at this question of economic privilege," says Emily VanDerWerff. "An assumption of economic comfort certainly animated the first two seasons of Master of None. The characters’ affluence, particularly in season two, was mostly presented matter of factly. Though the show was able to step outside the affluent bubble of its central character, its portrayal of New York could never quite leave the perspective of the people paying service-industry employees; it failed to explore the perspective of the service-industry employees themselves, even when it explicitly tried....In its early going, Moments in Love has the same vague 'lifestyles section of the New York Times' visual aesthetic of Master of None’s other two seasons. The house Denise and Alicia share is almost aggressively cozy, and it feels isolated from the rest of the world, like the couple lives inside of Taylor Swift’s photoshoot for her cottagecore album folklore. In later episodes, the series complicates its own affluent coziness, and we do learn that some characters from the first two seasons are having economic troubles. Master of None is interested in the ways that its characters’ blinkered perspectives shift with their economic rise and fall, and its examinations of how expensive it is to pursue IVF treatments help to ground this consideration. But no matter how much Master of None explores questions about the way its characters’ access to wealth (or their lack of access) paints their view of the world, it is unwilling to push too far. The season finale still features a lengthy vacation that suggests the characters remain fairly well off when all is said and done."
    • Master of None reaches new levels of authenticity in Season 3: "Although it's not nearly as funny as the first two seasons, there's a certain wry weariness that feels appropriate for the characters' older and more experienced stage in life," says Cynthia Vinney. "This isn't the first screen story centered on marriage and fertility, but Moments in Love breaks new ground by offering a genuine, no-frills depiction of a Black lesbian couple going through these common experiences in all their complexity. In the process, the show movingly brings out the universal human emotions embedded in Denise and Alicia's specific circumstances."
    • Naomie Ackie was excited for not only the challenge of her role, but of normalizing gay women on TV: “I’ve always been really into exploring different ways to perform, and Master of None felt like a switch for me to give a really naturalistic performance,” says the British actress. “And once I knew that the story was going to be surrounding this queer couple and their marriage, I thought, ‘Wow. That’s something that I’ve never done.’ It felt like a great challenge, but also a great way to normalize queer relationships on TV.”

    TOPICS: Master of None, Netflix, Aziz Ansari, Lena Waithe, Naomi Ackie

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