'Master of None' offers a radical new take on Black love

Lena Waithe and Naomi Ackie star in Season 3 of "Master of None."

Peniel E. Joseph is the Barbara Jordan Chair in ethics and political values and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of several books, most recently, "The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr." The views expressed here are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.

(CNN)The latest season of the Netflix series "Master of None," which premiered on May 23, subverts longstanding racial stereotypes to create a brilliant, thought-provoking depiction of the intimacies of Black life. At this moment when America is reassessing the ways in which Black life has been historically and contemporaneously valued and devalued, this season could not be timelier.

Peniel Joseph
Binge-watching the series took me back to last summer's March for Black Trans Lives in Brooklyn, New York, where the size and the intensity of the crowds were staggering. It was, for me, one of the most incredibly poignant and democratic moments in American history, when Black people relegated to the margins came to celebrate, not just defend, their humanity and show why doing so is key to building beloved communities around the world.
    The season's official title, "Master of None: Moments of Love," draws inspiration from Ingmar Bergman's magisterial 1973 portrait about the ebb and flow of love, "Scenes from a Marriage." Bergman's use of close-ups allowed the camera and hence the audience to almost eavesdrop on the emotional unraveling of a marriage with an intimacy that introduced a new cinematic grammar into the world.
      "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.
          Not everyone has been overjoyed by this narrative shift. Some "Master of None" fans who flocked to the show for Dev's easy and familiar brand of humor have expressed displeasure. Much of the criticism has focused on the season's gorgeous visual aesthetic, shot by Ansari in 4:3 aspect on 16 millimeter film and reminiscent of European art house cinema from yesteryear, such as the French New Wave classic "Breathless." Others have viewed the series' new direction cynically as an overcorrection, an effort by Ansari to rehabilitate his image after a #MeToo-related scandal from several years back.
          This season comes at a time when Waithe, best known as the creator of the urban drama, "The Chi" on Showtime and for appearing in Steven Spielberg's "Ready Player One," has also been facing cr