When I first started listening to S-Town, the new hit podcast from This American Life and Serial, I was disappointed with its pace. Thanks to the previews (or, I suppose in this case, the pre-listens), and its association with Serial — which helped kickstart the culture’s present obsession with true crime — I was expecting S-Town to be something completely different from what it turned out to be. I figured it would be a dive into the dark corners of a small Southern town, full of corruption, petty crime, and secrets. Sure, it had some of those things, but mostly it was a character study—one of the richest you’ll ever consume this side of Robert A. Caro (he writes, having actually never read any Robert A. Caro).
In S-Town, we get to know John B. Macklemore, a complex, contradictory, infuriating, and inspiring misanthrope, who lives and dies in Woodstock, Alabama. You go in expecting to uncover the mysteries of a small town, until you realize that the mystery is much grander than that. The mystery at the heart of S-Town is Humanity. We’re so used to characters — even the most fleshed-out characters — to be easily definable, a short checklist of behaviours and desires, when in reality, we all go much deeper than that.
It’s why I’m excited for the second season of Master of None, which just released the trailer for its second season today. Obviously, there are key differences between S-Town and Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show. The most obvious, other than their respective mediums, is that the former is non-fiction, while the other, just barely, isn’t. But both are true.
And that’s why you should be looking forward to Master of None as well. The first season was funny, fully realized, and shockingly good. Or at least shocking to me, who only knew Ansari from his earlier standup and his aggravating associations with hip-hop royalty. I didn’t know the guy was so…human.
The second season appears to be more of the same. Cinematic, funny/sad (but not in the now-tired way of Maron or Louie), and honest. Whereas S-Town took all that complexity and made a tragedy, Master of None (hopefully) does a similar thing and finds comedy and beauty and, at the risk of sounding overly earnest, hope. At least, that’s what I’m feeling when I watch the trailer.
Humanity is messy. Life is a mystery. We’re entering a time in culture where creators of every stripe and in every medium are finding ways to show that. It’s a good time to be alive. Even if it does pull you away from you life for hours at a time. Although, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.