A doorman with in-law problems. A deaf store clerk who has a bedroom beef with her boyfriend. And a cab driver who likes to let loose and hates spoilers. On the surface, these people have nothing in common, but in Season 2 of “Master of None,” they’re a key component in an episode that pays tribute to New York City and the ties that bind us.
In this case, that tie is a cheesy-sounding Nicholas Cage movie with a crazy twist.
In any other work of fiction, these three characters might take appear in the background – more set dressing than people. But in “New York, I Love You,” an episode midway through the second season of the Aziz Ansari-led Netflix hit, they take center stage in vignettes that highlight the lives of working class people.
Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang originally developed the concept when working on the first season. In Season 2, emboldened by their success with the freshman season, they felt it was the perfect time to do an episode where main character Dev (Ansari) took the back seat in service of a larger point about connectivity.
Ansari appears on screen in the episode for less than a minute total.
“We were walking – I think around St. Mark’s in New York – by a guy selling sunglasses and we just kind of thought, ‘Well, what’s that guy’s life like? It would be crazy to have a camera just suddenly follow him,’” Yang told CNN in a recent interview.
The man peddling sunglasses didn’t end up being one of the centerpieces of the episode, but three other characters did.
One is a doorman at a luxury apartment building named Eddie (Frank Harts), who’s comfortable in the motions that are required of him. He has a stockpile of pleasantries and fulfills odd requests from residents with little meaningful thanks.
Another is a deaf store clerk named Maya who is frustrated by the lack of sex in her relationship. It comes to a boil inside an iconic New York City home goods store.
The actress who plays Maya, Treshelle Edmond, is deaf. Her section includes no sound. It’s jarring but powerful.
“The effect is that, hopefully, you put yourself in the character’s shoes for a second, and it makes you lean in and pay attention, as opposed to just letting it go by while you check your phone,” Yang said. “You can’t watch that section looking at your phone.”
The episode is bookended by a look into the life of a New York City cab driver, who lives in close quarters with his friends and aims to release the frustrations brought on by his job with a fun night out.
The actor at the center of this story is Enock Ntekereze, a Rwandan refugee found by casting director Cody Beke.
“He’s never acted before,” Yang said. “He carried that story.”
All the characters, Yang said, are the people “who aren’t depicted very often on TV and movies.” But they aimed to show that even the people who might be seen in passing have their own problems, lives and family issues.
In movies and television, he said, “you see a lot of the same kind of person.”
“I’d include our show in that, too,” Yang said. “Yes, you don’t see that many Indian people [on TV] but you do see people who are well off in New York….that’s one of the reasons we wanted to do the episode.”
Dev appears at the start and one more time the end, where all the characters cross paths while watching a campy fictional horror flick called “Death Castle,” which stars Nicholas Cage, Emma Watson, and Tyrese Gibson.
“That was a real group effort, man,” Yang said of the creation of the film-within-the-show.
The title “Death Castle” was meant to be a “stupid” temporary name, but it stuck.
“That would be a wild movie, man,” Yang said, laughing. “I’d go see that.”
“Master of None” Season 2 is full storytelling triumphs. There’s a much talked about episode about religion, a character piece centered on Lena that’s an in-depth exploration of identity told through years of Thanksgiving dinners, and a romantic penultimate episode that on its own could be entered into an independent film festival.
But “New York, I Love You” still stands out – if nothing else as a reminder to Hollywood of the stories out there that remain untold.
“Some things seem more inherently cinematic than others,” Yang admitted. “And by that I mean, there’s a reason why there’s a million doctor shows, a million cop shows, and a million lawyer shows – because those are jobs that people understand are sort of cinematic or dramatic jobs. But I think there’s room for other types of shows and an exploration of other aspects of society.”
He added: “I think one of the ideas we want to get across is that everyone’s the star of their own story and no one is a background player in the movie of their own life.”