“Master Of None,” a quirky Netflix comedy about modern romance created by actor and stand-up Aziz Ansari, opens its first episode in season one with a broken condom. Dev (Ansari) and his date proceed to navigate the awkwardness of intimacy and add paying for a Plan B pill at the pharmacy to the syllabus of chivalry with a wince and a chuckle. Often, “Master Of None” doesn’t dive into issues of love and sex as much as it cannon balls. Improvisation is favored over form. Guts rule more than grace and it’s that fearless heart that has earned it a loyal audience and several primetime Emmy nominations.
But broken hearts and promises move the narrative more often than broken prophylactics. So much so that season three has dared to collapse its macro view into an almost voyeuristic observation of one couple, Dev’s friend Denise (played by Lena Waithe) and her wife Alicia (played by Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker’s) Naomie Ackie. The show’s nuanced exploration of Denise’s sexuality provided one of its best moments in the Emmy-Award winning “Thanksgiving” episode from season two, which grappled with her coming out as a lesbian to her family. But until now Denise’s actual love life has been mostly reduced to viral gems like her girlfriend’s Instagram handle being “NipplesAndToes23.”
The truncated season three, entitled “Master Of None: Moments In Love,” takes only five episodes to bring the audience inside the home of Denise and Alicia several years into their marriage. Denise is a successful, published author treating her writer’s block with doses of THC and Alicia is a sharp yet cuddly compliment to Denise as a former chemist with a love of antiques. It’s 180 degrees from the first episode of season one in that Alicia’s maternal instincts have come to the forefront and the couple begins their journey to have a child. What follows is a realistic and heart wrenching depiction of modern marriage that wins because its framework is atypical but its sinew is as relatable as anything we’ve seen on television thus far. Filmed in London and Upstate New York, Denise and Alicia are isolated in their rural home, lending itself to the socially distant mandates of the world outside.
In an interview with VIBE, Naomi Ackie shares her fandom for the series, why Alicia is a character she loved portraying and ultimately, if there is a Plan B for love.
VIBE: The last time we spoke you were giving me tips on how to babysit Baby Yoda, aka Grogu.
Naomie Ackie: Ha! What did I say?
You said if he was hungry you could just throw food at him and he could use the force to wipe his own butt.
[Laughs] I still hold by that.
But it feels like your maternal instincts are a little more sharpened now in this series.
NA: Nice segue…
Alicia’s maternal instincts seem to be a little more keen.
So how familiar were you with the series before you took the part?
Really familiar. I watched both seasons and was just waiting for the next one. Then the email came through from my agent and she was like, “Hey do you want to audition?” And I was like “Yay, it’s coming back!” But then I was like wait, what do they want me to do? Because I’ve never really thought of myself as that funny. I’ve always regarded it as a comedy or a dramedy.
This season was filmed in London and Upstate New York during Covid. Was that what inspired the more intimate storyline of focusing on one couple?
What’s crazy is that Aziz and Lena wrote this way before we knew a pandemic was on the horizon. They had been writing this for about two years. So it’s a coincidence that the scenes coincide with some of the things people have been going through.
As someone who watched the first two seasons you know this is taking a very different perspective. What is the benefit of telling the story this way, focusing on one couple?
I think it shifts focus. Hearing what Aziz has been saying, the show has been amazing and he didn’t want to create something that felt the same. I think there is a curiosity about Denise. Other than the “Thanksgiving” episode, which is just incredible, we don’t know much about Denise’s life. So how can we do this? What stories center around Black queer women? The only one I can think of is The Color Purple off the top of my head. And that’s not nearly enough. So it was the space for it, the time for it. And it’s shifting the form of Master Of None to something that is unexpected and I think that really follows the overall M.O. of “Master Of None.” From season one to season two it changed quite dramatically in terms of storytelling.
How would you describe Alicia and Denise’s relationship?
NA: Rocky! [laughs] I think they emulate a lot of relationships out there. They’re years into their marriage and it’s not necessarily a brand new thing to be around each other. I think once you’re past that point of rose tinted glasses, you stop seeing yourselves as a unit and start thinking about yourself again, you sometimes realize that your priorities are in two different places and I feel like that’s a real universal experience. Especially when you’re separated from everyone else. When things are amiss you either work on them or you don’t.
At one point Dev and his girlfriend come to visit and things get nuts. Have you ever had a double date go off the rails that way?
Oh my gosh. So many. I remember one of my failed relationships–was such a long time ago–we were sitting on a powder keg. And it was either going to happen here in front of everyone or it’s going to be madness on the car drive home. One or the other. I feel like so many people have gone through that and if they haven’t they will go through that. As an observer or a participant.
How did you deal with it?
We broke up. [laughs]. That’s how we dealt with it.
There was a line where Denise says “Marriage is a fucking fight. Either you stay or you go.” Do you agree?
One Hundred…Well, I don’t know. There’s this thing where we’re discussing the theme of “Struggle Love.” Should love always be this battle? Can long lasting love be easy? And I think it depends on what type of person you are and what type of relationship you want. I think there’s always negotiations to be had. So, I think the approach of “it’s a fight” means someone is going to win and someone is going to lose and I think there is a middle ground. There are ways you can talk to someone you love where there is an openness and you can de-escalate some of that conflict, or just come to a conclusion that those two people aren’t right for eachother. I dunno. Sometimes it does feel like it’s a fight. It’s love, man. It’s just weird and it’s different for everyone.
What’s kind of talked about in the show is how you can be one person with one partner and you can be a totally different person with someone else and you find out parts of yourself through that. I think that’s the weirdest thing about love, is that it opens you up in ways that you’re not even aware of and you might think of yourself as someone who is, like, super sturdy and trustworthy and all those things and it goes right out the window when you fall in love with someone.
The thing I love is that both Denise and Alicia have their pros and cons. But if forced to pick a side, what would make someone team Alicia?
I think Alicia’s heart is in the right place. What I love about her is that she is brave in a way that I’ve never seen, but I know a lot of women are brave. Wanting to have a child but not having access in a traditional way and still pursuing it. That’s a big feat. You’re gunning for her. You want her to win. You want all women who want to have a child to win and get what they deserve. Her heart’s in the right place and she makes mistakes but I think they’re both good people. They’re just going through it. But don’t pick a side because they’re both going to disappoint you.
In two different moments Alicia invokes the term “Bad Bitch” to channel her power. What does it mean to be a Bad Bitch to you?
Just living in your truth and fighting for your life, man. That kind of attitude has to come out. At some point you have to look in the mirror and say “You’re a bad bitch.” Sometimes no one is gonna do it for you, man. You gotta big yourself up. Life throws you curveballs all the time and it’s about going “Ok it’s you and me lady” and you look in the mirror and say, “Let’s go in.” But that’s what Bad Bitch means to me right now and I’m having to call upon my Bad Bitchery constantly.
Especially this past year.
One thing that does make her a Bad Bitch is her wardrobe…
“It was a warm bath. I’d rather be naked than cold. As long as the bath water was warm I could’ve stayed another half an hour.” -Naomie Ackie
Talk about these style choices. Everything they have Alicia wearing is amazing.
Thank you, man. I worked with Kate Forbes, who was the designer on this and we were just like, how do we tell the story of Alicia through her wardrobe? She’s eclectic, she’s afrocentric, she’s artistic, she’s colorful. Even with her hair, how do we tell the story of a woman who is finding herself and she loses her way slightly. The clothes get a little drabber in episode four, her hair is more wrapped up. Then how do we explode her back to show that she found her authenticity again. It was such a joy to do because you don’t always get the chance to do that. I’ve done shows where I have to wear ugly sweaters the whole time and that’s a joy in a different way. There was just a swag that we wanted Alicia to have. There was a reason Denise fancied her. There’s a reason that Denise married her and part of that is how she presents herself. She’s just a cool chick.
There is one scene where you aren’t dressed that is being used as the promo photo, in the bathtub. How long did that take to shoot and how pruned were you both when it was done?
Oh my god it was so funny. For one, Lena was just like I’m just going in. The whole shoot was just let’s be authentic. If we’re topless, we’re topless. So I was like I’m kind of in for that, but let me just have a little bando. I got in the bathtub and the bando starts slipping and I’m like eff it. We had all these bubbles around us to make us feel more protected but for some reason things take a while on set and the bubbles start disappearing. And we’re like “You have to hurry up, the bubbles are disappearing!” We did the scene and because the show is shot with like one camera angle, we did it maybe four or five times. By the end we were just like “We’re in the nude. Just in the nudy” and I actually don’t feel any type of way about it. It was a warm bath. I’d rather be naked than cold. As long as the bath water was warm I could’ve stayed another half an hour.
Episode 5 is probably my favorite but I know we can’t say much about it. It’s brutally honest. How do you think viewers will respond?
Hopefully there is going to be a feeling of an understanding, like I’m going through that or I’ve been through it. Love changes its form and your life changes around that love. I think you’re right, it is brutally honest and it’s such a joy when you get to that age or that point in a relationship where you get to be really honest. You’re not as emotionally vested as the years or months ago. I think we see them grow up and approach their issues in a different way. I think everyone, no matter who you are, is going to go through that where you look at your life objectively. And look at your significant others in your life from a different angle.
By the way, I thought the GoGoGrandpa service for flip phones was a joke but…
It’s not a joke my dude! Aziz has a phone where he uses this GogoGrandparent to get around New york.
Would you ever use it?
I would love to stay that I’m not connected to my phone in a less than romantic way, but I lose everything in my life except my phone. There’s no way I’m separating myself from my phone. No way.
Lastly, is eating Moon Pies in bed acceptable and are pajamas really necessary for sleeping?
Absolutely. 100% to Moon Pies. I’m a big proponent of eating in bed and it’s one of my favorite things to do. If you haven’t had McDonald’s in bed at 1 o’clock in the morning, have you lived? As far as pajamas go, I go in between. Sometimes I’m a fancy lady and I put on a pajama set and if the door knocks I’m prepared. But some days I’m just in a giant T-shirt and some joggers. I’m leaving that up to other people to argue about.
Season 3 of “Master Of None” premiers on Netflix on Sunday May 23