HBO has a special knack for finding unique, new voices and nurturing them. One of their greatest recents finds has been Issa Rae. “Insecure” premiered last year and was a breath of fresh air. The show follows the messy exploits of a group of black women in Inglewood, California. In particular, the show focuses on the awkward and scandalous encounters that plague Issa, the protagonist of the show. The fact that the show was shut out from the Emmys remains one of the worst snubs of the recent crop of nominees. This omission hasn’t stifled the show’s creative juices. “Insecure” returns to HBO for season two with the same level of energy and specific humor that made season one a must watch.
Front and center is the lady of the (half) hour, Issa Rae. Her character, Issa, remains a likable mess that one can’t help but root for. It’s great fun to watch Issa plot how to get Lawrence back through a variety of misguided, yet calculated schemes. The crux of this episode takes place at Issa’s “wine down,” a brilliant event theme that will be stolen by all in the months to come (yours truly included). She invites all her friends over and commands them to bring a plus one. From there, she tries to get Lawrence (Jay Ellis) to pick up his mail so he can walk in on this bustling, yet chill party. Once he doesn’t come, the party gets out of hand, with Issa’s neighbors making an appearance. It’s a raucous good time, while also a brilliant entry point into Issa’s mind set. Issa Rae is truly a unique talent.
As Lawrence, Ellis finds new, interesting ways to take his character. On the surface last season, the character seemed to be a cardboard cutout of a boring boyfriend. However, as Issa went further on his path while he soldiered on in the job hunt, we witnessed new depths to the man. Now living on his friend’s air mattress and already going out with a new girl, Lawrence has reinvented himself. In many ways, the roles have shifted between Lawrence and Issa. He’s the one with things going on and she’s trying to play catch up to get him back.
While much of the show is devoted to Issa and Lawrence’s new lives post-break up, there are other elements to the show. Yvonne Orji as Molly continues to be a wonderful “straight man” to Issa’s out of control scheming. A powerful attorney, Molly learns that she is getting paid less than her male co-worker, despite them doing comparable jobs. At an office happy hour, he remarks that if someone wants something at work, they have to reach out and ask for it. This is one of the reasons “Insecure” is such an exciting show to watch. It doesn’t just deal with modern day relationships in Inglewood. It takes time to explore all avenues of their characters’ lives, including inequality in the workplace. To do this while being both funny and not didactic is a skill.
The show’s ability to shift between camera asides and the scene at hand continues to be as deft as ever. The opening scene in particular shifts between fantasy and reality with ease and uses its editing to enhance the already sparkling jokes flying off the page. Director Melina Matsoukas, who also helmed four episodes last season and the brilliant “Thanksgiving” episode of “Master of None” this year, channels her powerful visual storytelling voice yet again. She manages to pack a lot into a breezy thirty minute episode. On top of that, between Lawrence’s sex scene, Issa’s party and a failed outing at a high school, Matsoukas knows how to sell visual comedy.
Current TV viewers crave diversity on screen. “Insecure” works well not because it accentuates its “diversity,” but because it makes its characters and storylines simultaneously specific to the African American community and universal to all viewers. It’s important for studio heads to look at this show’s success and see that hiring and producing diverse stories not only yields better content, but gives audiences what they are looking for. “Game of Thrones” may own Sunday nights on HBO. However, “Insecure” is the perfect summer show to pop a bottle of wine open and enjoy with friends.