After a four-year hiatus, “Master of None” returns in title only, with the same creative auspices but a completely different focus. The result, subtitled “Moments in Love,” shifts to Lena Waithe’s Denise character, with a five-episode “season” that essentially plays like an independent film – more drama than comedy – just diced into chapters.
For fans of the series that starred Aziz Ansari, who co-wrote the project with Waithe and directs in its entirety, it’s an intriguing creative choice, if one that essentially results in a project that, other than an appearance by Ansari, exists separately from the original. Upon dispensing with that bit of narrative whiplash, “Moments in Love” stands on its own, while purposefully moving at a snail’s pace that tests the viewer’s level of interest.
The story opens with Denise – now a successful writer – quietly living in the country with her wife, Alicia (Naomi Ackie). The first installment captures the slow-going rhythms of their life together, before gradually throwing a major hurdle into this garden of Eden, when the two begin to discuss the prospect of starting a family.
Saying much more about how that plot progresses, and where it leads, risks giving too much away for those who would prefer discovering it on their own. But the program’s real foundation lies in exploring a relationship among two women of color, with a tone that largely resides in the bittersweet and melancholy.
For Waithe, who stood out in earlier seasons and has gone on to create “The Chi” and produce Amazon’s “Them,” it’s a strong showcase. Ackie, who doesn’t shed her British accent, is perhaps best known to US audiences for her role in “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” but gets to exhibit a different side here, and takes center stage in a few of the episodes.
Even allowing for the indie-film sensibility of it all, “Moments in Love” becomes frustrating in its sluggishness, including long scenes that involve simply leaving the camera fixed at a distance from the actors. 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.
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 Presents Moments in Love” premieres May 23 on Netflix.