Two years after its debut, Master of None has finally returned for a second season, and it’s more ambitious than ever, aesthetically and thematically. For the latest episode of Represent, Aisha Harris spoke with co-creator Alan Yang, and they discussed how he and Aziz Ansari addressed criticisms from the first season, his love of food, and his memorable Emmys speech. Below is a transcribed and edited excerpt from that conversation, in which Yang breaks down how the 2016 election affected the new season. You can check out the full episode in the audio player below.
Aisha Harris: I know you both have talked about not wanting to get too political in terms of what the show tackles—and it does keep this very lighthearted and optimistic view throughout, even when things get bad. But there’s a recent profile of Aziz in which he talked about how you guys finished writing the entire show before the election, so you were filming it or you were in the middle of filming it while it was happening. You cut one scene in particular where he gets heckled by a racist on the street. Can you talk a bit about what it was like—how you wrestled with the politics, and how much you wanted to dig into that in this season?
Alan Yang: Absolutely, because the sand shifted under our feet as we were making the show, and as he mentioned in that piece, the whole season was written. The way our show works is we write all 10 episodes, then we shoot all 10 episodes, then we edit all 10 episodes. It’s very linear and it’s purposefully designed that way so Aziz and I can be involved in every second of every one of those processes. So we’re in the middle of filming and the Donald Trump thing happens, you know, and it’s unexpected. And keep in mind the full ramifications of what he would end up trying to do were not yet clear, but he had already said he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the country.
He had already said he wanted to build a wall, you know, on the border to Mexico. He’d already said a lot of those things and that particular scene—I’ll never forget this—it was seared into my brain. So election night happens, and it’s very surprising. Whatever your political opinions are, you probably agree that it was somewhat surprising.
So the next morning: Just purely coincidentally, I believe, it was either the first or second scene the next day at 7 a.m … where it’s a flashback to kind of a post-9/11 era New York where tensions are running high and a younger Dev is crossing the street and a driver says, “Hurry up, you terrorist!” to him, because that’s a thing that has happened to Aziz and his brother … And it’s the morning after the Trump thing, he’s said he wants to ban all Muslims and I’m directing this episode and I’m in the position of giving a note to this actor to say, “Hey, when you say ‘Hurry up terrorist,’ can you do that angrier? Like, can you scream ‘Hurry up, terrorist’ louder at Aziz? I’m sorry, can you just do that for me?” And it’s just … Everyone feels weird. It just feels weird because we have just, as a nation, ushered in an era where it seemed like we were returning to that point in time, if not something much worse and much scarier.
I mean, we did—it feels like [that], you know?
Yes. And so we had the discussion. When Trump happened, Aziz and I sat down and we were like, “Do we rewrite this episode?” Because it seemed so present and so scary in some ways and our show is one of the only shows where the main character—you know, Dev isn’t Muslim per se but he comes from a Muslim family, his parents are Muslim, and not many other shows have that opportunity. And so we started doing research. We pitched ideas for something that would come up in the beginning of the episode, some kind of montage or something.
Do you remember which episode specifically you were filming?
Yeah, it was for the religion one.
And that’s the one where he wrestles with, like, his love of pork.
Yeah, yeah. So, you know, we talked about it and I reached out to friends at The Daily Show and at [Last Week Tonight with] John Oliver and they were like, “Yeah, we’ll help you, we’ll send you clips.” We were going to use news footage, footage of Trump, footage of, you know, people on Fox News … We were just scrambling for the right montage to put at the beginning of this episode—the end, in the middle, somewhere, and then the more we talked about it, the more we decided this episode isn’t about ax-grinding. It’s not even really about Islam. I know Islam’s a part of it, [but] it’s not really even about religion, even though that’s what the episode is called. At it’s core, it’s more about this guy, Dev, becoming an adult and learning to talk to his parents and them learning to talk to him, and it’s about their communication and it’s about them seeing him as an adult … him learning to respect them more. And so that was sort of the real underlying subtext of the entire story …
There’s a part of this episode where it’s just showing, you know, it was important to us to show Muslim people worshiping and hanging out, and not have it immediately be followed by a bombing, because I feel like we’ve seen that a hundred million times. Aziz’s dad goes to mosque. His mom goes to mosque and they’re the loveliest people you’ve ever met and they’re hilarious and they’re goofballs and they’re serious and they’re funny and they’re stern and they’re wacky … They’re his parents, that was what we always came back to and, to me, the most important part of the episode is how you relate to your parents. But, look, I’m not under any illusion. I think one of the things people will take away from that is, well, that’s a representation of a funny Muslim dad and mom that we just haven’t seen that much.
Right. I mean, that in itself is what’s radical about it, right? The fact that it exists.
And, as people of color, there is frequently that pressure you feel to always have to be representing. I [also] feel like [with] the times we’re living in now, every little thing is supposed to be a reaction to Trump. And it’s just … It’s too much.
It’s too much, and think about how clubfooted and wrongheaded that episode would have been if it started or ended with some sort of haranguing against Trump or some anti-Trump sketch … That’s not what it was about. It was conceived and written long before he was elected. It’s not meant to be a response to him because frankly … he doesn’t deserve everything in life to be about him.
That being said, if some kid in a red state or some kid who’s in a family who voted for Trump happens to, for some reason, watch that episode and his or her mind is affected 0.0001 percent by seeing this episode and by seeing this goofy character—Aziz’s dad, who maybe made him laugh once in Season 1 and sees that he’s a normal guy, that’s not a bad byproduct.