Lena Waithe made history at the 69th Emmy Awards Sunday night. She became the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series. That gives you an excellent excuse to watch “Thanksgiving,” the Emmy Award-winning episode she wrote for the TV show “Master of None.”
Aziz Ansari co-created “Master of None,” and the show is heavily based on his life. But his character Dev has more of a supporting role in this episode. “Thanksgiving” focuses on Waithe's character Denise.
This episode takes place over a series of Thanksgiving dinners Dev attends with Denise's family. Over the years, Denise comes out as lesbian to her mom and explores a relationship with a woman named Michelle. Denise matures into a more confident person throughout the episode.
As Ansari did, Waithe based this episode on her own life. Her specific perspective sets “Thanksgiving” apart from other TV episodes about Thanksgiving. Her writing has a personal quality that gives scenes such as her family’s conversation about O.J. Simpson a more intimate feel.
One of the most interesting things about “Thanksgiving” is its depiction of time. It is reminiscent of a play called “The Long Christmas Dinner” that depicts how a family changes over decades of Christmas dinners. Waithe and the filmmakers give you a great sense of how Denise and Dev change throughout the rest of the show. In particular, Suraj Partha and Eden Duncan-Smith do an excellent job portraying teenage versions of Dev and Denise.
“Master of None” frequently has excellent guest stars, and “Thanksgiving” follows in that tradition by casting Angela Bassett as Denise’s mother Catherine. She expertly delivers funny lines and subtly demonstrates her character’s growing acceptance of Denise’s sexuality. Bassett is especially poignant in the scene in which Denise comes out to Catherine.
The filmmaking in this episode is also fantastic. Director Melina Matsoukas mainly uses straightforward medium shots and close-ups to focus the audience’s attention on the cast's performances. Her only ostentatious camera movements are two beautiful overhead shots of Denise’s family having dinner that emphasize the familial bond.
One of Waithe’s main strengths as a writer is her ability to balance the episode’s tone. Some scenes are hilarious, while others deal with serious social issues. But every moment is united by Denise’s personality and maturation.
Waithe definitely deserved her Emmy win for “Thanksgiving.” It is a phenomenally well-written and heartfelt episode of television. She makes you eager to see what she will do next.
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