“Master of None” originally launched in 2015 as an amiable comedy — punctuated by moments of dramatic longing — about an Indian-American aspiring actor and his group of friends. The quest for the perfect restaurant to take a prospective date while navigating the shoals of the entertainment industry, for example, provided a mixture of laughter and bittersweet realization of fading youth.
By contrast, the five episodes of “Moments of Love” fundamentally move the series away from being a comedy-drama focused on rising star Dev Shah (played by actor Aziz Ansari, who directed this season’s episodes) and his efforts to become a successful entertainer while searching for love in New York City. They transform the story into a meditative, insightful examination of a married Black lesbian couple experiencing the highs and lows of professional success and personal ennui.
This season, Denise (played by Lena Waithe, who co-wrote the season’s episodes) takes center stage. Viewers of previous seasons of the show will see how she has matured from Dev’s weed-smoking friend (and sometime sidekick) into a bestselling author struggling to write a follow-up novel while living in a gorgeous upstate New York home she shares with Alicia (played by the luminous Naomi Ackie), her British wife (a PhD in chemistry turned interior designer). Although Dev pops up in a couple of episodes, the season is entirely devoted to exploring the inner tumult and emotional evolution of Denise and Alicia’s relationship.
Despite this criticism, what Ansari in his directing and Waite in her writing and acting have accomplished with this season is unique — and crucial. Television and movies rarely investigate the personal and professional ambitions of Black queer couples. Denise and Alicia represent a breakthrough in this regard; their intelligence and professional ambitions define parts of who they are, just as their struggles to conceive a child represent another aspect of their individual selves and their hopes to expand their family.
Black queer love and longing on screen, such as the heartbreaking “Pariah” (2011) and the historically resonant “Brother to Brother” (2004) explore the shame, vulnerability and pain associated with queerness but are rarely able to allow Black LGBTQ characters the agency on display here.
The contemplative, laid-back demeanor of Denise’s novelist character battling writer’s block and the aching vulnerability of Alicia’s desperate efforts to conceive a child rewrite the narrative landscape of Black popular culture in profound ways. Scenes depicting Denise and Alicia’s efforts to conceive a child in the aftermath of a miscarriage are not only sensitively handled but revelatory in their dialogue about monogamy, heteronormative nuclear families and how race, gender and sexuality impact their choices. While the situations may seem familiar to many viewers, they also feel very different when we experience them through the lives of these powerfully adroit Black women.
Denise and Alicia revel in their enjoyment of a diasporic relationship. Combining Black American, British, Caribbean and African traditions in their sartorial, food, linguistic and aesthetic touches, they are authentically and transnationally Black in ways that are brilliantly conveyed through the mundane. In a bravura scene, one that I replayed over and over, they silently fold laundry while grooving to the sound of “Everybody, Everybody,” a global anthem sung by Black Box that captures in miniature the sublime joy of Black love in moments of peace, sheltered against the inevitable tides of an outside world that still sees Black life for what it lacks rather than all of the transcendent genius it embodies.
The critical response to this season illustrates both the road yet traveled and the progress that is continuously being made towards illuminating Black humanity in television, film, and the arts. “Moments of Love” succeeds in showing the beauty, intelligence, pain and love of a Black queer couple on an emotional roller coaster made all the more extraordinary by the fact that we rarely, if ever, stop to consider that Denise’s and Alicia’s might exist at all.